28 June 2003
Helsinki Vantaa (HEL/EFHK) – Frankfurt/Main (FRA/EDDF)
Lufthansa LH 3023
Economy Class, Seat 11C
Photo © Korbinian Klinghardt
Photo © Charles Falk
I arrived at Helsinki Aiport around two hours before departure and was expecting a full zoo at the SAS check-in due to all flights being full or overbooked today. Business/Star Gold side had one person in front of me, but the telephone check-in guy waved me over. I asked for an exit row aisle – no problems he said… I should take a bunch of LH seat maps for him to study next time I guess, 11C was not an exit row seat at all (found out on the plane…). I asked if the flight was overbooked – he scrolled down his list and unfortunately LH3023 showed “0”, while the next departures to Stockholm and Copenhagen were overbooked by 12 and 14 respectively. My bag was checked through to Narita but no boarding pass could be printed for the FRA-AA), Japan">NRT leg on All Nippon.
Security was a breeze and I made my way to the surprisingly crowded SAS Business Lounge. I helped myself to some nachos with salsa and some rolls while trying to spot a Finnair DC9 for one last time – they will be retired on July 3. No DC9s to be seen and the airport was far from busy with the usual Finnair Airbuses and MD80s dominating the scheme. MD-11 OH-LGC was operating Finnair 5 to New York Kennedy and LGE was sitting in front of the hangars, apparently due to the radically cut Asian schedules in June.
LH 3023 was to start boarding at 2pm at gate 26 – no announcement until 2.10pm but at least the agent was worried if my LH# was in the booking as it didn’t show up on the boarding pass. Boarding started for families with small children first, followed by the general cattle call. Crew was nothing special – rather tired looking. Maybe they had had too many hours of partying the night before… The crew for this afternoon departure usually stays at HEL for the night – no idea what flight they take from FRA the night before.
The 737-300 looked decent – surprisingly little wear and tear considering that the 733s aren’t exactly the newest ones in the Lufthansa fleet. Exit row was 10.... Legroom was horrible in row 11 – it seems that the rows forward of the exit row have better legroom as they are often used for business class. The guy in 7F had major trouble fitting into his seat – but of course the SAS gate agent genius had a great solution: Let’s make the crew to move the cabin divider one row backwards so he’d have an inch wider seat! So essentially she just upgraded five pax to the annoyance of the rest of the business cabin (nasty looks) and frequent flyers in the back. Needless to say this was the same gate agent who upgraded a bunch of non-status passengers in plain view of a few of LH Senators and UA 1Ks in March and refused me an upgrade on SK last time (suggested by the lounge staff as I volunteered to be bumped…). Great to see how she appreciates your loyalty. Another total idiot was sitting in the exit row with his 11D boarding pass and tried to tell the pax with 10D and E that 11D is just like this one and they could just go there.
We pushed back a bit late due to slot restrictions at FRA – no biggie for me as I’d have four hours to kill anyway. A powerful takeoff from 04R followed, and the baby Boeing turned left towards Sweden, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Hanover and Frankfurt. Standard inflight service followed – are they ever going to change these meals?? I mean, it’s not bad but about five years is quite long to have more or less the exact same meal. I had some Diet Coke as well as a few Baileys with ice afterwards.
The rest of the flight was very uneventful until we started our approach. The captain announced that we’d have to wait fifteen minutes in a holding pattern and then circumnavigate some thunderstorms – he was expecting a bumpy approach. He was right for sure – the 737 bounced around like there was no tomorrow as soon as we entered the clouds. This lasted for a few minutes and the rest of the approach was smooth and we touched down on 25R about fifteen minutes late. D-ABER quickly taxied to A10 and I was off to the ANA check-in desks.
28 June 2003
Frankfurt/Main (FRA/EDDF) – New Tokyo International [Narita] (AA), Japan">NRT/RJAA)
All Nippon Airways NH 210
Economy Class, Seat 47H (Exit Row)
Photo © Arthur Yu
Photo © Sam Chui
ANA check-in was in hall 1B, actually using the same desks that I used for Thai last time. The Fraport staff weren’t particularly friendly and the lady refused to put in my Senator number as I’m flying on an Air Canada reward ticket – claiming that the miles would post. Mileage will not be posted for X class no matter what FFP you have in the record… Now, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that a Star Alliance Gold card is worth having in the PNR when the flight is overbooked. She managed to find an exit row seat for me though and asked if I know where the LH Senator Lounge B is. “You can of course use the lounge even though you are on a free ticket.” I hate it when mileage tickets are called free tickets – they are paid with miles and should be called award tickets, redemption tickets or something similar.
Security was a breeze at FRA as well, with separate lines for First/Business and Economy. I have always used the F/C line as LH Senator without problems. Today, none had any lineups so it didn’t really matter which one you chose. SEN Lounge B was its usual crowded self, but I managed to get a comfy chair near the windows offering good views of JA8098 parked at B42 just in front of me. This plane only has the ANA logo instead of the All Nippon Airways and the same in Chinese/Japanese found on most others. Traffic wasn’t particularly heavy at FRA at this point – LH Jumbos (bound for Asia I suppose) taxied to 25R for takeoff one after the other but without causing any traffic jams…
Food selections in the lounge were the usual – sandwiches, sausages, cakes etc. The sandwiches this evening had some liver stuff in them – I hate liver so I decided to go find something to eat outside the lounge as I had only had the small LH cold meal for the day. A good old Big Mac meal satisfied my hunger and I then proceeded to the ANA Transfer Desk, which had opened by now. A friendly Fraport guy inserted my LH number without questions and after checking that my SK-checked baggage would be on the plane, wished me a very pleasant flight.
I then went back to the lounge, had some Bourbon and Coke, and typed some of this report. Thai’s HS-TGX and Singapore’s 9V-SMS had by now arrived at the gates near the ANA Jumbo. Quite a good mix of Asian Star Alliance airlines here. At around 7.50pm, I headed down to B42 and asked if NH 210 was still overbooked – “We have a few empty seats in economy” was the agent’s answer. Oh well, the exit row should be good. My personal experience is that even heavily overbooked flights ex-FRA seem to be ok most of the time – maybe quite a few pax miss their tight connections (45 min minimum I believe at FRA).
Boarding started for First, Club ANA and Star Alliance Gold at 8.05pm and I was greeted by smiling Japanese ladies onboard. As soon as I made it to row 47, one flight attendant was there to help with my carry on. I then noticed the PTV controller sticking out a good inch and a half from the armrest of the exit row seat – oh well. Legroom was of course good but the seat was the narrowest I have had with that controller – extremely uncomfortable. The seats are pretty average, quite small with adjustable headrest. You can’t however move the headrest up or down – it’s fixed and you can only move the side flaps or whatever they are called. Normal rows seemed to have decent legroom and footrests, with the PTV controller stored inside the armrest.
Boarding was completed around 8.30pm, and we were pushed back exactly on schedule five minutes later. While taxiing to 07L, the safety demo was being played on the bulkhead screens and overhead LCDs (I have only seen old style TVs on 747s before). We soon lined up on the runway and the heavy jumbo started its rather short 40-second roll. This 747 had cameras in the nose, offering great views when rolling and climbing. Unlike their counterparts found on some Airbuses, these ones were fantastic even after passing 1000ft – they must have some sort of zoom available. Soon after takeoff, hot towels were distributed, followed by snack mix+drinks and dinner later. Meanwhile, the captain announced in “Japanese English” (as he described it) some facts about the flight. Our flying time was 10h30min and our route would take us over some German cities, Baltic Sea, Estonia, Finland, then Russia for 8 hours and finally into New Tokyo International Airport in Narita, Japan.
I had a Pepsi with my ANA snack mix – a full can and a cup with ice were presented to me. No menus or amenity kits were given, I was actually expecting them to be honest. Dinner was a choice of beef or salmon – I took the beef. The tray setting is identical to Air Canada’s – a typical small airline tray, not a big one like on Thai and Singapore Airlines. There was a cup of salad, another cup of noodles and a piece of cherry cake in addition to the main course on the tray. Also all sorts of stuff for the noodles as well as a pair of chopsticks were provided in addition to the cutlery (mine happened to be Club ANA style for some reason). Main course was served in a disposable aluminium thing – not real china. The beef pretty good but very average airline food - doesn’t compare with TG/CI. The salad, noodles and dessert were excellent. I had another Pepsi to go with my meal, no additional drink rounds were made. The route map (excellent; it showed for example distances from nearest cities etc) was on the screens all the time - our route was getting quite interesting during dinner… We first passed Helsinki-Vantaa airport (20mi), then my aunt’s hometown (13mi), then my hometown (6mi), then the city where I study (11 miles) and finally our summer cottage (20mi). Unfortunately, my camera was in the overhead locker and I had my meal in front of me – I should have gotten a pic of those screens!
JA8098 is equipped with ANA Sky Master audio and video on demand (AVOD) system, so I had to try it. A great selection of 14 movies, some short subjects, ANA info, music and tons of games was available. You can start the movies whenever you want and also rewind, fast forward, pause etc. I haven’t used any AVOD system before, so I can’t compare. After playing around with the Sky Master for a while, I tried to sleep… The seat width was absolutely horrible, but somehow I managed to sleep for four hours – woke up with only two hours to go.
A hot breakfast was served 90 minutes before landing – an omelette, a sausage and some potatoes as well as a fruit salad on the side. The hot part was quite tasteless but the fruit salad was good. Soon after the trays were cleared, we started our initial descent into Narita. The captain soon made his “good morning” announcement – there would be no delays and we’d be on the ground at AA), Japan">NRT in 15 minutes. The nose cameras were again turned on, offering great views of the Japanese countryside below. We gently touched down on 16R at 2.25pm, some 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The first thing I saw was a bunch of four Northwest jets as well as a JAL 747-200. The NW A320s look out of place among all the widebodies at Narita.
We taxied to Terminal 2 and parked next to two Continental 777-200ERs (N78005 and N78013), and I deplaned via 1L. New Style Club ANA and the new First Class looked absolutely superb, I’ll have to burn some LH miles to try them out I suppose. Terminal 2 was a total madhouse with China Airlines and Japan Asia Airways 747s from Taipei, Continental from Houston and our flight. There was a temperature check before immigration – that took about 15 minutes. The immigration line was insane; I stood there for exactly an hour. But as I reached the desk, the line had doubled with the arrivals of JL 001 and AC 003 as well as a JL flight from Amsterdam. My passport was stamped in about 30 seconds and my bag was waiting next to belt A4 downstairs. The customs officer wanted me to open my suitcase – what his point was, I don’t know. As soon as I had opened it, he wished me a nice stay in Tokyo and Bangkok later.
I then went to the Narita Express ticket counter expecting to dish out 3K Yen for the ride to Tokyo station, but the friendly agent suggested the local train leaving in ten minutes. This would take me directly to Kinshicho station and I could then walk to the Marriott in three minutes. Excellent – this only cost me 1280 Yen, and the trip would take 1h25min. The N’EX with a connection to a local train at Tokyo would take at least the same.
Tokyo Marriott Kinshicho Tobu Hotel
I got this one from Priceline Hong Kong for about 115 Euros per night – not exactly cheap but not a bad deal in Tokyo. The hotel is located in the Sumida-Ku area, a few hundred metres from the Kinshicho JR station. I was happy with the location, the train ticket to Tokyo Station and most of the neighbouring areas is 150 Yen. The lobby is very nice, and I was escorted to my room in the 21st floor. The room itself was surprisingly large with two queen beds, a sofa and a table as well as a working desk. Bedside controls for lights were available. The safe was not big enough for my laptop though. Bathroom was small, but the shower was excellent and the toilet seat had some sort of a water-spray cleaning system available – I didn’t dare to try it. No fitness centre was available in the hotel and restaurants were overpriced. Friendly and helpful staff, overall a very nice Marriott.
01 July 2003
New Tokyo Int’l [Narita] (AA), Japan">NRT/RJAA) – Bangkok Int’l [Don Muang] (BKK/VTBD)
Thai Airways International TG 641
Economy Class, Seat 32H
Photo © Matthew Willmott-Sharp
Photo © Poowin Bunyavejchewin
I took the rapid train back to Narita from Kinshicho at 7.17am and arrived at Airport Terminal 2 station 1h25minutes later. There was a passport check when exiting the railway station. I then went up to the departure lobby on the third floor and was checked in by a JAL agent at the Thai Royal Executive Class counter after a few minutes’ wait. Air Canada had not charged the AA), Japan">NRT departure tax, so I was escorted to JAL ticketing, who promptly charged 2040 Yen to my credit card.
There was a wait of about five minutes to the security check, but the check itself was a non-event – just the way it should be done without some ridiculous things like removing your shoes, belt watch etc. The departure area was very busy and it was very hot there as well. I then took the shuttle to gates C and D, and headed to the Club ANA/Star alliance Gold lounge. I had an invitation to the Signet lounge, but decided to give this one a try. The agent insisted that I use the Signet lounge instead (not sure why – I should be able to use any designated *A Gold lounge, but I didn’t make a scene out of it). At least she gave me another invitation card for the other one, so I could save one as a souvenir . I later read somewhere that the Signet lounge is indeed the nicer one of the two.
All Nippon Airways Signet Lounge AA), Japan">NRT 2C/D
This lounge is located one floor up from the Club ANA lounge and is quite small. I found a seat near the windows though, giving good views of the aircraft parked at C gates. There was a JAL MD11 right in front of me, Vietnam Airlines 767 in new colours and a JALWays Reso’cha 747 departing for Guam.
This lounge offered a good selection of drinks and snacks as well as lots of working desks where you could use your laptops (internet access provided as well).
I went to C87 around 1020, and an announcement was just made that TG641 to Chiang Mai via Bangkok would start boarding in ten minutes. The long 777-300 was parked between a JAL and MAS 777-200s. I was among the first to board – an old friend “Sriwanna” (HS-TKA) was waiting at the end of the jetway. I flew on this bird from Chiang Mai to Bangkok just a few months ago. I then got the usual Wais from two nice ladies at door 2L and I was then shown the way to my seat 32H in second row of economy class.
What a difference the seat was from the ANA economy seat – very wide with adequately tall backrest and good legroom. I don’t quite understand why some people hate these seats – must be the best economy class seats out there. An endless flow of people passed me in the next twenty minutes and boarding was finally completed at around 10.50am. “Cabin crew – all doors to automatic” was soon announced and we pushed back five minutes early and started taxiing to 36L for takeoff. HS-TKA passed a bunch of interesting jets, including an Aeroflot B767-300, ANA Pokemon 747-400 as well as Lufthansa’s D-ABTK, that one was heavily delayed due to aircraft maintenance.
After passing the NW 747 parking lot, the Triple Seven entered 36L started rolling. A steep climb followed after a 40-second roll and we were soon in the clouds. Seatbelt sign went off in ten minutes, and the inflight supervisor announced the service onboard this flight. There will be drinks and snacks served first, followed by lunch. A refreshment will be served prior to landing. All this on a 5h51min flight. The captain then made his announcement and welcomed us aboard the Thai Triple Seven bound for Bangkok. Our flight time would be a bit shy of six hours and we’d be flying first towards Hong Kong, then onto Da Nang and continue onto Thailand where we’d landing almost 40 minutes ahead of schedule, around 2.55pm.
Service soon started, I had a whiskey and coke as well as orange juice with the snack mix. As the air hostesses were collecting the trash, I was asked if I wanted another can of Coke or something else to drink. Refreshment towels were then distributed – I wonder if TG will ever go back to the good old hot towels of pre-SARS days… Lunch followed shortly – three choices were available on this flight: Fish Curry with Thai Jasmine Rice, Chicken with Noodles and a Japanese choice. I had no clue about the Japanese option, so the flight attendant showed it to me. I opted for the curry and it was perfect. TG has never disappointed with their meals and presentation – this time was no exception. There was also a cup of noodles, some sushi, very delicious dessert and chopsticks on the large tray. Main course was served on real china. These Thai economy class meals compare very well with LH/SK/AY business class meals in presentation and quantity, and are much tastier usually.
I had some white wine and water to go with the meal and asked for a Baileys afterwards – economy usually gets only cognac but the the lady promised to bring me some from business class. She came back after a few minutes and apologized that they have no Baileys onboard and if I’d like some Cointreau or Drambuie instead. Cointreau later arrived in a cute little TG glass. The 20000 free ticket promotion forms were soon collected and regular drink rounds were made as we cruised past Hong Kong and onto Da Nang in Vietnam. The free ticket draw later took place near the front of economy class, accompanied by champagne and all the rest. Some lucky guy in 12A won a free business class ticket for BKK-AA), Japan">NRT-BKK.
Afternoon tea was served about an hour before landing – Japanese green tea with some sweets. We soon passed Ubon Ratchathani and started our descent into Bangkok Intl. We flew past Buri Ram and Surin and landed smoothly on 21R about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I was expecting us to park in a remote stand as TG 641 continues to Chiang Mai, but we taxied to gate 12 and the crew announced that a plane change will take place here at Bangkok airport. It was quite a hike from the gate to immigration, but immigration itself was a breeze with no lines whatsoever. Baggage belt 1 was just starting to move and my bag was the 8th to appear.
Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa
I arrived after a 30-minute drive at the resort and was greeted by two guys who seemed to remember me from my last time there. This Priceline reservation was cancelled by the hotel before for some reason and it took a few e-mails to both parties to get it solved. Priceline was of totally no help – “your reservation is fine, thanks for using Priceline blah blah”. The GM of the Marriott finally admitted that they had cancelled the reservation by mistake and apologized.
As a Marriott Rewards silver at a half empty resort after this reservation fiasco, I was at least expecting a riverview room – not a chance, that’s $20 more per night. No thanks, give me whatever view non smoking room with a king bed, please. Meanwhile a cold towel and a glass of pineapple juice arrived. I was then taken to my room on the fourth floor of the north tower. The rooms at this resort are large and nice, with hardwood flooring, highspeed internet etc. Once I stepped on the balcony though, I realized that my room really had no view at all. Overall a quite nice stay, but all special requests were flatly refused again, including late checkout. I have no idea how they can afford this when the hotel is far from full – the JW Marriott, Westin and President Park always give late checkouts until “whenever you need to go to the airport”. There is a lot of competition in Bangkok after all. The property itself is one of the nicest Marriotts out there as far as my stays are concerned.
Since no late checkout was possible, I decided to head to Udon Thani with my friend again – or so I thought… Arrived at the domestic terminal nice and early at around 5am just to be told that the morning flight is full. “Today small plane, both class full. You go to reservations office for standby.” The usual A300 had indeed been replaced with a 737 this morning. The domestic terminal was a total madhouse; I have never seen so many people there before. So much for the low season…
Reservations waitlisted us and there should be a good chance to get seats since LH*G should put us right begind TG Golds on the waitlist as per the usual Star Alliance procedure. Off to desk 35 we go since we need to report there too. An old guy starts telling me how he had a night from hell, a too early wake up call, but at least he just got a seat on his flight… As we reach the standby desk, off goes his bag with “TG 8 UTH” sticker. The agent was very rude, asked if we want to pay for business class if there are seats and threw the reservation slip back at me with “6:25” written on it.
No lounge access since we were just waitlisted (I have had different experiences too…), so off to the TG snack bar we went downstairs. I noticed the Phuket Air ticketing desk there and decided to ask about their UTH flight – “Our flight suspend temporarily – you go see Thai Airways”. Things weren’t looking good. We went back to the standby desks at exactly 6:23, just to hear an even more rude agent shout “NOT YET!” Meanwhile, someone without even a frequent flyer card (yes I do know where to look on the boarding pass) got a seat, followed by a TG Silver member…
I waited for another ten minutes and she finally shouted “flight full”. The slightly less rude agent then told me happily that she has one seat and one could tell right away that she just didn’t want us both to get on the flight. Her attitude towards me and especially my friend was disgusting, even more so than doing the waitlist clearing however she pleased. I told her that she can happily place my boarding pass in the trashcan under her desk and we headed back to town.
05 July 2003
Bangkok International [Don Muang] (BKK/VTBD) – Frankfurt Main (FRA/EDDF)
Thai Airways International TG 920
HS-TGB “Si Satchanalai”
Economy Class, Seat 32H (Bulkhead)
Photo © Kai-jens Meyer
Photo © Søren Geertsen
I went back to the airport around 10:30pm for my 11:45pm TG 920 to Frankfurt. Terminal 1 was even more packed than the domestic terminal was in the morning, but luckily the Premium Check-In aisle was quite deserted. I asked at the Star Gold desks if they needed any volunteers to go on other flights or tomorrow as TG 920 was heavily overbooked. “Every class full can not upgrade.” Yeah, that’s exactly what I asked… I later noticed she also didn’t put in my LH card number and didn’t give me the “20000 free tickets” entry form.
I went straight to the Royal Orchid Lounge near gate 15 – asked again if the flight was overbooked. “Economy class overbooked sir”. Snacks and drinks were about the same as in ROL T2, but this lounge is much bigger. Some Internet terminals were available (half of which broken) and no working space for laptops. I had some mini pizzas and headed to gate 12.
This was one of the old gates downstairs from the main corridor. I handed the agent my boarding pass and LH Senator card – she asked me to wait for a minute and asked her the other agent about upgrades… She later handed me back the stub with “your number already in” comment. Yes sure, my Air Canada non-status number surely is in and the other agent wasn’t worried about the number at all. Later they realized that passengers from the delayed TG 992 from Auckland via Sydney would unfortunately still make it and they needed to upgrade someone to make some room in the back. Well, what’s better than just pick some people off the queue… It’s a shame that an airline with such good inflight service has such terrible ground service at their home base. From domestic check in to international premium check in to gate agents – they were all rather rude today and hardly understood what you asked.
Boarding started soon and the agents were trying hard to force families with children, F/C/*G to board first. It’s quite hard at the old gates though. I was greeted by some older flight attendants who were smiling but looked tired – they were clearly not looking forward to the full overnight run to Germany. Understandable as 920 comes in from Phuket and attracts lots of holidaymakers (they drank a lot during the flight, had beach clothes on etc.). I took my seat in the first row and discovered that the legroom was ok and the audio control unit that is stupidly placed on TG bulkheads/exit rows too, was still a lot more comfortable than the ANA seat.
Captain soon informed about a delay of 45 minutes due to Bangkok traffic – I have never been delayed for that reason before… Maybe the real reason was FRA landing slot as BKK clearly wasn’t too busy. Meanwhile, the lady in 32K asked if it’s ok to have all her hand luggage right there in front of her, including a large roller bag. “Of course if it doesn’t bother you as the flight is full”. Quite strange in my opinion. We pushed back half an hour late and slowly taxied to 21R, following a company triple seven bound for Osaka. Behind us was the Finnair MD11 operating AY 092 from HKG to HEL via BKK and a Royal Brunei 767-300 (V8-RBH) doing BI 033 from Bandar Seri Begawan to Frankfurt.
TGB started rolling around 12:25am and took off after a 50-second roll, followed along the Uttaraphimuk Elevated Tollway for a while. We then made a right turn just before reaching downtown Bangkok and headed towards Yangon. Our route tonight would be the usual one to Frankfurt – over Myanmar, Bay of Bengal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, some former soviet states, Budapest, Vienna, Munich and then onto Frankfurt Main International.
Menus and headsets were given out and drinks were served first. Supper followed and it was a choice of fish or chicken. I took the fish, it was served with sweet and sour sauce and garlic fried rice. Very good, but the drinks only arrived about 20 minutes later. This is quite often a problem on TG. Not a major one, but I’d prefer them right after the trays are given. Seats 32HJK and 33HJK aren’t particularly great as there is constant traffic between the small galley located next to them and the big one located in front of the bulkhead. No cognac service after the meal for some reason.
After the trays were cleared, one of the flight attendants brought me an eyeshade and earplugs from business class without me even asking – very nice of her and very much appreciated in this particular seat. I then proceeded to sleep and luckily only woke up as the crew was preparing for the breakfast service. No idea how I was able to do that…
Breakfast was a choice of scrambled egg with toast and sausages or a vegetarian option, I took the former. It was quite good but drink service again took place a bit too late. We were flying somewhere over Hungary at this point at 38000ft. Soon after the trays were cleared, the captain came on with his good morning speech and the cabin was prepared for landing. Air Steward T had been working all night the galley and he did all the drink rounds too… One of the containers in the galley needed some hammering to get closed, and of course the ladies asked him to do that too. “You know, Thai Airways good for working when you lady but not for a men. Make me do everything!” Everybody in 32-33HJK burst out laughing.
We soon passed the skyscrapers of Frankfurt and were on finals for 25R. Another smooth TG 747 landing followed and ironically, we followed the Brunei 767-300 on the taxiway afterwards. We parked next to a Saudi Arabian 777-200 and that annoying gate passport check was there as usual. LH Business Lounge near gate B48 had a waitlist for showers already, but this one is usually a better bet than the Senator Lounge B. I got to the shower within about half an hour and made my way to the Senator Lounge Schengen A afterwards.
06 July 2003
Frankfurt Main (FRA/EDDF) – Helsinki Vantaa (HEL/EFHK)
Lufthansa LH 3060
1005-1325 (1105-1410 – due to aircraft maintenance)
Economy Class, Seat 10A (Exit Row)
Photo © Tobias Rose
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
I went to gate A 1 about 20 minutes before boarding – a very long walk from the lounges. I don’t like the A concourse as distances between gates are very long. This flight looked overbooked too, but the gate agent said that a few seats were open in economy. Apparently LH doesn’t overbook these European feeder flights by much during the summer season. Pretty much the same availability figures meant overbooked back in April when I got the vouchers and a later flight.
I took my seat in the exit row and was really looking forward to get home. The four-hour layover and this Helsinki flight are a bit much after an overnight flight from Asia. Doors were closed and we were ready to go as the captain announced a technical problem that would take a few minutes to fix. 1L was opened again and LH Technik got onboard. We finally pushed back an hour late and taxied to 25R for takeoff. A good old NW DC-10 took off for Detroit, a Lufthansa A300 landed and then it was our turn.
Takeoff was uneventful and we headed north. The usual cold snack followed and I had some Coke to flush it down. Flight was smooth all the way, until we were on approach. Apparently the pilots had requested some shortcuts for landing and got them. We flew past the airport parallel to the main runways and then made a very sharp turn onto finals for 22L. Landed quite roughly 45 minutes late and full thrust reverse and brakes were applied. I have never had such approach at HEL before.
We arrived at gate 26 a few minutes later and I made my way to the baggage claim. It was a total madhouse with bags off the Finnair cattle trucks that had just arrived from various parts of Southern Europe. Bags from our flight took forever to appear, this is always the case with SAS/LH flights. I don’t know how they manage to waste 20 minutes getting the bags off the containers while Finnair can manage the bags off an MD-11 in about five. My bag was amongst the first off though, and I headed home.
I was supposed to have just one week off, but ended up having two… Since Air Canada really appreciates its frequent flyers and allows absolutely no date changes for Star Alliance award tickets, I decided that the SIA Fabulous Offer would be nice for the second week. Air Canada awards are practically worthless if you need flexible dates, while on AA awards on Oneworld partners, date changes are not only allowed but are free as well.
09 July 2003
Helsinki Vantaa (HEL/EFHK) – Copenhagen Kastrup (CPH/EKCH)
Scandinavian Airlines SK 717
McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30
OY-KIL “Kaare Viking”
Economy Class, Seat 6D
Photo © Alexander Jonsson
Photo © Europix
I arrived at Helsinki Vantaa around 11:30am this time and checked in quickly at the SAS Self Service machines. Seat 6D, an aisle just after the cabin divider was available for both SK 717 to Copenhagen and SK 1515 to Heathrow. The SAS lounge was pretty much deserted – a change from the visit about a week and a half ago. Also gone were the rolls and cold cuts, just nachos with salsa were available in the snack department.
This flight was listed as both M80 and EQV in the schedules, but lately it’s been an MD-90 most of the time. Boarded OY-KIL at gate 26 about half an hour before scheduled departure time and was quite surprised to see the number of people at the gate. These Helsinki flights almost always show lots of availability online and end up being full or overbooked. I counted three empty seats in economy today.
We taxied to 04R for takeoff and a Finnair DC-9 was right there, taxiing for takeoff as well. I thought they were retired on July 3. Most of them certainly were, confirmed by the sad lineup in front of the hangars. While Finnair jets were entering the runway at various points, we taxied all the way to the beginning of 04R. It’s interesting to see how this always happens on SAS and Lufthansa, while the Finnair pilots usually are happy with lesser amount of runway.
The MD90 rocketed off the runway at 1pm sharp, this variant of the MD family sure is one hell of a performer. We headed down the usual route, towards Gotland and then right towards Copenhagen. Snackboxes were delivered – one tiny sandwich and a cup of water. Even the chocolates were gone. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the plastic box must cost SAS more than what’s inside. Why not just give bigger sandwiches in paper bags like LH does on short routes? I had some Baileys as well as Coke with the sandwich.
We landed on 04R at 1:30pm and taxied to pier B.I made my way to the Scandinavian Lounge and asked about the possibility to standby onto SK 505, leaving an hour before my original flight. I thought no chance myself as I was on a Singapore Airlines award ticket - but the agent happily listed me for SK 505. The lounge was quite crowded, but offered nice snacks this time; Danish meatballs and breads were available.
09 July 2003
Copenhagen Kastrup (CPH/EKCH) – London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL)
Scandinavian Airlines SK 505
McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30
SE-DMG “Hervor Viking”
Economy Class, Seat 9A
Photo © Alexander Jonsson
Photo © CPH Aviation
When exiting the lounge, I bumped into the horrendous lines for passport control. Poor officers needed their holidays at the peak summer season – way to go… Finally after about twenty minutes, I made it to one of the two open counters. Lines exiting the non-Schengen area were horrible as well. So, this is the kind of service that I pay my airport taxes for when connecting at Copenhagen.
Another MD90, SE-DMG this time, was waiting at C27. Next to it was the Narita-bound A340 (LN-RKF), looking absolutely horrible. She needs a new paintjob or a throughout wash badly. Next to it was the “APEC 2003 Thailand” Royal Barge (HS-TGO), bound for Bangkok as TG 951. I later witnessed her being pushed back from my seat onboard the MD90 – looked absolutely gorgeous in the afternoon sun.
The Heathrow gate was far from busy, so I approached the agent with my standby boarding pass. He informed me that it was looking pretty good and that he’d get back to me in about ten minutes. Excellent. While reading some story hardly worth the paper and ink in the Daily Mail, he handed me a boarding pass for 9A on SK505 to London Heathrow.
As I boarded, I noticed one of the ladies from SK 717 working on this flight as well. She made a half-hearted effort to say hello – I don’t know what has happened with the SAS crews lately… They used to be nice and cheerful and nowadays they’re just your average airline crews. Probably too worried about the financial situation of the airline… I threw my belongings to the overhead bin and took 9A next to an elderly Swedish lady.
We were pushed back on time and headed to 04R for takeoff. DMG entered the runway via taxiway B2, with 3205 metres of runway ahead of us. We took off at 3:07pm and headed straight towards the German coast and Amsterdam. Seatbelt sign went off two minutes after takeoff and service started. Another one of those bloody boxes. It was pretty much the same as earlier, except for the fact that the sandwich was double the size, but completely dry with exactly one slice of ham inside. Also two Fazermint candies were available this time.
We flew right over Schiphol airport before turning towards the UK and crossing the English Channel. We then started our approach into Heathrow and the captain expected no delays – not bad for LHR. We passed quite a few familiar sights over central London before landing on 27R about ten minutes early. SE-DMG arrived at stand 308 a few minutes after landing and I was off to the dump called Terminal 3 of the world’s busiest international airport. In addition to looking horrible, air conditioning wasn’t working in some parts, travelators were out of order… you name it.
Finally after that security check for transit passengers, I made it to transit check-in. If there is an uglier and darker check-in area somewhere in the Western world, I’d be happy to hear. Singapore Airlines desk was not staffed, but the lady under the Pakistan International signs waved me over. Her attitude was basically “Why the hell are you going to Singapore for two days and I definitely don’t have an exit row seat for you.” At least I got the boarding pass now, internet check-in failed to work for the second time for me. Apparently, if you want to put in your non-SQ frequent flyer number, you need to make the booking using a username and password other than your Krisflyer details. This defies logic and I will most definitely not create another set of username/password when the Krisflyer number works fine even though you don’t put it into the booking.
Some of the aircraft that I spotted at Heathrow this afternoon:
Air New Zealand 747-400 ZK-NBW
All Nippon Airways 747-400 JA8096
Biman Bangladesh DC10-30 S2-ACO
BWIA West Indies A340-300 9Y-TJN
El Al 747-200
European 747-200 G-BDXJ
Malaysia 747-400 9M-MPJ
Pakistan International B747-300 AP-BFU (Delayed 7 hours)
United Airlines 777-200 N791UA, N799UA
United Airlines 767-300 N655UA
Virgin Atlantic A340-600 G-VMEG
Lots of BA and other European jets as well as a few AA 777s.
09 July 2003
London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) – Singapore Changi (SIN/WSSS)
Singapore Airlines SQ 319
Economy Class, Seat 41C (Exit Row)
Photo © Sam Chui
Photo © Martin Boschhuizen
I made a quick stop at the new Air Canada/Scandinavian London Lounge first before heading to the SilverKris Lounge. A detailed report of the London Lounge will follow in the return part.
Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge (Raffles Class), London Heathrow, UK
This lounge is located near gate 6A, and has two sections: First/PPS as well as Raffles/Star Gold. The agent at the front desk happily put in a request for an exit row, and wished me a pleasant stay in the lounge. I made my way upstairs – lots of comfy chairs with views of the apron. Internet terminals as well as showers were available free of charge. There is a bar counter with service as well as self service soft drinks etc. Snack selection was ok, some tomato soup, instant noodles, rolls, pretzels and potato chips. Overall, the SilverKris lounge very nice, one of the better ones that I have visited in Europe.
I went to gate 31 around 5:40pm, and upon entering, the agent gave me a new boarding card for 41C. I was shocked for a while as the agent’s code printed on it happened to be 3C, and of course I saw that before 41C… The waiting lounge was old and crappy, and very hot. Boarding soon started and was done very orderly – an older lady from the handling agent was shouting commands and refusing people seated in wrong cabin/row at the boarding door.
Crew seemed to be very average upon entering the plane – not many smiles and the standard “hello”s. None of the warm welcomes on ANA and Thai or help with hand luggage. Not that I need it, but it’s a nice touch from the crew and make you feel welcome. Boarding was soon completed, and we were pushed back on time. Meanwhile, hot towels, headsets and SARS information kits were passed out and the safety demo was being shown.
When taxiing to 27L, I happened to glance out of the window of course… There she was, the Concorde taxiing to 27R for takeoff as Speedbird 1 to New York. Unfortunately, there was no lineup for 27L, and we continued taxiing so that BA 001 was soon out of sight. The guy in 41A was trying to ask the Leading Stewardess sitting on the jumpseat about how the crew’s stay in London was – she was disinterested to say the least.
We lined up on 27L and sat there for seven minutes. I suppose this was because of the Concorde departure, but the fellow in 41A started barking how there must be a technical problem, this is not normal etc. We started rolling at around 6:55pm, and the Megatop lifted off after a surprisingly short 45-second roll. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, menus were given out, and the entertainment system was turned on. 9V-SMJ is equipped with Wisemen3000, the first time I got to try this system. It isn’t that much different from ANA Skymaster when it comes to movies and games (both offer a wide selection), but Wisemen has over 50 CD albums available and you can build your own playlist. Very nice feature. Airshow map however didn’t work in my seat. The control unit is about the same size as on NH, but SQ has managed to place it on the armrest so that seat width isn’t affected much.
Drinks and nuts were served shortly, quite sad to see that only a handful of drinks are available on a tray instead of the full selection from the cart. They will serve you any drinks when you ask, but how many passengers will? Another cost-cutting measure. Dinner followed shortly, and was a choice of turkey or Thai style beef curry. Naturally, after 10 rows, they had run out of the beef as pretty much every Asian took that option. They ran out of choices on my latest SIN-FRA as well, didn’t surprise me one bit. The menu on the cart said “beef 52, turkey 138”.
I took the turkey (tasteless with some strange potatoes), while my seatmate went completely nuts “I am not eating your f*cking turkey and I’m pretty hungry too.” He was later given some chicken, crew meal I suppose. The pasta appetizer was pretty good and ice cream as dessert was tasty as well. Interesting to notice that the drink cart never made it out of the galley this time either.
I proceeded to watch Wisegirls on my PTV after dinner, and managed to sleep for about seven hours after that. When I was awake, no drink rounds were made, but the girls patrolled the aisles and took orders for drinks. When I woke up, we were about three hours out of Singapore, cruising over the Bay of Bengal. SQ 319 had taken the usual Europe-South East Asia route – over Germany, Hungary, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India, and we were now approaching Myanmar.
Breakfast service soon started – it was an Asian option or the usual egg and sausage thing. The inflight supervisor was serving meals in the back, she was a very friendly lady indeed. I had the Asian option, nothing to write home about and quite small. I got exactly one cup of orange juice with the meal, tried to order a Coke – “Of course, sir” was the Singapore Girl’s response. The only problem is that the bloody cup of Coca Cola never arrived. No yogurt or fruit salad to go with the breakfast, but a bowl of cereal instead.
As the trays were cleared, we were flying over Malaysia and the captain made his good morning speech, informing us that we’d be starting our descent into Changi in about half an hour. After about 12 hours, the Megatop left its cruising altitude and we were on descent into Singapore. Quite smooth approach, and we touched down on 20L some twenty minutes early. There was a temperature check at the gate, quick and painless. Changi Airport was pretty much deserted, and immigration had a few officers waiting with no lines. SQ failed to give out the health declaration cards, so I needed to fill out one before proceeding to the desks. No questions asked at the immigration itself, and I was sitting on the MRT train about fifteen minutes later.
Concorde Hotel Singapore
Since my flights at £171 didn’t include a hotel, I booked this one via Priceline for roughly EUR25 per night. Last time I got the Swissôtel when I bid for a four-star in the CBD/Marina Bay area, and I must say that these two hotels don’t compare. The entrance is quite nice and the lobby and atrium look very nice. I was given a double bed non-smoking room without problems.
The elevators offer views through the glass walls and so far everything was fine. The rooms however, are quite small and basic by Singapore standards in my opinion. Bathroom was quite awful really, it was tiny and the bathtub (as well as the walls around it) was dirty. Very basic amenities, just shampoo, not even lotion was available. An in-room safe as well as minibar was available. Room service was reasonable priced but the burger that I ordered wasn’t exactly a gourmet dining experience. The hotel is about a 5-minute cab ride away from Orchard Road. I would rate this place 3* instead of 4*.
12 July 2003
Singapore Changi (SIN/WSSS) – London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL)
Singapore Airlines SQ 320
Economy Class, Seat 49K (Exit Row)
Photo © Sam Chui
Photo © Sam Chui
I checked in at the downtown office the day before to secure an exit row seat. They were only able to give me a window, the door bulge restricts your legroom quite a bit in these seats. I took a taxi back to Changi, $15 including the extras. The SQ check-in area was completely deserted, but the only guy in front of me for boarding pass collection (internet/downtown/phone check-in) seemed to have some problems with his documents… I headed over to the Krisflyer/Star Alliance Gold counter and was given my boarding pass. The guy at that desk was far from friendly.
I then went through immigration – no lines whatsoever and the agent there was very friendly. The only difference compared to my last visit, was the temperature check just before the immigration desks. I then proceeded to the SIA Premier Lounge. I believe I have described this place before, so I won’t go into too many details. It’s not the best lounge out there, but easily beats the European lounges in snack selection. I was the only person in the lounge.
I then went to gate F31 for boarding. Security check was quick, and as I entered the gate lounge, boarding for First, Raffles and Elites was about to start. I was one of the first to board 9V-SPO, the crew seemed happier to be there this time, and I made my way to row 49. Boarding was completed rather quickly, and SPO was pushed back on schedule with about a 70% load. Hot towels, headphones and safety demo followed like on SQ 319. We taxied to 20L, and took off with no delay. Before turning left, I saw a lineup of parked A310s. I had quite nice views of Singapore before we headed towards Malaysia and climbed above the clouds.
Limited selection of drinks and nuts were served again, followed by lunch. The flight got very rough at this point, and this would continue pretty much all the way. It was a choice of fish with rice or chicken with noodles. I had the fish and it was quite good. Ice cream bars were given out as dessert. Again, just one drink service and no additional rolls were served. SPO is equipped with Wisemen3000 as well, but as I was tired, I tried to sleep after the trays were cleared.
The exit row window seats aren’t exactly brilliant on SQ, but the door bulge does work as a footrest actually… I managed to get some bad sleep, waking up every now and then. To my total amazement, the crew woke me up about halfway through the