Welcome, dear reader, to a short return trip from Hong Kong to Bangkok on Thai Airways’ 747-400 in First Class. These flights, as fate had it, were my penultimate aviation adventure of 2015.
Stage 1: 12/7/2015 - TG607 HKG-BKK - You are here. Stage 2: 12/8/2015 - TG600 BKK-HKG - Coming soon.
In mid-November, I did some number-crunching, and figured out that one more trip with AC to Hong Kong this year would put me over a threshold which would earn me 300,000 bonus Aeroplan miles. Having some light time at the end of the year when it comes to work, this seemed a bit of a no-brainer — for the reasonably affordable cost of a Premium Economy ticket on AC, I earn enough points for two business class trips to Asia, or mini-RTWs, or whatever one might call them. So I jumped on the opportunity.
Fortunately, upgrades for all four Air Canada segments cleared ahead of time, thanks to a glut of eUpgrade points I had earned on recent flights. So the AC experience was all business class, pretty much the same as what I reported on in the fall.
Now, I didn’t really have anything planned for my brief time in Hong Kong, and I had recently read that Thai was planning to retire its 747-400 fleet. TG’s 744 is the only remaining 747 in Star Alliance service, aside from United’s, on which I have not flown, so I decided to correct this oversight. Happily enough, on the day I was in Hong Kong, there was availability for an award flight on the last HKG-BKK flight of the day, operated by a 747, and on the first BKK-HKG of the morning, also operated on a 747, in First. For 50,000 miles, I jumped on the opportunity.
We arrived into Hong Kong feeling well fed and well rested and just about on time. We pulled in about two gates over from the centrally-located bank of transit desks where TG handles connecting passengers. There were an older couple ahead of me who were on a tight connection, trying to get on their booked flight to Bangkok, the one before mine. So the gate agent asked if I was on the same flight, and I replied that I was not. I had plenty of time. He seemed a little relieved by that, as the other travelers seemed to be cutting it close. In about two minutes, I had my boarding pass, directions to the Thai Lounge, and was headed for transit security. The lineup wasn’t very long, so it was typical HKG — quick, efficient, painless.
Up an escalator, and I found myself in the familiar confines of HKG. Off to the lounge! It’s a short walk to the elevators, then a big of navigating in the well-signed mezzanine level to find Thai’s lounge.
Once inside, I was escorted past the counter to the right, into the small area set aside for First Class passengers. Immediately, one of the two hovering lounge attendants set upon me, offering me a menu and a drink. I was still pretty full from the flight in, and looking forward to my pre-booked meal, so I opted to skip the food, although some of the options sounded pretty good. Most were light — dim sum, noodle soups and the like. Nothing on the drinks menu really appealed to me either, so I just requested some water. Boring, I know. It was quickly brought over to me, and the attendant decided she didn’t need to immediately hover over me for a minute, giving me a chance to take in the First Class side of this lounge.
It’s really nothing special, I’d have to say. The First Class side has at most about 20 seats, which are comfortable enough, but nothing outstanding. There’s also a massage chair reserved for F passengers, visible in the first shot of lounge seating above. The ambience is the same as the business class, and the lounge has a very open and airy feeling, “open” to the terminal below.
Aside from the menu, the food offerings are pretty basic — some fruit and packaged snacks, and a decent bar, as well as a fairly standard high-end coffee machine. I give the attendants credit, though — one of my fellow loungers selected a few items of fruit from the bar. She quickly descended upon him, whisked the fruit away, and returned with them artfully cut up for his enjoyment. A nice touch. My water was kept filled up as well, although after the initial onslaught, I didn’t feel like they were hovering quite as much. Perhaps they decided I was fairly low-maintenance?
On the far side of the bar, between the fridge for pop and beer and the TV playing news headlines, the airline has a model of its flagship A380, and a few items of award bling on display.
The little details on display — all of the pillows on the couches are in Thai’s First Class colours, purple and gold.
I lounged for a while, taking advantage of strong WiFi and plentiful in-floor power outlets, and caught up on some e-mail and other sundries. Soon enough, it was about 10 minutes to the expected boarding time, and I decided to mosey my way on over to the gate.
We weren’t far at all from the lounge just the other side of the “Y” junction at the end of the terminal. The omnipresent gate number and information display columns were showing their Christmas cheer, including a cute little Santa peeking out of the “chimney” of the column.
About 10 minutes to boarding, and all was still pretty quiet around the gate.
Sure enough, as advertised, a TG 747-400 was waiting outside in all her glory. It’s still quite a thrill to know you’re getting on one — especially when you know you get to sit in the nose. So I grab a few pics, and mill around for a minute, before they start trying to organize passengers. A gate agent takes a quick look at my boarding card and shows me to the first of two priority lanes — one for first, and one for business and Star Golds. No announcement has been made at this point, that I heard, but they quickly check us in and let us board. They wouldn’t want to be responsible for F passengers having to stand around, after all!
At the door, I’m greeted with a wai and the in-charge flight attendant shows me to my seat, 2K, a window seat on the starboard side of the plane. Door 1L on the TG 744 basically opens into First Class, which is just separated from Business behind it by a curtain. Once in, I’m greeted by the older “new” Thai First Class configuration, which is four rows of lone window seats, with two pairs of seats in the middle. The seat is comfortable enough, but far from cutting edge, and rather lacking in privacy for a contemporary F product. I had been hoping to get to try the “new new” enclosed suites installed on some 747s. Maybe tomorrow morning, although I suspect those may be reserved for longer flights than this one.
The seat comes with another pair of pillows in purple and yellow. Because there’s not quite enough purple in this cabin already.
Since this is a flat bed seat facing forwards in first, legroom is of course more than ample, and the ottoman can be brought towards you for your comfort with the seat controls, for the benefit of those (like me) with shorter legs.
Next to the seat, there is a headphone hack — noise-cancelling headphones are already located at every seat, as well as a side console with seat and ottoman controls, and a remote control for the IFE system, which must be of the pop-up variety, because it’s currently nowhere to be seen. Below the headsets, there is a universal power outlet.
From 2K, there’s (obviously) just one row between me and the nose of the plane, the bulkhead of which is decorated with a nice Thai city skyline. In purple, of course.
To my left, there’s a table and storage area ahead of the paired seats in the middle, which is currently offering a variety of Thai, Hong Kong, and foreign press. This shot gives a feel, I think, for the lack of privacy, which is probably the biggest failing of this particular configuration.
A male flight attendant comes by, and offers a hot towel, which is gratefully accepted, and asks if I’d like a glass of champagne before departure. Why yes, that sounds like a lovely idea.
And soon the Dom is brought around. Although not presented in the greatest stemware, it is quite delicious.
I take in the cabin, which is a little bit older, but still, I’m in the nose of a 747, so I can’t complain. Oddly enough, there’s what appears to be a projector overhead, showing the age of this equipment.
My glass it kept topped up, and I’m well into my second glass by the time boarding is complete — and it didn’t take that long. This flight ends up being full in F. The female in-charge comes around and pops up the IFE screen so the safety video can be shown as we push back into the night.
With the video offered and the monitor stowed, she comes around again, confirms the pronunciation of my surname, and confirms that my pre-ordered meal has been boarded. Would I like to see a menu anyway? Sure, why not!
Had I not pre-ordered, I would have been hard-pressed to choose between the beef and the duck curry.
It’s not a super-busy time at HKG, so after a short taxi we’re up and away into the night sky away from the always impressive skyline of Hong Kong.
After takeoff, I pop my screen back up, and check out what’s on offer. The moving map is not exactly the most modern, but it does the job. The interface otherwise is identical to what I saw last month on TG A330 and 787 flights, although obviously, the resolution is nowhere near what’s offered on the newer Boeing.
After our short climb, service begins with some more champagne, and a pair of canapés. The spinach and cream cheese roll didn’t do a lot for me, but the tart was quite nice.
Back over in the center, the former newsstand is now a bar. We ended up with a full load for this flight, despite just four of us boarding early. I’m not sure if the others were upgraded last minute, or merely weren’t quite as giddy as yours-truly to get on board in the rarefied air of first class.
After the canapé dish was cleared, another hot towel was offered.
Then the flight attendant pulled out the giant table from the side — it really is too bad the ottoman is clearly marked as not a seat, because by all rights, two peoples’ meals would fit quite comfortably on this very deep table.
A quick check of the moving map, and then the table is set. Properly, with silverware commemorating Thai’s 55th anniversary.
A bread basket is then offered. on TG F, it’s not a communal bread basket. Each passenger gets their own. But I’m disappointed to find no garlic bread in the basket, as the garlic bread was clearly the bread highlight in my previous TG F experiences, all on the A380.
The smoked salmon and green papaya salad starter kicks things off. The salmon wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but the simple julienned papaya with a light vinaigrette a bit of spice and colour from the peppers was very enjoyable.
After the appetizer is offered, the male flight attendant comes around with the garlic bread. Yay! Okay, so not as good as what I remember having out of BKK in the past, but garlic bread always holds up so well on a plane, so quite enjoyable. I would end up having another couple of slices before the meal was over, too.
And now it’s time for the main course, my pre-ordered lobster thermidor. I’ve seen this on so many book-the-cook menus, but never pulled the trigger on it, so I decided to give it a try, and it didn’t disappoint. This presentation looks quite different than what Thai shows on its Web site — a function, I’m sure, of both time and of this flight not originating from Bangkok. But this is a very tasty, satisfying main course. It feels like comfort food for the one per cent. The vegetables were also perfectly done and quite enjoyable. Just a great main course.
Dinner continued with a cheese and fruit course, which did not exactly overwhelm. A blue cheese was also on offer, but I didn’t feel like having it.
And then dessert, which was also excellent. The light (in colour, consistency and flavour) and delicate cake, and the more assertive salted caramel tart. A very nice little sweet treat at the end of the meal.
With dinner over, I lounged around in my seat for the short duration of the flight, enjoyed some more champagne, and just generally soaked in the first class experience. Even as someone fortunate enough to have traveled in a lot of international business class the last few years, true international F seems such a treat, even if it is just for a short ride.
Soon enough, we were starting out descent into the sea of lights that is the greater Bangkok area and it showed up well on this crystal clear night.
We touched down, and after a short taxi, my flight was over. It’s always such a mixed feeling when a First Class experience comes to a conclusion.
After being wished a fond goodbye, and of course wai’ed by anyone and everyone in a Thai uniform, I was on my way up the jetway, where a ground agent with a bunch of passengers’ names — mine included — awaited. I identified myself, and she asked if I was planning to go landside before my — ahem — connection to Hong Kong in the morning. I said that I was, and she motioned to a young Thai porter to take my carry-on suitcase. No cart for me, although a few of my fellow F passengers did warrant a buggy ride.
My porter would see my through the priority lane for customs, through the luggage hall, and actually all the way to the door and to the shuttle bus to the nearby Novotel, where I would sleep for a few hours before getting up bright and early to make the most of what is clearly the “main event” of this little adventure — the First Class ground service at Thai’s Suvarnabhumi hub.
We’ll pick the story up there in the near future.
Thai Royal Orchid
Hong Kong - HKG
Bangkok - BKK
Shortly after booking this trip, I learned that TG has once again been TG and put a hold on its plans to retire the 744 fleet, but it's still a treat to get to fly in the Queen, especially in a very good First Class experience, even if it is for a short jaunt.
This seat is definitely not up to par with the privacy of more modern F products, but for this short trip, it was great, and with great Thai service and a decent meal, I was very happy with my points expenditure.... but still very excited for the return trip in the morning.
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