Photo © Airsnaps - WorldAirlineImages
After a wonderful Christmas spent with my Dad and his family up in Bedford, I traveled down to Heathrow on Boxing Day to pick up my flight for my near-month-long holiday in Asia.
I was dreading T3 check-in as I normally do, because it has been an absolute zoo every single time I have ever flown from there. I arrived in plenty of time having caught the tube to Heathrow, walked up through the outdoors part of T3 with the new and rather cool violet lighting, walked along to the Japan Airlines bit, and was checked in within ten minutes. Fully expecting security to be daft as it always is, I was again pleasantly surprised to note that everyone appeared to be on their game and the huge line passed very quickly and without fuss. A good start.
Let me get this completely clear: I hate T3. I hate the fact that I can either get a salad wrap from Boots, a crap plastic sandwich from WH Smiths or a cup of stupidly overpriced coffee if I do not wish to actually sit down somewhere which means universally means more queuing, poor food (yes, even at the Brasserie type places), hugely frustrating service, and my credit card getting an absolute kicking. As was always the case when I am forced to transit the seething vortex of suck that is T3, I was hungry but had more pressing priorities on my list of things to do that are more urgent than needing to spend vast quantities of money on a warm bottle of beer, stale chips, and a burger that bears no resemblance to the one on the pictures in TGI Fridays, or indeed, to the one you ordered from the monosyllabic urk who took your order. What could be more pressingly urgent than this, I hear you ask? Well, I have a large consignment of three inch long, very upset Guatemalan Fire Hornets which I am going to shove, one by one, into my major body cavities. That’s almost as painful as the bill at the end of the meal. Suffice to say, I picked up a Hoisin Duck Wrap from Boots (which itself should have come with flexible payment options) as it was the only one anywhere had left because somebody had clearly forgotten about the whole Boxing Day no-deliveries thing. Rubbery tortilla, pungent cucumber, limp lettuce and three small nuggets of duck coated in something smingy that purported to be Hoisin sauce for the thick end of a Fiver. There’s less than 300 Calories in it though, so that makes it ok we assume. Why must we be subject to this heresy? The first half was so grim, I binned the other half.
I did my usual and strolled down to the end of the piers to have a look at the planes. This is T3’s saving grace: once through the bright, airy, relaxing, not-at-all claustrophobic or cynical “retail and food area” you are afforded a great view of all the heavies sat at their gates. I saw the usual suspects – 777s from Emirates, PIA, Air India, JAL, two from Jet Airways, American, United etc, A340s from Cathay, Virgin and Gulf Air, A330s from Jet Airways, Qatar etc, and 747s from EVA Air, Korean, Malaysian, Singapore, Air New Zealand, and all the usual fun and games that goes with the evening rush at T3. I could not see my A340 anywhere and walked the length and breadth of the terminals and piers (which is a frackin’ long way if you haven’t done it), and felt so good about walking off that circa-150 Calories I forced down my neck that I treated myself to a Lion Bar from my hand luggage. Anyway, I digress.
Eventually I was told that Hotel-Echo was parked right up the other end of the Terminal (obviously), near the new control tower on the outer side of the Pier. After an interminable wait in what would be called a Holding Cell in any other civilized country we….
….waited some more. The flight was delayed due to a late arrival into Heathrow and departure was put back half an hour or so. Nine PM came and went. Then I spotted it.
Let me get another thing crystal clear: I think toddlers and infants should be banned from long-haul flights.
This ruddy-faced, two foot nothing monster came shrieking past my seat like a pink podgy Stuka. The parents seemed disinterested. The kid shrieked louder. It then tripped over its own feet and crashed to the ground. My initial worries for its personal welfare evaporated utterly as, in slow motion, the mouth opened. The eyes screwed shut. I could hear the elongated intake of breath into its tiny little lungs from three rows away. A coruscating banshee wail filled the room and I concentrated on studying my fellow passengers rather than listen to the noise. To my dark amusement all I saw was a sea of forced smiles on grim-faces. These were passengers with that look of dire resignation on their faces that a person may have were he to discover a huge, postulating carbuncle somewhere intimate/personal with the knowledge that he was likely to be suffering with it for some time. The usual scrum ensued when the dispatcher opened the doors to the jetway and the throng poured out seeking refuge from the nightmarish child.
The flight was packed. Not a spare seat in the house. I was sat roughly over the wing on the starboard side next to a rather pasty looking brunette of which a great deal more later. The A346 in Coral is eight abreast, and legroom is very good indeed. The seat has a footrest, no discernable IFE box problem for the window seats, and is basically the exact same as on their A345 in the back (see picture below) only with more rows obviously. I have flown EY a few times in the past and also their A345, but never their A346, so this was a nice, if slightly familiar change.
Photo © Brian Futterman
The IFE on EY is very good indeed, Like most, if not all the AVOD units placed with the airlines that have it, it has been plagued by reliability issues in the past, and my previous flights with EY, not to mention QR, EK, JL, BR, VS and a few others with AVOD systems all, and I do mean all, had some sort of problem with the IFE system. 90% of the time it has been slow, hung, or required a re-start about 20 minutes into the flight. Pleasingly, this was the very first flight I have ever taken where the IFE worked perfectly and without problems. I have to say that whilst QR’s interface is better and easier to use/navigate, the huge range of programming on EY’s system gives it the edge. I would put it roughly on a par with EK’s ICE System but more reliable.
Anyway, we pushed back at about twenty past nine at night, and the Skipper, an Arab, told us we would be cruising at FL39 and hoped to get in roughly on time into AUH. The crew removed their decorative hats (which I have to say does look very smart), and did a very fast cross check. We trundled round past the T3 control tower for a 27L departure and after a ten minute hold rolled onto the threshold and the brakes went on. After a minute or so the brakes were released and we began to roll forward almost imperceptibly under idle power. With a roar, the engines spooled up; the glorious scream of the four Rolls Royce Trents 554s all but masked from inside the fuselage by the buzzsaw noise of the fanblade tips going supersonic. It was a very powerful takeoff, but the roll seemed to last a long time. We rotated and climbed steeply. London beneath was crystal clear, bathed in the orange sodium glare of a million streetlights. A hard left hand noise abatement turn quickly followed, and we climbed out over South London heading south west towards Dover. I could hear the child screaming from somewhere perhaps ten or fifteen rows in front and to my left, but my headphones kept out the worst of it.
Photo © Dave Chapman
We reached cruise quite quickly, and the crew came round with a drinks service very quickly. I had a vodka and tonic, which was topped up again before the menus were handed out. There were not two but three choices – one was a fish and pasta parmesan thing, one was lamb, and the other was a full turkey Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings (apparently), which actually looked very nice as the girl next to me had it. I went for the lamb though, and was not disappointed. It was a rich, tasty lamb tagine with minted pea couscous. It really was delicious. EY have started to give out larger portions it seemed to me, and the starter, a chicken tikka salad, was very nice as well. The roll was fresh and light, and the cheesecake for dessert was very nice too. I am not one of these people who takes photos of the in-flight meal or tests airline sanitary napkins for their absorbency, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I had a nice Spanish Rioja to go with it which was equally well received.
The trays were cleared away and the attendants came round with a coffee or tea run, but pleasingly also offered a Baileys or Cointreau nightcap as well, which is a lovely touch and not one I’ve seen them do before. The cabin air was very dry and I got up a couple of times during the flight for some water, and another of my oddities: a Campari and orange which is a drink I love to sip on the plane. I don’t know anyone else who drinks it, but it really is delicious and very refreshing. I watched Rescue Day with Christian Bale which was ok, Transformers, which I’d seen before, and something else that I cannot remember but was quite good too, unhelpful as that may sound.
It had not escaped my notice, but the girl next to me was attractive. Slight, lithe, and with beautiful shiny black hair, she was not having a very good flight it seemed. Her headphones, the EY handouts, were not doing enough to muffle the continued screeching of the child and she was clearly feeling quite sick. I got chatting to her, and told her that the noise didn’t bother me and she was welcome to borrow my headphones, my DJing ones, which would keep the noise out very nicely, but she declined. She got up to go be sick twice in the flight, as clearly something in the Christmas Dinner had disagreed with her fragile constitution. I went to get her some water from the galley and gave her my spare packet of chewing gum as well but try as she might, she could not get any rest and even resorted to kneeling down in the foot gap of the seat and resting her head on her seat, which was probably even more uncomfortable than it looked. I insisted she take my DJ headphones and she did so, and promptly went straight to sleep.
Alas, without the cocoon of my headphones, my ears were exposed to the siren wailing infant, who had not stopped screaming and crying since Heathrow. Indeed, the child did not stop until we were over Iran, by which time I had given up trying to sleep and was busy playing with the playlist function of the IFE. Looking out of the window we were treated to a spectacular sunrise near Shiraz and we began our descent into a cloudy and rather uninspiring-looking Abu Dhabi. The lights were eased on rather than switched on which would have been a lovely touch had anyone actually been asleep, but thanks to the hellish product of the loins of a distinctly uninterested looking set of parents, who made no move to placate, sedate, or otherwise silence the little fracker all flight that I could tell, nobody did.
We made the standard AUH arrival over the water and flared a little high, landing very long. Sure enough, all four reversers cracked open as soon as the mains contacted and the braking action was much more severe than I have ever encountered. I was pushed hard forward, and then jerked hard as we exited the runway still going very quickly. I said goodbye to the dark nymph who was sat next to me who was traveling on to Sydney. We arrived at a remote stand, passing a GF A320, and an EY A320 as well which I have to say looks stunning in that livery, plus the usual EY A330s, and the interesting Amiri flight hybrid 767 they have. I got off the plane and was bussed to the terminal. My Bangkok flight was due to leave in just over an hour.
I didn’t sleep on the London flight so was quite tired and just wanted to get on the plane and get to Bangkok. I was horrified to note that the scheduled departure of my Bangkok flight was put off from about nine in the morning local time to Midday. As I watched the information boards, the time slipped again to 2pm. I was very unhappy to say the least. This meant I was not going to make my connecting Koh Samui flight, which was supposed to leave at nine in the evening Bangkok time. I strode up to the information agent area fully expecting the full range of horror stories I have heard about EY’s customer service ethos or lack of it to come home to roost. There are a multitude of them on Skytrax, and I was preparing myself for the lack of English, shrugging, and fob off excuses. Once again though, EY came through with flying colours.
The agent I spoke to, besides being one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful women I have ever seen in all my puff, was very sympathetic and spoke excellent English. She really could not do enough for me, or the eight other people on the flight who were going to miss the exact same Koh Samui flight. None of us were happy campers, but were swiftly placated. She told us she would rebook us onto the next flight and noting that this would be the following day, promised to give us a nice hotel room in Bangkok with all our drinks and food paid for. I wasn’t happy about not getting to see my Girlfriend (who was already on Samui having flown out two weeks previously) that night, but was very impressed with the service. We were given free phone call, shopping and breakfast vouchers to use there and then, and booked onto the 9am Bangkok-Samui flight the following morning. She told us she would sort us out a lovely hotel, and was really apologetic. Clearly someone at EY reads Skytrax and has taken what has been said very much to heart. This was top class Arabian hospitality and a most unexpected surprise. While we were waiting for her to confirm the flights and give us the new paperwork, she had some very hot tea brought up for us, which was a nice touch too.
The boards then switched from a 2pm departure for our Bangkok flight to an 11:30am. This gave us 45 mins to get the Samui flight if all went well. I went up to tell the girl, who initially did not understand what I was saying, but soon realized that we would be able to do it if we hustled. I asked her to see if she could get some priority tags put on our luggage and be seated near the front of the Economy section so we could rush off. She could not change the seat assignments but told me she would call Bangkok Airways and tell them the situation and that hopefully they would wait for us as there was quite a few of us, as there were about six more from the Manchester flight in the same position as us.
We were called at 11am to go down to the gate area where our 77W had just arrived from Johannesburg and was feverishly being cleaned.
Photo © Stephan Rossouw - FZI Photography
I was absolutely shattered. I got on the plane, and was sat on the port side, in the first economy class section roughly in line with the wingroot. The girl sat next to me with the window seat was a Mancunian blonde who I got chatting to for a bit who seemed very nice. EY’s 77Ws have similar seats and IFE to the A340s, but are nine abreast. Still far more comfortable than the EK sardine can configuration, I think.
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
Yawning, I settled into my seat, fell asleep before the pushback, woke up when the two huge GE90-115bs reverberated their startup through the fuselage, fell asleep during the taxi, woke up at the takeoff, fell asleep during the climb and woke up again over the Bay of Bengal. I missed lunch so have no idea what was on the menu, but I am sure it was very nice. There was a little bit of light chop on that part of the flight but I soon fell fast asleep again and only really woke up properly on the descent into Bangkok, as yet again, the Triple Seven’s pressurization system hurt my ears. Damn things get me every time. I never have the problem on any other type of plane. There must be a reason why. In fact, as 777 flights go, it was comparatively painless one: my first, on a United 777-200A LHR-LAX in 1998 was acutely painful. Bangkok soon folded out beneath us, the klongs and rivers glittering in the moonlight as we turned onto the approach to Suvarnabhumi and slammed down quite hard. The time was 8:13pm. My Samui flight left in 47 minutes.
As is usual when you have a connection to rush for, they took an eternity to taxi to the E pier and get the jetbridge alongside. The doors were opened and everyone took a lifetime to get all their assorted gubbins together and walk off the plane.
We, the odd group of unfortunates who had been delayed, gathered at the exit of the jetway where an Etihad dispatcher corralled us to send to the transit area. Soon we were rushing down the long, long airport terminal, from E pier all the way to the Domestic gates right over the other side of the airport. Would we make it?
Photo © William van Wanrooy
We were told upon reaching the transfer desk that the Bangkok Airways flight was going at 10pm not 9, and that we would be shown to the lounge to wait for it. Result. A smiling Thai immigration official welcomed me to Thailand and I could relax. I would be seeing my girlfriend that night after all. As it turned out, Bangkok Airways had been experiencing some major delays that day as well and our 10pm departure was put back to 12:15am. The girlfriend was not happy; she had booked a beautiful hotel room for our first night out there and was looking forward to me greeting her with the bottle of bubbly that I told her I was bringing out for our first night on Holiday together but never actually got round to buying (I left this minor detail out until I saw her, which proved not to be the best idea actually, but the less said about that the better).
Photo © Sam Chui
The Bangkok Airways Lounge in BKK airport is very nice. All you can eat fruit, biscuits and pastries, tea, coffee, and interesting flavours of cold drinks. There is free internet and comfy sofas, but no beer which was quite distressing at the time, given that the airport shops were all closed by that time. Boarding time came and we all filed onto the plane. It was completely full and I was gutted to find that I had the very last seat in the very last row. The bulkhead starts to curve inwards and there is no window, so it is very cramped and claustrophobic.
Photo © YK
We pushed at 12:15 on the nose, and didn’t power back from the gate which I was hoping to see. The 717 is basically a short MD82. It’s almost the same inside from what I can tell, but maybe a little more white molded plastic and pastel shades. Taxi seemed to take forever, and as I could not see anything outside at all, I have no idea which runway we used. Takeoff to the south was impressive, with the cabin noise quite spectacularly quiet at full power even with the spinning fan blades less than ten inches from my head. I was expecting it to be much louder than that. MD80s are almost deafening back there! We reached TOC, at FL31, in eight minutes. Seriously impressive stuff. I was just thinking how impressive Bangkok Airways was, when the crew did a full meal service. A fifty minute flight to Samui and they did a meal service! It was very nice as well actually. Coronation chicken salad with a ham roll and some fruit salad, and a beer. I must say how absolutely lightning fast the crew were. They were up and down that aisle faster than a ferret up a Yorkshireman’s trouser leg. Thirty eight minutes after brakes off, we were beginning our descent into Samui. I wish I had seen it. It’s a beautiful approach low over the water. We touched down for my third very hard landing in the last 12 hours and the 1am peace of Koh Samui was shattered by the roar of the two Rolls Royce BR715s on our little 717 reversing. No sooner were we turning off the runway then people were up, out of their seats and rummaging in the overhead lockers. We took the stand right in front of the terminal and were put in what looks like a very large Songtao and taken to the terminal, which is a low, Thai-style building with lots of gardens and flowers all round it. There are large water features everywhere. It looks like a rehab place to me, but it is absolutely charming. One thing it does not look like is an airport.
Stay tuned for Parts two and three of my tour of my Holiday. Thanks for reading this far!