Friday, July 21, 2006

Trip Report: LAX-BKK TG 795 C

(Note: The following is my trip report of the flight to Thailand. Since most people are not fascinated with the minutia of air travel and do not refer to obscure airports by their three-letter IATA codes, this post may be Too Much Information. Feel free to skip it and meet me at the next Cambo Tale.)

I decided to suspend my entertainment law practice for a year or so in order to travel. The first leg of the journey was LAX to BKK, on the TG 795 non-stop, departing at 23:00 on 11JUL06.

I purchased a one-way full fare Premium Economy ticket, because I needed the flexibility and the full refund in case my grand plans changed or fell through. Otherwise, I would never be paying full fare.

The ticket was issued in booking class U, which I though was strange since I assumed I would be booked as a Y. In any event, I got my flexibility (which I exercised) and my refundability (which I didn't), so I didn't sweat the letter.

As always, the worst part of the journey was dealing with LAX and its Tom Bradley International Terminal. Built for the 1984 Olympics, the terminal is now cramped and outdated. The clumsy security procedures don't help.

Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the world's most powerful nation, a glamour city and international gateway, and the airport is an embarrassment. It should be a showstopper like HKG. As a resident of the city, I apologize to everyone who has every tried to buy food at LAX at 11:15 p.m. or nearly gotten run over while looking for the red courtesy shuttle sign.

Thai Air had separate check-in lines for Economy, Premium Economy, Business and First. My Premium Economy counter agent was fast and courteous, and Thai Air had assigned enough agents to process passengers quickly.

Then, in accordance with LAX policy, I lugged my baggage to a TSA screening post, waited as visibly bored TSA personnel scanned the baggage while barely looking at it, and waited again while an LAX stevedore humped the baggage back to the Thai Air counter. There must be a better way to do this. If it takes a wholesale re-design of the terminal, then that's what Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has ultimate control of the airport, should do.

The counter agent gave me a courtesy pass to the Qantas lounge. It was better than my usual haunt, the LAX United lounge, and that's damning with faint praise indeed. The freebies were beverages, alcohol, crackers and spread, and small sandwiches, which included decent lox. Copies of the major Australian newspapers were provided.

I dawdled and got to the gate at the final boarding call. I was distracted by my tardiness, and I didn't register that the FA directed me to turn left, and I didn't notice that my seat looked more like a pod, and then an FA offered me champagne, and I finally realized that I was in Business Class.

I looked at my ticket stub. I was sitting in 14J, and I was classed in C. Equally as important, the welcome wine was a Fleur de Champagne brut non-vintage.

I had been upgraded! Either the counter agent or the CRS had noticed that I was flying full fare and that there was space available in the Business cabin. That's an auspicious way to start a year-long journey, I thought.

The A340-600 was beautiful, immaculate and new, exactly the equipment you want for ultra-long haul. The flight pushed back three minutes early and was in the air without undue waiting. The safety video was standard fare, with the added touch of noting that passengers were not permitted to lie on the floor.

The seat was the space-age pod you see splashed all over Thai Air's promotional literature. Sixty inches of seat pitch, nineteen inches of width, and 170 degrees of recline. The seat had plenty of shared armrest and two separate areas to stow magazines and other items.

The seat had amazing massage and contour features, reflecting the Thai national appreciation of massage. There were more than a dozen ways to configure the seat. The seat unfolded to become completely flat, if not exactly parallel to the floor. I am six one, and I was able to lie supine in comfort.

The first meal, served about one hour after takeoff, consisted of Thai dim sum, a smoked salmon pate with flying fish roe, salad, steamed chicken in garlic soy sauce with rice, rolls and mocha cake. All excellent for airline food.

I washed dinner down with the 2001 Chateau Lamothe-Cissac red. The other wine options were 2000 Marsannay Louis Latour red, 2002 Santa Helena Chardonney white and 2002 W. Gisselbrecht Rieseling Schiste white.

The cabin lights were turned off and, after several days of manic activity finalizing this trip, I crashed.

Breakfast was served about seven hours later. The egg dish was tasteless and, I am discovering, consonant with the Thai culture's inability to prepare a decent American breakfast.

The IFE was on demand. I watched the film Moulin Rouge again, then re-watched several of the musical sequences in a French-language version that was also available. The IFE also offered Thai movies, a few TV shows, some video games and flackery for Thai Air's new Moscow route. Only the two-hour version of Peter Jackson's King Kong was available, which seemed strange on a 17-hour flight.

The IFE offerred a text news service, with content from AP and other wires. I was disappointed to discover that the feed was not updated during the flight, so I could not obtain new information about the Bombay bombings while in the air. The IFE also lacked internet access.

About one-and-a-half hours before landing, the FAs served a light brunch of lobster, greens and rolls. Perfectly suitable.

The landing was smooth, immigration a snap, and customs a non-event.

While I still need to try Singapore Air's legendary service, I am certainly a satisfied Thai Air customer and can readily recommend their front-of-the-plane service to other travellers. Just bring your own breakfast.

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Blogger James said...

Frankly the food on Thai Airways (breakfast included) is significantly better than the pathetic excuses for food served on American carriers.
Also American airports are old, dingy, and reek of sewerage. Thailand's newly built Suvarnabhumni airport is scores better.

10:42 AM  

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