Monday, May 23, 2011

The Royal Tour Part 1 - Melbourne to Zurich via Bangkok. Business on Thai

INTRODUCTION


Welcome to the first of a series of posts I am calling 'The Royal Tour'. Basically, as a bit of a monarchist I was quite excited to hear about the engagement of HRH Prince William of Wales to Catherine Middleton late last year. I watched with interest as the media hype built up in the months following, and suddenly at about 3am on a nightshift I had a thought, why not get on a plane and be in the crowd!? After all, this was going to be a major moment in history no matter which way you look at it. So, with my mind made up I started planning on ways to get there in comfort, and seeing a few airports I had never seen along the way!

Along with airports I decided to stick with the royal theme and visit as many palaces and castles as I could squeeze in. On the way home I had a family wedding to attend to in Cairns, so that would have to be integrated into the plan as well.


THE FLIGHT PLAN

After a lot of playing around with schedules I came up with an itinerary involving several airlines:

 Quite a bit of variety with both Star Alliance and oneworld alliance airlines represented, plus a mix of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, including my first ride on an A340-600. Here is how the itinerary looks:

Melbourne - Bangkok - Zurich : Thai Airways Business class
Zurich - Frankfurt - Edinburgh : Lufthansa Business Class
Edinburgh - London Heathrow : British Airways Economy class
London Heathrow - Berlin Tegel - London Heathrow : bmi Business class
London Heathrow - Bangkok - Sydney - Cairns - Melbourne : Qantas (multiple classes)

PART 1 - MELBOURNE TO ZURICH VIA BANGKOK

AIRLINE: Thai Airways
FLIGHT: TG466
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 777-300 (HS-TKB)

SCHEDULED TO DEPART: 15.00
ACTUAL DEPARTURE: 15.01

SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE: 21.30
ACTUAL ARRIVAL: 20.55 (35 minutes early)

LOAD FACTOR: Economy - 21%, Business - 63%


Thai Airways International flight TG466 is one of my most regularly flown flight numbers, it is my preferred way to Bangkok from Melbourne with a lovely mid afternoon departure and evening arrival in Bangkok. It is also perfectly timed for European connections out of Bangkok, such as the midnight flight to Zurich that I would be taking tonight.

I arrived at the airport to find the check in counters staffed but with only about 2 passengers checking in. I enquired with the staff and found the load was going to be extremely low in economy class, only 21% of capacity. Not good for the airline, but great for those in economy, everyone would have a row to spread out and sleep if they wished. I had 4 sectors to check in for today, Melbourne-Bangkok-Zurich-Edinburgh. My bags were tagged all the way through but only the first 3 boarding passes were able to be printed. I was told to grab the fourth from the transit desk in Frankfurt en route.

While I was checking in I noticed an older gentleman approach the service desk with his younger Thai girlfriend. He wanted to know if she could fly out on the next flight, and bring forward her return date from the following month. Apparently it is 'too cold' in Melbourne for this girl and she needed to get back to sunny Thailand. Too cold? Or perhaps trouble in paradise seems a more likely story. I felt a bit sorry for the poor girl as she checked in her tiny suitcase saying absolutely nothing. The check-in staff were friendly though and put her on the flight, space was not an issue today! With check-in complete it was time to head for the usual hangout of the Air New Zealand Koru Club.

 After being welcomed into the club I found a seat and went over to the guest book to see who had been in since I last visited, just a little habit I picked up a year or so ago. Whilst I was browsing I found this rather amusing little exchange between guests, and if you are out their Wanda, I do tend to agree with the following 2 guests I'm afraid!

NZ Koru Club MEL guest book
Once I was settled I headed straight for the sparkling! I found a new drop on offer that I don't recall trying before, Brancott Estate from Blenheim in New Zealand. Appropriate for the Air New Zealand lounge! It wasn't bad to drink either, so I returned for a second glass shortly thereafter! To go with it I had 2 mini beef pies, a chicken sandwich and chocolate mousse. Tasty!




After sitting in the lounge for a while boarding was announced and my fellow passengers and I made our way to the gate. Boarding was almost complete by the time I arrived, as you would expect with such a light load today! The flight was being operated by HS-TKB, a 12 year old Boeing 777-300 still flying in Thais old livery. The aircraft underwent a cabin refurbishment at some time in the past few years but for reasons unknown Thai did not see fit to repaint her in the current livery. I don't mind the old colours anyway, although they are looking a bit faded on old HS-TKB!


I was seated in 11A today, which is a left hand window in the first row on the aircraft. Always nice to be in the first row especially on these 777s, the space in front of the seat to the bulkhead is huge! Lucky for me 11B remained free giving me even more room to stretch out.

Placed on my seat was the usual Thai business amenity kit and duvet. Champagne, water and juice were soon on offer as pre takeoff drinks and as per usual I had a champagne. Shortly afterwards, at 3.01pm exactly, the doors were closed and I watched the ground crew on the jetbridge give the pilots a cheerful wave goodbye as we commenced pushback. I was pretty excited at this point to be officially on my way to probably the biggest Royal wedding in my lifetime. The future King was to be married and I was going to be there!

The weather in Melbourne was beautiful with a southerly breeze meaning it was off to the 3657 metre long runway 34 for takeoff. With no other traffic ahead we were off the ground in no time.

Thai 466, Runway 34, Cleared for Takeoff!
It wasn't long after departure that service commenced. It is a full dinner service that is on offer although Thai just call it the 'First Serving'. It is a little early for dinner after all!

In fact I would prefer they waited a little while before starting the meal service because it is too soon after snacks in the lounge and a little bit later would be more suitable for dinner. I suspect the crew prefer to do it ASAP after takeoff, get the lights out and blinds down so they have as little work as possible to do during the flight.

Anyway, if you would like to view the menu for the first serving you can see it on the left. Quite a decent offering really, although as per usual the main courses are no different to economy class offerings in presentation, in fact economy class are offered 2 out of those 4 choices themselves. I decided to have the stir fried beef with cashew nuts as my main.



First on offer was the drinks cart along with a packet of nuts. I continued to drink the Charles Heidsieck champagne on offer. No sooner had my nuts been delivered was I then presented with the 'Hot Savoury' part of the menu. Personally I believe this should have been offered after the first drinks and nut service. Thumbs down for pushing this at us so early.


The gyoza dumpling was pretty nice although there is only two of them, a third wouldn't have gone astray! Once they were cleared away the crew came around with table cloths and then presented the first course along with drinks service. I was drinking a white wine and I can't remember what it was other than I believe it was French. My mistake for not taking a pic of the drinks menu sorry. Interestingly the beef first course came with what appeared to be a small piece of lobster beside it... that was not mentioned on the menu but it was nice anyway! The salad seemed a bit dry like it had been out in the air for too long, and it was boring with just lettuce and cucumber. The bread basket was brought out promptly and I selected some garlic bread which was a little soggy but edible.

First Course
Main Course
The main came in the usual small casserole dish straight out of the oven. There is no arranging items on a proper plate like some other airlines do in business class. It was quite tasty but that is pretty usual for ex-MEL catering in my experience. They do a good job! Far better than Bangkok catering.

After the main was complete my tray was removed and I was offered a plate with cheese and fruit. When I took this same flight a year or so ago the fruit and cheese was offered from a trolley and you could select what you wanted and the crew made up a plate for you. The dessert was offered at the same time. These days it seems you just get a standard plate and dessert is served afterwards. I prefer the proper fruit and cheese board service myself.... bring it back please Thai! Shortly after I was done with the cheese the coffee and dessert were delivered to my seat. The Macadamia Apple tart with vanilla sauce was quite delicious and went down very nicely indeed. 

Fruit and Cheese Plate

Dessert with Coffee
The whole meal process went too quickly for my liking and I felt QUITE bloated by the end of it. I would have preferred the courses to be spaced out a little, after all this flight departs mid afternoon and most passengers are not interested in sleeping so early. As it was the entire meal service was complete by 4.20pm, just 1 hour 20 mins since we had left the gate! Then it was lights out and blinds down! I left my blind open for a while though, I dont want to sleep this early thanks very much!

I took a walk around the economy cabin which was like a ghost town with just 70 out of 330 seats occupied. Very comfortable for everyone with full rows of 3 to lie down and get some rest and watch some movies. Almost made business class feel crowded!!

Rear economy cabin mid flight
I ended up watching a movie after dinner and had a doze for a couple of hours before flicking through the audio video on demand system a bit more. The ride was nice and smooth for the whole flight as the sun slowly set, its always a very long sunset when flying towards the sun and I enjoy the view from the window. Eventually about 6 hours after dinner we were passing by Singapore and it was time for the 'Second Serving'. The second service has no options, its rice noodles or nothing!

For me I was quite happy to have it as I quite like noodles and prawns! The table cloths came out again and the meal which is served on a single tray was presented along with drink selections. It wasn't much to look at but again, compliments to Melbourne catering... very tasty! And I do like a Ferrero Rocher too which came with it!
Second Serving
After the meal was cleared it was time for a freshen up in the lavatory, and I just want to point out one change which i quite liked in the lavatory. New toothbrush packs and the hand towels were placed neatly rolled in a basket rather than stuffed into the dispenser unit. It looked quite nice and the toothbrush packs were of a decent quality. 

The first flight was rapidly coming to an end as we made our descent into the hot and humid Bangkok where we made a smooth landing and.... as is all to common with TG, we taxi'ed to a remote stand to await bussing to the terminal! I had a brief chat with the crew at the front door about this, I mentioned it is annoying and far too regular, the crew did not seem to think it was very common at all! Which is strange as I find I am bussed from this flight regularly, and from plenty of others. Anyway, it was on to the bus for us all and a rather long drive to the international arrivals drop off point. I took a shot of my seat on the way out:

11A and 11B on Thai B777-300
One flight down - but many more to go. It was time for a freshen up and a massage during my 3 hour transit here in Bangkok. First of all - off to Concourse C Royal Silk lounge for a hot shower! The shower rooms are large and look good, the towel even has a Thai logo on it.

Concourse C Thai shower room - nice!

After a shower I headed over to the Concourse D Thai Spa to book in for a head and shoulder massage. The wait was about 20 minutes, but not a problem as there is comfortable seats and you get served a cold tea while you wait.


The massage was fantastic and afterwards I was feeling totally relaxed and ready for the upcoming 11.5 hour trip to Zurich.

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AIRLINE: Thai Airways
FLIGHT: TG970
AIRCRAFT: Airbus A340-600 (HS-TNB) - First time on A340-600!

SCHEDULED TO DEPART: 00.30
ACTUAL DEPARTURE: 00.44 (14 min delay)

SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE: 07.25
ACTUAL ARRIVAL: 07.23

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

Gate C8 - Boarding about to commence for TG970 to Zurich
I spent the rest of the transit time in the concourse C lounge having a few vodkas and catching up on the news and internet forums I read. Just before midnight I made my way to gate C8 where a queue was forming for boarding. The flight was sold out in all classes so it was fairly busy in the gate area. Eventually First and Business class passengers were given the go ahead to board so I made my way onto my first A340-600 and quickly found seat 12K.

Special sticker on the entry door for HM The King
Leg room 12L
View from 12K - First Class can be seen from here
Unlike Qantas and some other airlines that know something a little more about service, there is no special greetings by name by any of the crew on Thai. You just find your seat and get comfortable, in fact nor I or my seat partner were offered to have our jackets hung in the cupboard. Never mind I just made use of the coat hook in the seat.



Just confirming - our destination is ZURICH!
The blankets on the seats were the economy style thin ones, I still don't understand how some routes have proper duvet's but others have these thin blankets. A little bit of consistency would be nice, but then again, this is Thai Airways. No point groaning, I am used to it by now. Amenity kits were also on the seats. Pre takeoff drinks were soon offered to me and my 59 other business class passengers, I took a champagne and got comfortable. The captain came on to the PA advising we would have a slight delay at the gate waiting for a departure slot with many flights departing to Europe at this moment.

At 44 minutes past midnight HS-TNB and her full load of passengers pushed back and we were on our way. The departure was off runway 19R, towards the south. I watched the night lights of Bangkok below us until they disappeared into the distance, it was strange for me to transit through Bangkok without leaving the airport. I would  be back here in a bit over a week though, for a few days on my way back to Australia.


Pre Supper Drinks
Although it was past 1am, we had a full supper service on this flight. This started with drinks and then went like this:

Appetiser - 1 prawn, how completely NOT generous!

Lamb with mashed potato main

Cheese Plate (I ate a couple of grapes before I took this)

Dessert
This was the worst meal I have had on Thai in business class. Very ordinary indeed. For a starter we had a SINGLE prawn. Cost cutting gone made, it looks a bit silly in my opinion. I believe it is advertised as a 'King Prawn' but still, its not very big is it? I took the lamb main course and presentation was very ordinary, it was edible although nothing outstanding.

The cheese on the fruit and cheese plate was barely edible. Thai really needs to get some decent cheese although I know it is not something that you can buy as easily in Thailand as the western world, but that is no excuse. The only thing I enjoyed was the dessert which was some kind of apple pastry thing with ice cream. It was quite tasty. I forgot to photograph the menu I'm afraid sorry! Once dinner had been cleaned up it was lights out and after quite a long day so far I was pretty tired and ready to sleep. The seats are a slightly different style to those found on the 777-300 and they seemed a little more flat and comfortable for sleeping. I managed a few hours of broken sleep.

I took a peak out the window and found we were over some scenic mountain ranges and the sun was coming up behind us. You fly over a lot of the 'stan' countries on these S.E Asia - Europe flights, how different life must be for those below us. 

I watched a few TV shows on the IFE system, the selection seems to have been extended recently on Thai. There is more episodes of each show than before, very happy with that improvement Thai! 


Flying over some interesting places
At 1 hour 30 minutes before landing the lights were switched on and breakfast service commenced. We had actually placed our order the night before so there was no need to disturb anyone too early. Breakfast was an improvement on the previous meal, but when will Thai stop serving those ridiculously ugly chicken sausages ex-Bangkok. They are visually disgusting and the taste isn't that much better in my opinion. The cheap yoghurt is not very nice either. I was quite happy with the pastry selection and fruit though!

Breakfast - fruit starter
Breakfast - main course
Business Cabin - after breakfast
There was a steady flow of passengers to the lavatories and soon queues were forming, even in business class. I patiently waited my turn to head for a freshen up - wash the face, brush the teeth and moisturise. Feels so much better!

Morning Sunshine!
IFE System showing our route
The captain announced our descent into a sunny Zurich, although still quite a chilly morning, about 7 degrees outside. The countryside looked beautiful out my window with lovely green fields and trees... very scenic and I am a Europe newbie so I was glued to my window all the way down! Another smooth landing and we made our way to the terminal.
Qatar A330 from Doha touches down after us
Arriving at parking position E57
Around 24 hours after departing Melbourne I had landed in Zurich. I was thankful for having several naps along the way, and glad I was flying business class on this trip. On the way out I took a snap of my seat in the daylight:

12K now vacated by me
HS-TNB takes a rest before heading back to Bangkok
Next up in part 2 is the final 2 flights of this mammoth 4 flight journey, Zurich-Frankfurt-Edinburgh on Lufthansa. Stay tuned!



Zurich Airport



4 comments:

  1. So much to enjoy in this post! I cracked a rib laughing about Wanda Skinner! And your line about Brancott Estate bubbly being so enjoyable that you "returned for a second glass shortly thereafter" has been repeated several times this past week!! Very impressed with the toothbrush packs on TG 466 - I lurve discovering these sort of things. Even the unpredictable food offerings from Thai confirmed my love of airline travel. All these things are part of the experience!! Thanks for sharing yours.

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  2. Well, it's nice reading your travel journals. Are you gonna document on your return trip?

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  3. Thanks Brad! Nice to see people reading. Ill try and have a new post up tomorrow.

    MarcusThepilot - absolutely, this will be a several part report, about 6 or 7 parts at least.

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  4. Loved it! Can't wait to see the next legs!

    Oh... and just a 'bit of a monarchist'??? Lol ;-)

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