15 August 2004
Helsinki Vantaa (HEL/EFHK) – Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD)
Finnair AY 097
McDonnell Douglas MD-11
Economy Class, Seat 24D
Photo © Francisco José Jurado Ariza
Photo © Lauri Huima
The five weeks I spent working in Finland passed by very fast, and on August 15th it was time to leave for Asia for about 5 months. I will be doing my study abroad period at Yonsei University in Seoul, and obviously will travel around Asia as well. My plan was to leave on Friday 13th of August, but Finnair had of course no Q-class availability for a popular travel day like Friday. The 296 EUR one way fare to Bangkok is great, but I can’t remember any fare ever that would have had worse availability. Booking class of that fare was later changed to O, meaning even fewer available seats.
I was dropped off at Helsinki Vantaa departure hall 2 at around 9pm – two and half hours before departure. The check-in area was deserted as usual, but the sole check-in agent for business class and Oneworld elites didn’t feel like being friendly tonight. She first questioned my eligibility to use such priority check-in desks, but accepted my single overweight piece of checked luggage without problems. Oneworld has no universal luggage policy for elites – a major drawback if you ask me. While Star Alliance gives me first class baggage allowance with my Lufthansa card, a Finnair agent basically told me they don’t care if you are not a Finnair Plus elite. Twenty kilos is not an awful lot when you are planning to stay away for almost half a year.
She offered me an exit row window seat, but realized later that it is in the 10-abreast section, the door bulge blocks most legroom, and the rear section is usually more or less packed with package tour folks from various tour operators. Good grief – I would have never accepted the seat anyway, but she was the first Finnair check-in agent that seemed to have any clue about MD-11 seating. I had tried Finnair’s eCheckin the day before – even though I was sequence number 001 for the flight, there were no good seats left.
After confirming that the Fresh Lounge is still the only one open for Oneworld Sapphires after 7pm, I breezed through security and headed to this pathetic excuse of an airport lounge. AY91/97 to Bangkok is the only daily longhaul flight at the moment for Finnair – I would expect a bit nicer lounge for Sapphires on this flight. Emeralds and business class can use the Longhaul Lounge, which is nice. Hopefully a nicer lounge is offered once the Non-Schengen area upgrade is complete. Quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with the lounge itself; it’s just the lack of amenities that pisses me off. There is no food, the alcohol offered is below onboard Y class standard, there are no Internet PCs, there is no view, and there are no showers…
Boarding started early as usual for the Bangkok flight. I still inquired about a row 21-22 seat at the gate – “There are none left but you wouldn’t enjoy those screaming babies anyway!” The sign indicating the business class side of the desk refused to work – but as I was first to board, the gate agent said “You know the procedures anyway, don’t you?” when I handed my AA card and boarding pass to her. A Finnair grandma directed me to the right upon entering “Olga” for the 6th time. Oh well, at least it wasn’t “Gorba” (OH-LGB) – I have logged 8 flights on that MD-11.
Seat 24D was quite decent – legroom was acceptable, and the 9-abreast section of MD-11s usually has quite wide seats for economy class. Load was 280/296 today – the worst possible from the pax point of view as business was so full that also rows 6-7 were needed (usually C class seats with Y class service to BKK), yet economy had a few empty middle seats, so operational upgrades were not needed either. We were pushed back early, and taxied to 22R for takeoff if my memory serves me. Takeoff roll was rather long this evening, but we then rocketed off the runway MD-11 style into the dark Finnish sky.
Service began shortly after the seatbelt sign went off – dinner was a simple salad, a roll, chicken with rice and a chocolate for dessert. In other words, the usual tiny tray with no choices. The purser was serving drinks in my aisle – my request for a double whisky and a bottle of white wine was fulfilled, and the guy asked if I’d like anything else… Maybe after the dinner I replied. The chicken was decent by western standards, though the portion was ridiculous as usual, and it would probably be classified as snack in Asia. Trays were collected after some time, and the purser asked if I’d like any cognac. Well how could I resist their new Y class choice – Renault Carte Noire VSOP? A full glass was given to me – go figure. Maybe I look like an alcoholic... The two British girls next to me were joking how much these drinks would have cost on Ryanair – the only airline they had ever flown before today’s Finnair flight.
Sleeping proved to be easy after these drinks, and I only woke up as breakfast was being served. We had flown over Estonia, Russia, Afghanistan (directly over Kabul), Lahore Pakistan, Delhi and Calcutta India and were now approaching the coast of Myanmar over the Bay of Bengal at 37000 feet. The hot breakfast consisted of an omelette, some sausages as well as tomato and hash browns. Yoghurt and bread rolls were offered as well – overall it was quite good. The captain then made his announcement – we were approaching the city of Pegu, Myanmar, and would soon enter the Thai airspace and start our descent towards Don Muang.
We left our cruising altitude at about 1pm Thai time, and landed smoothly about twenty minutes later on runway 21L. We then taxied to gate 34, but unfortunately a China Airlines 747 from Hong Kong managed to get to the concourse before us, dumping about 400 passengers to the immigration lines. I waited about 15 minutes to get through, and since the Finnair agent at HEL didn’t bother putting a priority tag to my bag, I had to wait another 10 minutes for it. Customs was a breeze, but the taxi rank had a long queue – I wonder why Don Muang was so busy today despite August being rather low season.
Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok, Bangkok
Check-in was friendly and courteous, I particularly liked the ”Please Upgrade” note on the papers. I had emailed them beforehand as usual, and was offered a suite upgrade for $50 per night, which I accepted. It used to be $25, but is $75 officially nowadays. I was then escorted to the suite – very nice as usual at this hotel. The difference between superior rooms and suites is simply huge. There was a full living room as well as a bedroom, and a hallway and a decent sized bathroom. The bathroom amenities include very nice Aigner toiletry products, and there is a separate shower stall unlike in regular rooms. The bed is also much nicer, and has a real duvet. The chocolates they bring every night to suites are mouth watering. Breakfast was included at the Next2Cafe as usual for Golden Circle members. I had two separate reservations (love the Priceline eBay points…), and the handling of such a situation was flawless as usual.
18 August 2004
Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD) – Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok (HKG/VHHH)
Thai Airways International TG 628
HS-TJF “Phanom Sarakham”
Economy Class, Seat 32D (Bulkhead)
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
I had planned to go to Korea on August 31st, as September 1st is the day when classes begin at my university there. Unfortunately, registration and orientation was scheduled on August 19th, cutting my Bangkok visit to just two days. There would be nothing between registration and the day when classes begin, I really don’t see the logic here. Anyway, after having breakfast at the hotel, I took a taxi to the airport. Since I was in a hurry, I accepted the offer of 400 baht to the airport – highway and tollway included. The usual rate is about 300, but I really had no time to wait for another taxi. The dickhead paid only for the highway of course, driving the rest of the way downstairs. I knew it would be the case but it still pissed me off. End of Bangkok taxi rant.
Check-in was quick at the Thai Airways premium check-in aisle – C and F desks had some queues, but TG has dedicated Star Gold check-in desks. I was the only person there, and after getting a bulkhead seat released for me, off I went with seat 32D assigned. Immigration was quick, and I then headed to the remodelled Thai Royal Executive Lounge near pier 3.
Thai Airways Royal Executive Lounge, Pier 3, Bangkok
I remember what a dump this lounge was when I last visited. What a difference the remodelling has made. It is undoubtedly the nicest lounge at Don Muang now I must say. I went to the second floor – decorations are in Thai style, and lots of granite is used as well. The upstairs section was very large and airy. There were also sleeping rooms, Internet computers, showers and the new Thai Touch massage service. I didn’t have time to try it, and don’t know if it’s for all customers in the lounge or just for Thai Business/First passengers. Drink selection was very impressive; they offer six different whiskies for example. Snacks were the usual, pastries, sandwiches etc – they could offer a bit more in my opinion.
At about 10am, I headed to gate 32 through security – it was quick and painless as usual. The gate area was full of Hong Kong bound pax – they were loud as hell. One tried to simply push me away from the window to join his three friends shouting to each other and looking at the triple seven – ask me and I’ll move but his technique wasn’t appreciated. Boarding started shortly, and I was the first one to board, just before the masses started moving to the boarding door like a landslide. Though the Thai 777-200s are not ERs, ETOPS CONFIGURATION was painted on the engine cowling. I entered through door 2L, and was greeted by a very tall Thai lady – she would be serving my aisle all the way to Incheon as well.
All the 777-200s have the dreaded 3-4-3 configuration in economy, but I must say it wasn’t really that bad. The seats are installed very close together, i.e. there is no space between seats where the armrest is located. The aisles are quite narrow as well, thus the actual seat width isn’t affected that much. If the seat next to you is empty, it’s quite tolerable. The seats themselves are made by Sicma Aeroseat, and have rather nice winged headrests that you simply pull up. I have never seen those before. Boarding was soon completed, and we had a close to 100% load to “Asia’s world city” this morning. Unfortunately three passengers didn’t show up, and we’d have to wait for their bags to be offloaded. Meanwhile, newspapers were offered as well as an assortment of toys to children. The boy in 32F seemed to be very happy with his.
We were pushed half an hour late, and taxied to runway 21R for takeoff as usual. Captain Wittaya welcomed us onboard and said he’d be back with more information once we were airborne. The double ping of the seatbelt sign was soon heard, the crew rushed to their jumpseats while our triple seven lined up for takeoff. The big Trents soon spooled up, and we started the takeoff roll. You can really feel the power on the 777 on takeoff, even if it’s not quite like the MD11.
The purser soon explained the service on this flight; we would first be served a snack with drinks and later a lunch on this 2h20min flight. The snackmix was roasted pumpkin seeds, quite exotic but nevertheless tasty. I chose a Ballantines with Coke as my drink. Hot towels were later passed out – real cloth ones also in economy class. Row 32 was the last to get lunch served – however both choices were still available. I chose the lemongrass prawns with Thai jasmine rice, a special meal created to celebrate the birthday of the Queen. It is served on all TG flights from Bangkok and all classes have this meal in one form or another as well. It came with a Thai seafood salad and a special Thai dessert. Real china and glasses are still used on TG. It was an excellent meal, especially the main course. Wine, water and warm rolls were served constantly during the meal as well as Chinese tea. Later, the purser walked around with a bottle of Camus VSOP cognac and a tray of those little TG glasses. The other meal choice was roasted duck… Quite a difference from “chicken or pasta” that the western airlines usually serve.
We were already starting the descent into Chek Lap Kok when the crew collected the trays. I noticed on the airshow that we had flown over the Hainan island – in my experience at least AY and CI always avoid flying over Hainan for some reason. We flew past the city of Hong Kong, as our landing runway was 25R this afternoon. Landing was rather hard, and we taxied to the terminal behind an Orient Thai Boeing 747-146, HS-UTH to be more exact. Our gate was 42 this afternoon, and I headed through a security check to the departures level after a Cathay Pacific representative handed me a transfer card and gave instructions how to go to the lounge.
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge, Hong Kong HK
I headed to this lounge, located upstairs near gate 40. A Regal Hotels representative wrote down my LH card number and threw my card and transfer pass back – obviously I had just disturbed her magazine reading. All cocktail sticks, straw packaging etc carried the Regal logo, so it was obvious that the lounge was run by this company for TG. Snack and drink selection on the business class side was a downgraded version of what was offered at BKK, but still decent. I simply had a drink and surfed the Internet for a while. The lounge offers very nice views as well. Upon leaving, I dared to say bye to the warden. She didn’t even raise her head from the magazine, let alone say a word. This kind of a person is not suitable for a premium lounge; it’s just as simple as that. I will not choose Regal hotels either in HKG next time, so she is giving bad image to both her employer, Regal, and Thai Airways.
18 August 2004
Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok (HKG/VHHH) – Seoul Incheon International (ICN/RKSI)
Thai Airways International TG 628
HS-TJF “Phanom Sarakham”
Economy Class, Seat 32D (Bulkhead)
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
Boarding had started early, and the economy class line was very long already. Luckily, there was nobody in the business class side, so after a quick glance at my Lufthansa card, the Cathay representative wished me a nice flight. Since the “premium” side automatically takes you to the first jetbridge as well, I walked through the empty business class cabin in order to get to my seat. The purser welcomed me back, and I stored my stuff in the spacious 777 overhead bins again.
Luckily this flight was not completely full, so there was nobody sitting next to me. We were pushed back a few minutes early, and headed to runway 25L for takeoff. The same Orient Thai 747-100 was taxiing in front of us for its flight back to Thailand. Meanwhile, the other 747-100, HS-UTD arrived as well. Two 747-100s in passenger service next to each other is not what you’d expect to see in 2004, is it? OX 747-300 HS-UTK was also at the terminal, preparing to return to Bangkok.
We took off after the 32-year-old OX classic, and headed towards Taiwan after departure. Khun Wittaya informed us from the cockpit that flying time would be longer than usual today, due to a typhoon near Korea. Service started shortly, and was flawless on this flight, just like on the BKK-HKG sector. After the drink/snack service, another hot meal was served. I had steak as the main course, it was very nice, and served with creamy mushroom sauce and noodles. It could have been served in AY or LH business class without any complaints. My wine glass didn’t get empty at all during the meal – the purser was very good with refills.
After the trays were cleared, I decided to try to sleep for the rest of the flight. I managed to snooze until we were about to start our descent into Incheon International. We landed quite roughly again, on runway 15L I believe. After passing all the Korean Air and Asiana jets, we docked next to a United triple seven, 15 minutes late due to the longer route. Thai had absolutely fantastic service on these two flights. The 3-4-3 seating is not optimal, but at least for me the service makes up for the slight lack of seat comfort. Pitch is still 33” in normal rows.
Renaissance Seoul Hotel, Seoul KR
Since I had neither applied for a bed at the university dormitory nor found any apartment yet, I booked this hotel for two nights via Priceline for $57 per night. The apartment costs for August would buy me a ticket to Manila anyway, so I decided to find one starting September when my university starts. The Renaissance is in Gangnam, a two-hour ride on the Korean Air limousine bus that evening. I was assigned a king bed no smoking room as requested, and the bellhop escorted me to the room with my bags. The room was fairly usual 4-star hotel room, nice enough but not something really special. There was a king bed, a couch and a table, as well as a working desk with broadband internet available. Minibar and room service were horribly overpriced. The bathroom was small and there was no separate shower stall. I had two separate bookings again to maximize the eBay points, they pretty much messed up with that – nobody had a clue what I was talking about and even though the keys were re-programmed, they didn’t work. At the Shangri-La, I have never even had to go downstairs to remind them about such situations, it’s all taken care of.
20 August 2004
Seoul Incheon International (ICN/RKSI) – Manila Ninoy Aquino Intl (MNL/RPLL)
Asiana Airlines OZ 371
Economy Class, Seat 26C (Bulkhead)
Photo © Alastair T. Gardiner
Photo © Snorre - VIP Vienna International Planespotters
My internet confirmation indicated that I need to pick up my ticket two hours prior to departure. If you know where Incheon is located, it means a very early wake up call for a 9am departure. The first KAL limousine wasn’t scheduled until 6.10am, and the regular bus for 5:35am (travel time 2h), so I had to take a taxi, which cost an awful lot. Incheon is a very nice airport, but the location is as bad as Narita. After avoiding all the speed cameras with his radar detector, we made it to the airport in about 40 minutes – Asiana counters wouldn’t be open for another 40 minutes.
At exactly 6.40am, Asiana staff walked to their counters, and my ticket was issued. Ironically it looks just like those SQ paper tickets chosen with internet booking – basically an e-ticket reissued as paper ticket. Why couldn’t Asiana just offer e-ticketing to MNL for example? I was glad to see it was booked in H class though – that means it earns full LH mileage even after the recent changes. I went to the Star Gold/Business check-in, and was checked in quickly with an exit row seat assigned.
Security was very strict – one needs to use the slippers provided while your shoes are being x-rayed. They also searched everybody with the handheld metal detector after passing through. I then went to immigration – no lines whatsoever this early in the morning. I wanted to double check that I indeed don’t need a re-entry permit to come back with my visa – the inspector simply said “No English”, which I found unbelievable. Well I hope their website is correct as I don’t have any re-entry permit.
Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Incheon KR
This is the biggest SilverKris Lounge outside Singapore, and very much liked by a lot of Flyertalkers for example. The agent downstairs welcomed me, and apologized for the wait as she photocopied my LH card and boarding pass. At her desk, there was a list of available amenities – they even offer you wlan cards if you don’t have one. The lounge is upstairs, offers great views and is very nice. There is everything you except from a good lounge – hot breakfast buffer, salad bar, cold food, ice cream, full service bar, lots of computers, showers, sleeping rooms etc. Overall a fantastic lounge, one of the very best I have visited.
Asiana Lounge, Incheon KR
I decided to check out this lounge as well. It is as nice as the SilverKris Lounge, and the amenities are quite similar. However, there is no bar at the Asiana lounge, you just help yourself. Also, they have even portable DVD players and DVD movies available here, as well as even more computers than the SQ lounge from what I saw. There was also a hot breakfast buffet, and an even bigger salad bar. My flight was delayed by 50 minutes, so I got to spend some time here.
Boarding started at about 9:30am, due to late connections. Apparently they waited for some connecting passengers for more than an hour, which I find quite strange. They could have just rerouted them to the Philippine Airlines evening flight. Next to our 767 was a Korean 777-300 bound for Beijing Capital. I was the first to board again, and was greeted by the friendly Asiana ladies by the door. My assigned seat was 25A, the first exit door window seat. It had horrible legroom due to the bulkhead being so close. I later changed to 26C – also a bulkhead with very poor legroom, but I had 26CDE for myself. The seats are old and small; I suddenly realized that those TG 777 seats were not that bad. The 767 was also quite worn inside, the carpet was torn in front of my seat and completely wet.
There were a few Americans in rows 25 and 26 on the other side of the aircraft – very loud, demanding beer from the flight attendants as we were at the gate (it was served…) and then asking “who the hell waits for some connecting passengers delaying my flight”. We finally pushed back about 70 minutes late, and taxied for departure behind a Korean 747. Took off with no delay, and headed towards Okinawa and then The Philippine Islands.
Service started shortly, and was disappointing compared to TG. There was no initial drink service and meals were served on small trays for example. The choices were chicken or seafood with rice – I had the seafood. It was completely tasteless unfortunately. The noodles and salad were quite decent; dessert was a tiny Snickers chocolate. Drinks were served once.
I decided to sleep after the meal – not very easy with the bulkhead so close by, but since I had had pretty much no sleep the night before, I managed. I woke up as we were on descent to Ninoy Aquino, and after a rough descent, we landed quite smoothly. Our 767 parked next to a Saudi Arabian 747-400 (HZ-AIZ), which had just arrived from Jeddah about two hours late. Oh well, they seem to be catching up – it was 8 hours late last time I was at MNL.
Passport control had awful lines due to the Saudi flight as well as two JAL DC10s – I waited for half an hour before getting through. At this point, my bag was already waiting on the carousel. I didn’t feel like hauling all my stuff upstairs and re-clearing security in order to catch a cheap taxi, so I took a hotel car from downstairs instead. My plan was to travel with hand luggage only, but there was no way to fit 11 days worth of stuff to my carry-on.
Hyatt Regency Manila, Pasay City PH
Since the Faster Free Nights promo is still running, I booked the Hyatt again. I was checked in quickly, and was assigned room on the Hyatt Gold Passport floor again. It escapes me however why such floor would be a low floor like 4. The room was as described in my report last time; everything was in working order this time. But I just can’t help laughing at the empty minibar and glass drawer. I received a fruit plate and a note from the general manager welcoming me back. There was also a letter from the front desk manager, it was placed in a Regency Club envelope, which made me think it would contain something else like an invitation to use the Regency Club itself…
21 August 2004
Manila Ninoy Aquino Intl (MNL/RPLL) – Mactan Cebu International (CEB/RPMC)
Philippine Airlines PR 849
1500-1610 – On Time
First Class, Seat 1A
Photo © Resocha
Photo © Jeremy Chiou
Philippine Airlines was nice enough to schedule two Boeing 747 runs to Cebu this Saturday – I booked the afternoon one just like last time. The ride to NAIA 2 was quick from the Hyatt, and I was checked in by the same guy as last time. He gave me 1A in the First Class cabin again. I then went through security and to the Mabuhay Lounge. It was rather quiet this afternoon, and after a drink or two and some snacks, I went back to the departure area. The back of my boarding pass had a Citibank ad – I went to collect the free gift from their stand, it contained some toiletry products.
The ex-Kuwait Airways Boeing 747 was sitting at gate S1, and would be taking me to Cebu this afternoon. Boarding started shortly after I made it to the gate, and I was again amongst the first to board. The guy at the door addressed me by name and escorted me to the huge first class cabin. N754PR has the Kuwait First cabin, 32 electronically controlled seats with about 70” pitch. The seats are much nicer than those found on N752PR at least. The legrest goes horizontal, and recline is about 160 degrees. The walls have some purple artwork painted on them; overall the large first class cabin was very airy and pleasant. There are PTVs in all classes of this Boeing 747 – airshow is not available however.
We were pushed back on time, and eight seats were occupied in the F cabin. At some point, I counted 7 flight attendants in the cabin as well. One of the ladies took my meal order – I chose smoked salmon with noodles. The other option was some kind of steak. I was addressed by name again. Our jumbo taxied by the LH Technik Philippines hangar as usual – B747 RP-C8168 was sitting there going through an engine change. Apparently it was ferried in from SFO via HNL the night before as PR 007 with only two engines working.
We entered runway 24 via H1 after a Cebu Pacific B757 had landed, and took off immediately. The initial stages of the flight were very turbulent, and service only started about 30 minutes after takeoff. The captain informed us about a flying time of 55 minutes to Mactan Cebu today, and asked everybody to keep their seatbelts fastened due to the turbulent weather. We would climb up to 37000 feet on this short flight. As soon as the turbulence stopped, the crew swing into action, and the hot meals were served. The salmon was rather nice, best meal PR has served me so far on their domestic flights. Water and coffee/tea were served several times during the meal service.
Trays were collected as we were 10 minutes from touchdown – we were making the same approach as last time. This means flying a bit further out over the sea, and then turning onto finals for Mactan runway 22. Touchdown was very smooth, but the runway is in terrible condition, so the rest was extremely bumpy. Cebu Pacific’s Davao logojet DC9 was the only aircraft parked at the terminal at this time. Needless to say it looked very small next to the 747-400. My bag came out fast thanks to the priority tag, and I was out of the terminal only minutes after leaving my seat in the nose of the Jumbo.
Cebu City Marriott Hotel, Cebu City PH
I really had not made up my mind about where to stay this time, but since Marriott offered the Gold challenge for me, I opted for the Cebu City Marriott again. My request for high floor was granted – a king bed no smoking room on the 9th floor was assigned. It offers nice views towards the Ayala Center and the mountains. For Patrick and anybody else staying here, definitely try to get a room on the Ayala Center side as the views are much better from here. The room itself is fine – a bit worn here and there, but really nothing to complain about. Most of the employees are great as usual. I purchased in-room high speed internet for a week for 3500 Pesos, a bit on the expensive side but very convenient. The daily rate of PHP 1200 is a rip-off though. The fitness center in the basement is fairly nice – have been going there daily.
Regards from Cebu,