Report #31: SL752 - Upfront at Lion Air Group's least wanted plane configuration
This will be my report on flying on Thai Lion Air premium economy class from Bangkok DMK to Phuket, a short-haul domestic flight within Thailand on their Airbus A330-300. This is not just the first report of the product in FR, but arguably also the first report of the product not made in Thai, so read on!
Here are the 6 parts of the trip (which magically enough could be crammed into 3 days): KUL - BKK on Malaysia A330-200 business class: Read here DMK - CNX on Thai Lion Air 737 MAX 9 economy class: Read here CNX - DMK on Nok Air 737-800 economy class: Read here DMK - HKT on Thai Lion Air A330-300 premium economy class: You are here HKT - BKK on Thai 777-200ER economy class: Read here BKK - KUL on Malaysia A350-900 business/first class: Read here
SL's A333 W has interested me not only because of its weird price positioning (i.e. more expensive than TG Y, but also much cheaper than WE W/PG J), but also because there isn't much detail about the product and the fact that the product is designated as W despite the slightly better D7 premium product being classified as C. The flight costs ฿2695(US$87), which while steep compared to the economy class is still reasonable enough to stomach.
The flight came with free 20 kg luggage, seat selection, and prepaid meal on top of the regular W meal service (that is, if you booked when the meal preorder was still available), which was fair enough. Since I couldn't find a way to book the premium economy on any OTA, I safely assumed that I was the first one to book the unpopular service for the flight.
7 hours before the flight I looked up at the seat map and found the load to be 3W.
Trip to DMK and check-in
I was concerned that I may miss my flight (and it's not until I reached the gate that I was indeed very early - I used Singapore/Malaysia time) so I went from Khao San Rd to Mo Chit Stn by car to take the public airport bus to DMK.
After waiting for a while bus A2/A1 came and I hopped on to the bus, which costed me ฿30(US$0.95)
The inside of the public airport bus.
After 22 minutes of ride I finally reached DMK T1 departure area.
Did I go to the right airport?
The terminal 1 (for international flights) was pretty crowded in the evening.
However, I walked further to the terminal 2 (for domestic flights) for my flight, which was very quiet.
FIDS of the evening - note the sizable number of midnight/late night flights from T1.
In fact, it was so quiet there was barely anybody there. Check-in was fast and I was soon let through.
SL promoting their A333 W.
Since I checked my luggage, I needed to wait for a while to see my bag being screened.
This is where it goes funny: SL, strangely enough, used different ways to address their premium product - so much for consistency? On desktop web they called it as Premium Economy.
On mobile web they called it as BusinessFlexi.
When I checked in online the boarding pass showed Premiere (I'm sure they're not referring to themselves as something like AF's La Première)
On counter check-in boarding pass it was written as Business.
I then proceeded to the domestic departure area.
Boarding pass check and security was fast and I was let through in ~2 minute.
DMK transit area and departure
FIDS of the evening.
I then walked through the lifeless corridor all the way to the gates 51 - 56.
The sole domestic lounge available, which was closing and sadly not available for access with SL W boarding pass.
The plane of the evening, -LAJ, a 5 months old A333. Note how windows in DMK doesn't really support plane spotting.
The closed shops near gates 51 - 56.
It was only when I noticed there was barely anybody there that I realized I went to the airport way too early, so the most realistic thing to do was to charge my portable battery and laptop while working and drinking from the water fountain.
The situation improved before boarding, but not by much due to the light load.
Boarding was soon called, but with no priority for premium economy/business class passengers so it took me ~2 minutes. In the meanwhile, I also happened to queue together the other two passengers in W by their boarding pass and found out that they were traveling for some run activities in Phuket and that their trip was expensed.
Notice the portable booth SL used in lieu of the default computers at the gate. I also asked for the load at this point, which was promptly answered.
I then walked down the slope to the aerobridge.
The front aerobridge was not used so everybody boarded in one go.
It was a fast one and I soon arrived at the plane. Note how they removed the door 2L galley and used the place for even more seats.
I was welcomed on board and had my boarding pass checked by the flight attendant nearest to the door. Afterwards, she uttered something to the flight attendant in Thai, mentioning the word business instead of premium economy. Me and the other party were then directed to our respective seats.
I walked past the small economy cabin.
Afterwards I reached the premium economy cabin. The seat itself is much better than true premium economy for full-service carriers, so I classified it as business class seat.
My home for the next 1 1/2 hours (or so I thought).
Legroom was ample.
The earphone service soon began, where the flight attendant distributed some earphones for use during the flight.
The headphone were of the disposable type and wasn't comfortable at all (there's a reason I have a headphone).
Let's go to the seat tour. The seat feature a normal seatbelt.
This has to be one of the more limited electronic seat control panel: settings were limited to lumbar, footrest, two seat setting templates, and massage (I barely had any idea what M+ and MR mean - something to do with calculator?)
2/1-plug headphone plug (that is, if you have a 3.5mm headphone just plug to either of them) and USB plug was available.
There was also a cup holder.
Beside the seatback there is a universal AC plug.
Two small storage area are located beside the IFE screen, and two more are located down, but note that they are all open - unlike SQ A333 there is no secured storage area available. Also, notice the warning stickers, which are in Malay and English, a testament to the group throwing the plane around.
Table can be retrieved from the middle armrest, and a literature pocket is located right below.
The table was acceptable and can be swiveled to ease exit. Note, however that the armrests closer to the aisle/window are fixed.
Reading lamps are available at the middle armrest and can be activated or adjusted by rotating the lower metallic cover.
Additional lamps are available above but no individual air vent is available.
Selfie test: here is how I looked on the W seat.
I then checked out the economy class. Consider it as a bonus, but since no one has reviewed SL A333 here ….
The economy class is arranged in 3-3-3, which is exceedingly narrow.
Note how empty the cabin was.
Each seat has their own IFE, although the screen was on the smaller side.
Legroom was fine typical of high density 333 (even D7 and 5J won't tease with the idea of cutting legroom on their high-density 333 either)
The IFE screen.
This is where the problem lies: the seat is so narrow my body would very easily bleed into another person's space. I would definitely avoid this configuration, which is easy enough given SL's 333 flew on very few routes.
They also use folding table, which didn't bode especially well with the crease on my jeans when I sat.
I then went back to the premium economy class before they found out I went to the economy class. The goodies in the literature pocket consisted of magazine and in-flight menu.
Despite in premium class the safety card was in a very poor state. This was also the case for many other seats, which wasn't good.
I took the one from the seat beside and found it to be much better.
Their movie selection isn't too bad, though given the plane's rotation they can always supply more Chinese films.
On the other hand, their TV show selections are more limited.
I didn't have much thought on what to watch (and test) so I ended up watching The Big Bang Theory later on.
At this point, a flight attendant came to me and asked whether I had ordered any meal, to which I said yes. After that, she asked me to show my booking confirmation with the detail of the meal I ordered so she could take a photo of it. She also mentioned that the boarding pass didn't record the preorder meals so she would need it to confirm my meal later on.
View from the outside.
We soon pushed back for departure.
Safety video was played.
Most of the video looked very cheap, though - they even used some pictograms and the lighting for the video was pretty messed up. Did they just run out of budget?
I then watched the moving map, which was not adjustable.
Cabin light was fully turned off for take-off.
Some bad views of the taxi (my phone isn't especially good for night photos).
I had been at DMK 3 times in such a short span of time, so see you next time?
The climb afforded some decent views of Bangkok in midnight.
After take-off the cabin was dimmed for service. First they provided the premium economy free default meal service, which consisted of some bread in an unbranded box with a small bottle of mineral water. I also asked about my meal preorder, to which she said that it would take ~10 minutes to prepare.
The bread (which turned out to be rolled pizza) was supposed to be eaten using the box, but I put it out first so you can see clearly.
I couldn't help but to take a photo of the inside.
The menu for premium economy snack service was as follows: Bread: Rolled mini cheese pizza Drink: Mineral water.
The pizza, albeit rather dry, is a better rendition of Lion Air Group's pizza with a slightly more realistic bread. Like the pizza on ID, the group seems to emphasize the cheese, which is always good for a supper. On overall, while even full-service economy can give even better than this it's still an acceptable one for an LCC.
When I was about to try reclining my seat the movement mechanism was broken. I then told the flight attendant about it and after she tried the chair I was invited to move to any other chair. Naturally I don't want to be too close to 3K or 2AC where there are others, so I opted for seats 1H/K.
One downside of the seat is that the IFE screen is farther away so I needed to either bend far or use the remote control.
On the plus side, the bulkhead row afforded extra legroom.
While waiting for the meal I turned the seat to bed mode. The recline is acceptable for the short flight, but for longer flights this doesn't seem especially ideal. On a side note, does this kind of seat constitute cradle recliner or angled lie flat?
Me on the bed. While the bed isn't especially long, at least it was slightly less restricting as the one on MH A332 (see my hair).
The second meal service from the preorder menu came 10 minutes after the normal meal as promised. This time, though, I was the only one receiving it - the other W passengers just had the default snack service. The cabin lamp was also turned off so I solely relied n the overhead lamp.
Instead of putting some design on the cover they instead covered it full of text. Another missed marketing opportunity?
Water came afterwards as the tray was rather small. If you have also read my other report with SL to CNX you will notice that they used a different brand of water, which also didn't match with the one promised at the booking confirmation (Pure Life instead of Minere, even though both are from Nestle).
Inside the box.
The menu for complimentary premium economy pre-booked meal service was as follows: Main course: Rice with chicken in red Thai curry sauce Drink: Mineral water
The rice with chicken curry turned out to be a pretty good choice. At first I was skeptical with the curry as there doesn't seem to be a lot of it, but the curry proved to be enough and was very flavourful as well as spicy (by in-flight meal standard). The chicken was also tender, so that's another plus point. On overall, apart from the lack of vegetables it was a decent second meal service for the flight so if you happened to fly on this product book early to preorder the free second meal service.
I then tried to use my laptop for the laptop test. The table could easily fit the 15.6" laptop with some space on both sides so consider it passed.
After drinking two bottles of water it's only natural to go to the lavatory, and so I did. The lavatory was spotless as nobody used it for the flight.
The flight attendant also congregated at the front galley (there were at least 4 of them), so I asked: - The rotation for them that day (DMK-HKT-NKG), - How was the load on W for HKT-NKG (quite good; I had expected the load to be low), and - How was the Mainland passengers' behaviour (surprisingly quite good; either it's because HKT-NKG is a midnight flight or what, but their reputation in general hasn't been the best)
View of the W cabin from the front. The passenger in 3K is a deadheading captain, also scheduled to fly on the HKT-NKG route.
Before the film a 15 seconds ad of SL's ex-DMK services to China was screened. However, I couldn't help but to notice that the W fare for the flights to China is rather steep.
The sound quality of the show wasn't that good, even after I changed to my own headphone.
The view during cruise and descent consisted of some lights down.
The cabin light was turned on again, this time for pre-landing check. Note how I moved to 1K trying to get some views from the outside.
A view of the seats (and also, the other passengers), with the one sleeping and the other watching from the IFE. In fact, the sleeping passenger had her seat adjusted to upright by the flight attendant at that point.
The view below, which by then featured a bit more lights.
The cabin light was turned off again for landing, at which point I changed to the moving map again.
The approach was done from the east, which afforded the view of the town at night.
We soon landed, but the landing was a particularly hard one despite the clear weather.
CA's 738 bound for PEK.
We were then parked beside MU's 320.
The deplaning soon started, with the other two W passengers disembarking first. Since only the aerobridge at L2 was used, there was no priority deplaning.
Last view of the W cabin. Note the slightly reclined leftmost seat, which was the 2K seat I was in that happened to be broken. Also seen is the captain for the next flight to NKG.
View of the smaller Y cabin.
The Y seats from side.
I bid farewell to the flight attendant and then proceeded to leave the plane.
From there it's a walk through the aerobridge.
Arrival at HKT and post-arrival trip
Where I would be later in the morning.
Thailand seems to have a love-hate relationship when it comes to fully separating arriving and departing passengers, let it be for both domestic and international.
From the corridor it's an escalator ride down to the dingy, warm luggage claim floor.
The first bags arrived 14 minutes after the two W passengers disembarked. My bag wasn't the first one to arrive (so there's no priority bag service).
The reason behind HKT being so warm: a major renovation (but the warmth this time was nothing compared with for the next flight).
It was then a walk down the bland corridor.
I passed through some counters before making my way to the exit.
Afterwards I walked all the way to my hostel, which took me 20 minutes of walking on inhospitable terrain. I also checked Grab, which showed that a ride there would cost at least a staggering ฿200 (US$6.3; note that motorcycle taxi is also unavailable except in Bangkok), so as a solo traveler I had no choice.
Thai Lion Air
Bangkok - DMK
Phuket - HKT
Thai Lion Air's premium economy product offered a comfortable way to shuttle between Bangkok and Phuket. While apart from the seat they don't really feel much like business class, it still serves as a decent low-cost alternative for premium class travel on the route and quite competitive even with last-minute TG Y. Apart from the closed shops in the evening, DMK was still very much manageable and fast to get through, while I didn't especially like HKT during the renovation period (but the worst was yet to come - find out more on the next report).
Would I recommend flying with SL 333? For Bangkok to Phuket on their premium class, absolutely - it was easily the best value for money premium class product for the route, but avoid their economy class at all cost and fly on their normal 738/739ER instead, which offer wider seats.
Some thing done well for the trip: + Reasonable price (฿2695(US$87) one-way) + Fast check-in and security + Low load factor + Basic IFE provision (at least there's one, which is a feat for an LCC) + Acceptable seat product (given the distance) + Provision of up to two meal services + Decent food offering + Fast luggage claim
Things that can be improved: - Unclear branding and positioning (J seat with Y service plus a bit more, sold as W but SL themselves remain unclear what to call) - Lack of priority luggage - Lack of lounge access - No shop opened at late night in DMK domestic transit area - Lack of individual air nozzles - Limited IFE selection - Bad safety cards even in W - Extremely narrow economy class seat (irrelevant for this review, but may prove useful for future Y fliers) - Broken seat control - Warm, dingy terminal at HKT - Lack of affordable short distance transportation at HKT
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