09 November 2004
Osaka Kansai International (KIX/RJBB) – Seoul Incheon (ICN/RKSI)
Asiana Airlines OZ 111
1310-1500 – On Time
Economy Class, Seat 10G (Bulkhead)
Photo © Anthony Cheng - HKAEC
Photo © Frank Schaefer
I took the limousine bus from the Osaka Hilton to Kansai, another new Asian airport located in the middle of nowhere. The ride took about an hour, and I arrived at the Asiana desks well ahead of departure. Agent at the Business/Star Gold counter was apparently a trainee, and the supervisor had to help with everything. However, they managed to check me in all the way to Bangkok (separate tickets) which was appreciated.
I then headed through security and immigration without delay, and took the train to the ANA Signet Lounge closest to my gate. It was quite simply the worst international lounge I have ever been to, small selection of drinks, practically no food and no internet stations available. Also, there were no windows and the place was about the size of a closet.
Boarding for OZ 111 started on time, and a smiling OZ flight attendant greeted me at the door. I had a bulkhead seat which was comfortable enough. Also, the flight was far from full, so the seat next to me remained empty. We were pushed back roughly on time, and taxied past a bunch of Chinese jets as well as a Korean A330. I snapped a few pictures until a rude flight attendant was again pointing at me and saying “off”. I have never had a problem using my camera on any other airline.
We taxied past some Japanese cargo jumbos and took off without delay. Having browsed airlinemeals.net, I was expecting a Japanese cold obento box. Instead, the crew tossed out a tray with two sandwiches and a cup of orange juice and disappeared for the rest of the flight. I had so good views of Korea as the weather was nice, and soon we were on descent to Incheon.
During descent, various passengers and their luggage were reseated near the front. Most didn’t bother wearing a seatbelt or stow their bags properly, the crew didn’t care. As we landed, the guy next to me decided he needs to go to the toilet as we were reversing on the runway… He was told to go back to his seat though, so he stood there next to his seat for the rest of the taxi to the terminal.
09 November 2004
Seoul Incheon (ICN/RKSI) – Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD)
Asiana Airlines OZ 341
1720-2050 – On Time
Business Class, Seat 14B (Upper Deck)
Photo © Montague Smith
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
I asked for a business class seat at Osaka for this flight, they had no clue what I was talking about. Upon arrival at Incheon, I went to the nearest Asiana transfer counter, where a very helpful lady assigned 14B on the upper deck for me. I believe all Bangkok flights operated by a 747 use at least one section of business for economy class, on the combi it’s the upper deck.
I then headed to the Asiana lounge, the food and drinks there were very welcome after the poor offerings on the Kansai-Incheon flight. This sector itself must be one of the most hated for business travelers – both airports are very far from downtown, but the flight takes less than two hours. I expected a full pax 747 for the BKK run, but HL 7421, a combi was waiting at gate 7. OZ has always full flights to Bangkok, but perhaps there is also a lot of cargo and a combi is needed on some days.
I was greeted by a usual Asiana flight attendant on the upper deck – not very friendly at all. She was actually the only one serving us on the upper deck, and service was very slow obviously. The seats seemed to be a bit more comfortable than the 747-400 pax business class seats – or maybe that’s just an illusion. The seat was comfortable, and I was very grateful I wasn’t stuck back in the cattle section.
Upper deck filled up completely, and it was obvious Asiana had again put just about anybody to a section that should be filled with frequent flyers. There was also a group of women from Iraq or Iran (just saw their passport for a few seconds) – they should have been sent to the nearest shower before being allowed to board. Later, they kept stealing items from the meal trays, shouting to each others a few rows apart etc etc… Premium zone indeed.
Drinks were served first; I had a Chivas with coke and an Asiana snack mix. A quick look at the menu card revealed that the meal would again be the same… I have now had the honor to eat the same meal in August, September, October and November on three different routes. Very poor in my opinion. Had some wine with the meal and another Chivas with Coke afterwards. “Last one” said the sole flight attendant. I was quite happy this would most likely be my last time this fall experiencing this kind of service from “The Jewel of Asia” (that was printed on some OZ lounge invitation).
I believe the PTVs had only 4 movies, so I got out my MP3 player, reclined my seat and stared at the airshow map showing 3:30 as remaining flight time… Request for a can of beer was declined as well, and she did not find a customer comment card when I asked. I later went to the lavatory, and amazingly this flight attendant asked how I like the service on Asiana… Trying not to be rude, I merely complained about eating the same food for four months. Also told her some folks stole about half of the contents from the meal tray – “that’s ok” was the reply. I was really pissed off about this group of middle-eastern women – I could smell the sweat even when being seated two rows apart and their shouting and loud chatting made sleeping impossible.
Water and orange juice was offered prior to landing at Don Muang. The routing was the usual one I have described before, so I won’t go into details here. Landing on 21L was slightly ahead of schedule, immigration was a breeze, but bags took a long time to arrive. Taxi driver was a complete asshole, his meter was fixed to screw up the fare by about 100 Baht, Oh well, at least I made him drive downstairs instead of the usual tollway and he seemed pissed off about that.
11 November 2004
Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD) – Phuket International (HKT/VTSP)
Orient Thai Airlines OX 267
Business Class, Seat 15K (Upper Deck)
Photo © Anthony Cheng - HKAEC
Photo © Anthony Cheng - HKAEC
Photo © Edward Lai
Photo © M.Oertle
I bought an advance ticket from a travel agent this time – it cost about 200 Baht extra but flights to Phuket are quite full nowadays. I somehow managed to wake up for the flight as well – no idea how but I had no alarm clock or anything due to visiting too many watering holes the night before.
A quick shower, and I was soon in a taxi to good old Don Muang once again. Quick trip in the early morning, and I arrived at the Orient Thai check-in lines at 7:20am – in other words five minutes before the desks were scheduled to close. However, this is Thailand and not some Ryanairland, so I was promptly checked in at 7:50am, and the friendly lady said “we start boarding 7:30 sir”. The upgrade receipt this time says “UDDATE BUSSINES CALS”. She wrote a few versions down first before deciding which one to put on the official receipt…
Security was quick, and I walked straight onto a waiting TAGS bus at gate 9. After a long drive, we arrived next to a decent looking old bird – HS-UTP to be more exact. Uniform Tango Papa is another 1972 JAL vintage. A friendly girl greeted me at the door, and I made my way up the spiral staircase. Upper deck and the whole plane was in good shape. Another nice and friendly lady greeted me there, and offered a pre-departure drink in a Kampuchea Airlines glass. Upper deck on HS-UTP has 16 old JAL Reso’cha business class seats, quite comfortable. Also the usual Seiko clock displaying BKK and TYO times was present.
The flight attendant offered to store my bag as there are no bins whatsoever, and was surprised when I said “It’s ok, I know the closet is back there”. There were two other passengers in 15A/C, and two mechanics later took seats in the last row. We pushed back late as usual, and a noisy takeoff from 21R followed after the captain welcomed us on board the “Boeing 747 series 200 Jumbo”.
As we were slowly gaining altitude, service started – more drinks in Kampuchea glasses and new style OX peanuts – they are very tasty actually. After a few drink refills, I went to have a look downstairs, quite full and the interior looked very nice unlike the one on UTB. Snapped a few pictures and listened to the roar of the old JT9D-7s in the very back before heading back to the serene surroundings of the upper deck.
All too soon, we left our cruising altitude and started approach into Phuket International Airport. The flight attendant took her seat in front of me, and we had an interesting chat about Orient Thai and her job. Definitely not a very glamorous schedule they have… The destination she hated the most was Incheon – with a funny remark “I think better you stay here in Thailand”. I can imagine what a charter with 462 Koreans is like… Our flight to Phuket had 311 passengers, and the continuation, OX 218 to Hong Kong had about 200 booked.
We made a smooth landing a little behind schedule but it never seems to bother me on these 747 Classics with nice flight attendants. Only problem is that the schedules to HKT are rather inconvenient for me.
13 November 2004
Phuket International (HKT/VTSP) – Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD)
Nok Air DD 7503
1035-1200 – On Time
Nok Plus, Seat 12A
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
Photo © TTT
Since Orient Thai leaves so late in the evening, I decided to try something else this time. Booking on nokair.co.th was convenient, and I could even choose a seat from a seatmap. Seemed too good to be true, and that was unfortunately the case. I arrived about an hour before departure, and was greeted by a Thai Airways employee whose attitude was “since you are not paying to fly TG but our low fare airline, I’ll treat you like crap”.
“Your bag is too heavy. You must go pay for 5 kilos, then come back”. Funnily, Orient Thai had no problems whatsoever with my bag. So, off I went, cursing my decision to fly with this low fare airline instead of TG. After getting a receipt for the abovementioned 5 kilos (250 Baht), I went back to the unfriendly lady… She handed me a boarding pass for 58F. Getting pretty pissed off at this point, I told her I had actually paid for the Nok Plus cabin and chosen 11A as my seat. “System says you book economy. You have confirmation print out?” Well, I didn’t even have a clue of the PNR to be honest.
After some other staff went to the ticketing kiosk, I was finally given 12A in the premium section. Boarding pass said “Thai Royal Executive Class” and DD 7503 C. Now, it was time to go get a refund for the excess baggage charges. I was given 300 baht which I pocketed and walked to security. Expectedly, one of the agents soon came running and asking to get the 50 Baht back… Such a quality operation DD has here.
My Nok Plus fare was about 2000 Baht, the same would have gotten me a TG V fare with lounge access and 40kgs luggage allowance as Star Gold. TG is obviously better value in this case, but I wanted to try Nok. The best value is still 1950 Baht for Orient Thai Business Class. I obviously had to wait in the general waiting area, being booked on a low fare airline. Boarding started on time, and was handled entirely by Thai Airways staff again.
The 737 had full Thai Airways interior, and I had one of the old style Royal Executive Class seats. Unlike on the A300, pitch on the 737 is about the same as in economy class, and my seat was poor value on this almost empty flight. There is no complimentary service on Nok, they sell TG snackboxes and soft drinks. The funniest part was when one of the girls asked “Sir, you want to buy airplane?” while holding a beach toy Nok plane.
Crew was very young and friendly, dressed in beach shirts and light brown skirts. The 737 was spotless inside, had Thai Airways safety cards and was flown by TG pilots as well. The routing was the usual, and I slept the entire flight until we were on approach to Don Muang. Landed on 21R and arrived at the domestic terminal after a short taxi. There was nothing wrong with the inflight service, but considering the price, hassle, no miles, no lounges etc, I think Thai is a better deal if you have a problem flying with the best i.e. Orient Thai.
14 November 2004
Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD) – Seoul Incheon (ICN/RKSI)
Thai Airways International TG 658
Economy Class, Seat 32C
Photo © Sam Chui
Photo © JKSC
This flight was overbooked in economy, and wide open in business, so I was hoping for an upgrade. However, when you expect one, it never happens. I got to the Star Gold counters with long lines about 1h20min before departure, and after a short wait, was checked in by your stereotypical Thai Airways BKK ground agent. No smiles, and she lied to me that 32C would be the first row. Go for the older guys if they are working at the premium desks, I’ve had much better experiences with them.
I then headed quickly through immigration to the Thai Royal Executive Lounge, and had a massage before checking out the old lounge as it was closer to the basement aka international bus gates. Trying to get a better seat, I offered to pay the discounted upgrade fee, fare difference etc, but not surprisingly it was “not possible.” I guess it makes more sense to upgrade non-status Korean tour group members for free – that was the case here.
I boarded the last bus to the aircraft; it was HS-TJA, Thai’s first 777 this time. The interior was worn, my armrest was broken, and the 3-4-3 configuration combined with a non-bulkhead/exit row was awful. I went to the lavatory but pushback just started at the same time – no problems, go ahead said the purser. Takeoff was half an hour late for some reason, and I was not looking forward to this redeye.
A snack is served after takeoff – a pastry with drinks that is. Additional pastries were offered to those who wanted. The seat was pretty damn uncomfortable, so I went to get a drink from the galley – actually ended up spending the next three hours there chatting with the purser and inflight supervisor. IFE was broken on this aircraft, but the IFS managed to get it working after a few re-boots. Although TG has pretty spartan IFE on the 777s, the control panel was still a sophisticated looking LCD screen. I had a few drinks as well, and the crew seat was much more comfortable than 32C anyway.
As they were starting the breakfast service, I went back to my seat and wished we’d be at Incheon already. A narrow seat, no empty middle seat and the guy in front of me fully reclined – as bad as cattle class seat comfort gets. The 3-4-3 config is tolerable in bulkhead/exit rows, preferably with an empty middle seat, or if you have a set of 3 or 4 seats for yourself. But since Incheon flights are always full of Korean tour groups, it is the ideal plane I guess.
As per the purser’s recommendation, I had the Thai chicken dish for breakfast, and it was pretty good with the usual extras such as yoghurt, fresh fruit and warm rolls and croissants. We landed at Incheon late, and I joined the usual long queue for passport control… This was my first bad experience with Thai this fall, although the cabin crew was great as usual except for the two Koreans.
16 November 2004
Seoul Incheon (ICN/RKSI) – Manila Ninoy Aquino Intl (MNL/RPLL)
Philippine Airlines PR 469
2020-2330 – On Time
Mabuhay Class, Seat 16K
Photo © Torin Wilson
Photo © Brendan Vanderwerf
After finishing classes at university at 4pm, I took a bus to Incheon as usual. Being rush hour, it took almost two hours. Check-in is handled by Korean Air, and the agent was pleasant enough. The lines and amount of baggage for economy class were insane. Korean Air seemed to use their own system for PR, since my boarding pass has these weird KE reservation numbers etc. Although it says FQTV PR, my miles haven’t appeared in the account.
KAL Lounge, Incheon KR
I got an invitation to the smaller KAL Lounge near CX and NW lounges. Apparently, this is the place where KE sends all partner airlines’ premium passengers. I have never been to the main KAL Lounge, so I can’t compare them. This one was however quite nice, with modern design. Food offerings were poor compared to SQ though, no hot food was available. Cold snacks consisted of sushi, sandwiches and some paninis. Drink selection was smallish but decent. They had two computers available with free internet.
The lounge also has a good view of the tarmac – at the nearest gate was a good old JAL 747-246B (JA8160), preparing for departure to Kansai Osaka. Boarding for PAL 469 started on time, and the stories I have read about domestic vs international PR service were definitely true. I was greeted by a non smiling grandma who was just about to collapse from the weight of jewelry she was wearing. Another equally disinterested lady would be serving the business class cabin with her tonight.
The flight had showed full economy cabin and wide open in business the day before, but unfortunately the Korean Air agents upgraded over 20 passengers (all Koreans), and we pushed back with a full load in both cabins. Pre-departure drinks were only water or orange juice, poor for an international dinner-time flight.
Most of the upgraded Koreans sat the entire flight with their winter jackets on and had no clue how to use a PTV, reading light, seat recline etc. I know who they were as the KE agent simply came onboard and handed them all their new blue boarding passes and took the old ones. What a discrete way to handle operational upgrades. Menus were distributed after takeoff, but were immediately collected back when the grandmas had taken the dinner orders. However, I managed to hide the Cebu-Incheon menu in the seat pocket later, and will post it when I find it.
Mixed nuts in nice bowls were served with drinks first, followed by dinner. The starter was delicious and nicely presented, but the garlic bread was cold. I had the chicken for main course and it was great as well. Dessert was an economy class style piece of cake. Drink refills were offered once during the service. Fresh fruit (bananas, apples and oranges) were offered with the dessert course. The upgraded guy across the aisle from me kept asking for this and that until the flight attendant got pissed and said “could you please wait as I have to serve others as well.”
After the meal, crew disappeared for the rest of the flight but thankfully responded to call buttons. The seat, while comfortable for short domestic hops, is in my opinion not very comfortable for sleeping. I had a few glasses of champagne and relaxed for the rest of the flight. The guy next to me got out his digital camera and started browsing pictures of various clearly underage Filipina girls. I felt like stuffing the empty champagne glass into his mouth…
We landed at NAIA on time, and quickly taxied to terminal 2 which was deserted. I was the first at immigration along with a Korean guy who presented an empty immigration form. I mean, how stupid can one be? The rest seemed to ask the Filipina flight attendants to fill in their forms…
Immigrations was a breeze as was customs. The female officer said “Hi sir, good evening… err it’s morning already isn’t it? Have a nice stay.” Since it was very quiet at terminal 2, I had no choice but take an overpriced airport taxi to my hotel (350 Pesos and a jerk trying to pocket 150 as tip as I paid with a 500 Peso note).
Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila, Ermita
I have been waiting to visit this hotel since its soft opening in mid-September. The rate was a decent $81 per night, and I would also earn 2000 Gold Passport bonus points. The lobby is nice and modern and check-in was reasonably quick. The bellhop then escorted me to my room on the 9th floor. The room was large and very nice – on par with new Hyatts elsewhere with very modern design. There is also a DVD player in every room. The bathroom is great, with a superb rainfall shower and a bathtub next to it. They also have an airport style metal detector at the door and no manual check like older hotels in Manila. Ermita area has a lot of bars and clubs nearby, and the Hyatt has Manila’s largest casino I believe. A highly recommended property.