Sunday, March 27, 2011

Asiana Business Class - Bangkok to Seoul ( OZ742 / Airbus A330-300)

AIRLINE: Asiana Airlines
FLIGHT: OZ742
AIRCRAFT: Airbus A330-300 (HL7747)

SCHEDULED TO DEPART: 23.35
ACTUAL DEPARTURE: 23.44 (9 minutes delay)
SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE:
ACTUAL ARRIVAL: 06.50 (on time)

LOAD FACTOR: Economy - 100%, Business - 97%

I spend a lot of time in Asia, but for a long time I have been wanting to visit South Korea. In February just gone, I finally had my chance and booked  myself on an Asiana flight from Bangkok to Seoul. I'd never stepped foot on an Asiana aircraft but the internet forums seem to mostly praise the airline, so I was looking forward to giving them a try!

With a departure just before midnight I arrived at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi entry door 4 at about 9.45 pm, a busy time for the airport with loads of midnight long haul flights preparing to leave! This year the passenger numbers have been way up, meaning massive queues at outbound passport control.  Tonight would be ok though - business class means fast track security and passport control!
  



Asiana Check-in
 The Asiana counters were located at Row L and being staffed by Star Alliance partner Thai Airways staff. The place was very busy with people everywhere and what appeared to be several large tour groups. Fortunately the business class check-in was free and I was able to get my boarding pass without delay, along with the fast track card. I was very pleased to be avoiding the regular queues which were snaking out of the holding area and into the check-in zone:

Queue leading right out into the check-in zone, I estimate it is at least a one hour wait from here

After breezing through fast track I made my way to the designated Asiana lounge at BKK, the Louis Tavern at concourse C. This was my first time in a Louis Tavern and I was not impressed at all. The lounge was small, the decor was poor, and the food selection was even worse. I lasted all of about 10 minutes before I decided to head to one of the Thai Airways lounges a little bit further down the concourse.

I was pleased I had moved as the Thai lounge had some quite tasty satay sticks on offer. I had not noticed these in the lounge before, perhaps a new and welcome addition to the regular lounge snacks on offer. There was no issue getting into the lounge with just my Asiana business class boarding pass, although it's worth keeping an eye on the departures board as no boarding announcements are made there.
Louis Tavern Lounge - boring!

Satay Sticks in the Thai lounge, yummy

Lounge snacks and a vodka and orange juice
At about 30 minutes before departure I made my way to gate C3 for boarding. The flight also had Thai Airways and Vladivostok Air codeshare flight numbers, and was one of several flights heading to Seoul tonight. It's quite a popular route, perhaps because Thai citizens do not require a visa to visit South Korea.

The holding area was busy as you would expect for a flight operating with a full load. Boarding was yet to commence when I arrived in the holding area, but I only had to wait a few minutes.

Gate Holding Area

HL7747, an Airbus A330-300 parked at gate C3

Tonight's flight was being operated by an Airbus A330-300 with the registration HL7747. According to airfleets, this particular Airbus was delivered brand new to Asiana in December 2006, making it just over 4 years old...just a baby really.

The gate staff had placed a business class sign on the right hand door, normally used for economy class boarding. I went and found a seat near this door, patiently waiting for boarding to commence.
Soon enough we were called to board and I approached the business class queue and presented my boarding pass for seat 4A.

I was excited to be flying a new airline, to a country I had never travelled to. I couldn't wait to get on board and have a couple of drinks either!
Approaching door 1L
I was one of the first on board and was warmly greeted at the door and taken to my seat. I had seen pictures of the business class seating before so it was not a total surprise, but I did find the cabin clean and attractive. The seats were just fine for a 5 hour leg like this, the seat pitch seemed less than Thai's business class but the general design seemed quite similar.
Business Class view from 4A
Legroom no issue here, and a nice large IFE screen

Shoe storage and seat pocket


"Welcome to Asiana" said the inflight entertainment system, and it was nice to be here. It was only a matter of a few moments before I was offered a welcome drink, naturally I took the champagne. They served Cattier champagne on this flight, I'm assuming it's the stock standard business class champagne on Asiana. 

Menu's were distributed along with headsets (not noise cancelling) and a pair of slippers. There is no amenity kit offered for this overnight service.
Asiana Airbus A330-300 business class

Slippers and headsets

Welcome Champagne


We pushed back 9 minutes behind schedule at 16 minutes to midnight.

The crew were introduced and they all presented in the aisle and performed a synchronised bow. I was immediately impressed, I love the bowing. It is such a nice gesture and I wish we saw more of it in the west.

The safety video was played and we soon departed, the IFE indicating a flying time of about 4 hours 40 minutes. With smooth weather the seat belt sign was soon extinguished and service commenced.
Leg rest

IFE System

Lavatory Amenities





















I had a look through the entertainment system but the selection was pretty limited, much less options than even Thai, and when compared to Singapore or Emirates... well, the offering was very poor indeed. Despite this, I flicked around and watched one or two programs during the supper service.

On offer tonight was a salmon appetizer followed by a choice of just 2 main courses. Both main courses were asian in style, being beef in oyster sauce on rice, or a sweet and sour seafood with rice. Neither of which particularly appealed to me but I ended up choosing the beef which was passable but nothing particularly special. The fruit and cheese plate was ordinary, with only camembert on offer which I am not a fan of. The dessert was a black forest cake which was ordinary as well. Overall, the meal was pretty basic and not particularly tasty, quite a disappointment. The service remained good throughout though, and I liked the silver tea pots!

Supper Menu

Part of the drinks selection


One of our lovely crew laying out the table cloths

Salmon appetizer

Salmon and champagne


Bread basket was on offer - I chose the garlic bread

Beef main course (poor presentation)

Fruit and Cheese plate

Tea and Coffee Service - nice silver tea pots

Black forest cake and a cup of tea
After the end of supper the lights were turned out and most people tried to get some sleep. This red eye flight only really offers about 2.5 hours of sleeping time, not really enough to feel refreshed in the morning, but at least it's better than nothing. The angled lie flat seats were comfortable enough for a nap, although the blankets on offer were of economy class standard. Whether there was any drink offers during the sleeping time I couldn't tell you as my eyes were closed and I was facing the window.

I awoke from a broken sleep to find the lights had been put on and we were approaching the South Korean coastline. Having only finished supper a couple of hours prior I did not expect a breakfast service, and there was none. Instead the crew came around offering hot towels and juice. I accepted a glass of orange juice and requested a cafe latte.

Good morning - Juice anyone?

Approaching the South Korean coastline

Cafe Latte - not bad, a nice start to the day
As we neared Seoul the captain made a PA with updated weather, the temperature for our arrival was -4C. Just a teeny bit cooler than the 30 degree night we had left in Bangkok! The inflight entertainment played an interesting video that showed you how to do some refreshing exercises to wake yourself up, it was something I had never seen before:
IFE - wake up exercises


Before long the descent commenced, it remained dark outside with just a very very faint hint of light starting to come up. We made a smooth landing and parked at the gate, my first flight with Asiana was over.

What's my verdict? Well, the aircraft seats and presentation were of a high standard and the cabin crew were very courteous and very polished, thumbs up for those things. Now to the down sides, firstly the Louis Tavern lounge at Bangkok is very poor, I don't understand why they don't just use the Thai Airways lounges... which I believe are of a much higher standard, and business class customers can use anyway due to Star Alliance lounge access rules.  Also - the food selection was what I would consider fairly poor for business class, I was left far from impressed with what was on offer. I understand the catering was loaded in Bangkok, but the selection was very limited and presentation was average at best. Taste was not much better, I felt that very little money was spent on the meal over all. It's something that can definitely be improved upon. The drink selection was fine though, and I enjoyed the Cattier Champagne.

I hope to try out Asiana again in the future, perhaps on a full lunch or dinner service departing from Seoul, to see how the catering compares at the home base. Don't get me wrong though, the flight was a pleasant experience and I'm sure light years ahead of many other airlines business class offerings.

I'd rate this flight about a 7.5 out of 10 overall.
Baggage Collection

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Red Centre - Crowne Plaza Alice Springs, The Rock and a Tiger

The central Australian town of Alice Springs is not home to many major chain hotels, although they do have a Crowne Plaza, which gets the number 1 spot on Tripadvisor. With that ranking in mind I checked out the prices and found a stay 3 pay 2 offer which seemed like a very good deal. I booked myself in to a standard room and arrived from Melbourne via Qantas (see my previous blog post for the trip report). 

I rented a Hertz Toyota Camry and drove to the hotel, free parking is available for those with cars. At check-in I was told the pool was out of action due to heavy rains, it was going to be unusable for a couple of days. That was disappointing because I had been hoping for a dip considering the hot weather! The front desk staff advised we could use the hotel next door's pool if we wished. 

The hotel features a series of 3 story buildings connected by covered walkways that face in to the central pool area. Rooms are simple but quite comfortable. There is only an old CRT tv, no LCD screens here! Here is a shot of the room, featuring 2 double beds.

Crowne Plaza Alice Springs standard room

Rooms either face the inner garden, or out to the Macdonnell ranges. I had chosen the cheaper garden view room, and this was the view... quite pleasant really:

Garden View

The Crowne Plaza Swimming Pool - undergoing maintenance
Considering the other options in Alice Springs, Crowne Plaza was a good choice. It's about 2km from the CBD though, so if you don't have a car it's quite a walk. There is a couple of restaurants including a Thai restaurant which I'm told is quite good, although I didn't try it. I also did not try the breakfast buffet, so I can't comment on that. Overall I was quite comfortable and I will choose Crowne Plaza again when I'm next in the Alice.

While in Alice I enjoyed a visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the old Gaol and a visit to the Anzac Hill lookout. For dinner I went to the tourist favourite, Overlanders Steakhouse. It's a very 'Aussie' experience and was good fun, I even ate some camel which was something new... it was quite tasty really!

Anzac Hill lookout - The Ghan train can be seen in this shot, it was on it's trip from Adelaide to Darwin

After a short stay in Alice I drove to Uluru/Ayers Rock, it was a great desert drive and I was so pleased to finally be in the Aussie outback, although, it was much greener than usual due to recent heavy rains.

En Route from Alice Springs to Uluru

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Uluru
Ayers Rock Resort (not my picture)
At the Ayers Rock Resort I pitched a tent in the campground. The resort features all you could need (at inflated prices of course), including swimming pool, supermarket, ATM's, petrol station and mobile phone network! I took the budget option and bought some meat from the supermarket and cooked up a BBQ under the stars... which are simply amazing at night in the Australian outback.

The following day I walked around the base of the rock, choosing not to climb it as requested by the local Aboriginal people and park rangers. Why destroy such a wonderful natural phenomenon like Uluru!? It was such a great experience to see both Uluru and Kata Tjuta - I highly recommend it to everyone.

After lunch at the Uluru cafe it was time to get back in the car and drive back to Alice Springs. You need to give yourself enough time to get back by nightfall, it's about a 3.5 to 4 hour drive. Driving after nightfall on the dark desert highways voids your car rental insurance, don't risk it!

After another night in Alice Springs and dinner at Lasseters, the local casino, it was time to return to Melbourne. There are two airline options from Alice Springs to Melbourne, Qantas and Tiger Airways. Tiger had some bargain fares on offer so I booked with them on a flight to Melbourne's second airport, Avalon. Since I took this trip, Tiger have changed the flight from Alice to go into Melbourne-Tullamarine instead.

I checked in online and had already printed the boarding passes so it was just a matter of showing up at the gate. The inbound flight from Avalon arrived on schedule, and after a quick turnaround we boarded the Airbus A320. Parked beside us was a Qantaslink Boeing 717-200, bound for Perth.

Qantaslink B717-200

The flight was almost completely full and  I was unfortunate enough to be seated behind 3 Australian girls who were very drunk and loud. They had a friend visit them for most of the flight standing in the aisle, swearing and being loud and obnoxious almost the whole way home. It was NOT a pleasant flight. I guess that teaches me for flying Tiger, right?

At least the flight was on schedule despite some pretty awful weather covering most of eastern Australia, and dumping loads of rain across Victoria. The weather went from blue sky in Alice Springs to pouring rain in Melbourne.

Welcome Home!

Departing Alice - nice blue sky!

Landed at Avalon- welcome to Victoria!

The Avalon Airport car park