Report #29: SL512 - The best way to MAXimize an afternoon
This will be my report on flying on Thai Lion Air economy class from Bangkok DMK to Chiang Mai, a short-haul domestic flight within Thailand, on board their all-new Boeing 737 MAX 9 (the first 7M9 delivered in the world and also the first 7M9 report on FR)
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: You are here CNX - DMK on Nok Air 737-800 economy class: Read here DMK - HKT on Thai Lion Air A330-300 premium economy class: Read here HKT - BKK on Thai 777-200ER economy class: Read here BKK - KUL on Malaysia A350-900 business/first class: Read here
Choosing which one out of the 6 flights to choose and when to book had been a thorny issue, but I ended up taking the flight to CNX where I would have sufficient yet still tight enough connecting time to go back to Bangkok, which costed me ฿800 (US$26) after OTA discount. FD may offer even lower fares on the route, but SL would be unbeatable if you would like to check some luggage.
Trip to DMK and check-in
Just like how I departed from my hostel to BKK I opted for the local train for the bulk of the journey to save on travel cost, however there is one difference to take note when departing to/from DMK: while all trains to/from Lat Krabang Stn (connect with the airport train to go to/from BKK) are third class, trains to/from DMK use the route to Chiang Mai and therefore have several different categories from ordinary to special express. This means that planning ahead to take the correct train is even more important to maximize the savings (after all, happening to take the special express train for the short trip means getting no or even negative savings compared with just taking taxi outright).
For an afternoon departure, I took the train 388 from Phaya Thai Stn to Bangkok (Hua Lamphong) Stn followed by train 201 to DMK, which theoretically should cost ฿7(US$0.23). Trains in Thailand are not the most efficient in the world, so apart from taking the correct trains padding the schedule may be necessary.
I proceeded to the Phaya Thai Stn a few minutes before the scheduled train departure time and decided to wait at the rather decrepit waiting area.
The train schedule on the Eastern Line.
Instead of locomotive-driven train, this time the train consisted of diesel multiple units like the one from Wongwian Yai Stn.
The train was survivable for the short hop. Surprisingly, throughout the ride I wasn't asked for any payment.
I then arrived at Hua Lamphong Stn. As the terminus for most train services in Thailand, the station was rather basic.
While waiting for the next train I bought my ticket for the next ride, which costed me only ฿5(US$0.16) for the 1 hour trip.
As the trains are quite affordable, the waiting area, which happened to be air conditioned, turned to some sort of picnic area.
I boarded and accidentally sat on the padded second class seats instead of the third class benches.
However, the ticket checker just saw my ticket, invalidated it, and went to the next passenger
As I neared the airport the views include the road to the airport on the right and (not photographed) the planned airport train line to DMK.
I arrived at the DMK train station with a 10 minutes delay.
From there, it's up through the ramp to the walkway to the airport, which was also shared with the Amari hotel nearby.
I then arrived at the terminal 1, which was rather crowded. DMK terminal 1 was used solely for international flights.
From the walkway, turn right and keep walking to go to the terminal 2, which was directly linked with terminal 1.
The recently renovated DMK terminal 2, used exclusively for domestic flights, looked brighter than the terminal 1 (but in a rather harsh way)
I first went to DD's counter to get my boarding pass printed for the return flight (i.e. CNX-DMK), but they were unable to do so. As a result, I downloaded DD's mobile app and retrieved my mobile boarding pass from there in case of severe delays by SL.
SL operate several check-in rows at DMK. Due to the very large capacity afforded by SL's A333 (more on that on my 4th review for this trip), some counters were designated as exclusively for SL's twice daily flights to HKT by A333.
I proceeded to the hand baggage only check-in counter and I was done in 2 minutes. I also asked the load of the day, which was rather respectable.
The check-in time was nothing compared with those with checked baggage since SL offer free 10 kg checked baggage in economy class.
Unique to DMK, passengers with checked bags need to watch their checked bags go through the security screening before they can proceed to the departure area.
The boarding pass of the day, which was flimsy typical of the JT group.
I proceeded to the domestic departure area.
First there was the manual boarding pass check.
I then proceeded to the security queue, which I cleared in 4 minutes.
DMK transit area and departure
The renovated area stopped right after security - the waiting area still sported the older design.
FIDS of the afternoon, displayed in Thai, English, and Chinese.
The views were dominated by SL and FD.
On the background is one of the only 3 SL A333 painted with ID/OD-style tail design, primarily flying to mainland China but sometimes fly between DMK and HKT as well.
I then proceeded to my gate.
The waiting room looked dated and had barely any amenities, including power plugs (there are 2 Thai-style plugs behind each apron-facing pillar and very few more elsewhere).
XW's ex-SQ 772 departing.
SL's sole 7M9, HS-LSH, arriving from CEI.
She then entered gate 46 where my flight would depart from.
The waiting room situation when boarding was called, which was very orderly - no bunching at the gate and people seemed to follow the boarding order. Boarding was called from row 1 to row 20 first, which was strange.
Since it's SL being SL, they used their own portable computer booth instead of the ones at the airport-provided desks to board so the boarding took slightly longer.
I then proceeded through the sloped walkway to the aerobridge/arrival level.
A view of the plane of the day.
It was then a short, queue-free walk to the plane.
If you notice carefully, there is a glowing blue light around the L1 door, new to the 737 MAX.
Just like its sister 739ER, the plane sported Boeing Sky Interior and was in immaculate condition.
There were both crews and crew trainees on board, with the crew wearing the batik uniform like those in JT and the crew trainees wearing a SL-issued polo shirt, large trainee name tag, and (not photographed) a crew writing behind the polo shirt.
I then walked further near to the back.
My seat for the 1 hour trip, 36A.
Another passenger entering the seat 36F. The seat looked pretty comfortable for the trip, and should be acceptable for her longer missions after the trial period.
The seat belt has a larger hole to save on weight.
The table was ordinary, but note the warning stickers, which are in Indonesian.
The recline button has also been streamlined to allow for a thinner armrest.
Typical of an LCC and thanks to the slightly thicker seat the legroom was a bit on the tighter side yet still manageable (i.e. almost touching the seat pocket; I am 5' 11"). My only concern would be for exiting the seat row when the person in 35C fully reclined her seat, but that's a minor one compared to the seat comfort.
What I especially liked from the seat is that every seat has their own adjustable headrest, which could be adjusted high enough not to touch my shoulder (which believe it or not many couldn't).
The goodies in the seat pocket include the in-flight magazine and food menu.
The safety card, which was still almost perfect and worthy of collection, and airsickness bag was also present.
Unlike on other economy class seats, the armrest near the aisle can be put up by pressing the recessed part of the switch instead of the protruding part.
Typical of narrow-body planes, individual air vents were present. Strangely enough, though, despite the Indonesian/English as well as Malay/English warning stickers on the seat table the exit signs are marked in Thai and English.
View of the terminal.
We soon pushed back.
During pushback safety demonstrations were conducted. While they used pre-recorded voice, a flight attendant would stand by the control unit near door L1 and press a button to continue between parts of the demonstration.
See you in … 4 1/2 hours?
We then proceeded to runway 21R for takeoff.
The cabin was then prepared for takeoff.
Watch the takeoff video here:
Takeoff was uneventful and we went south for a while before turning around to the north to go to CNX.
Bangkok barely seen from above.
The view after we have gained some altitude.
After the fasten seatbelt sign was switched off the sole round of inflight sales was conducted.
Since nobody bothered going to the toilet, the toilet was clean and still shows no sign of damage.
One nifty feature is the small storage area beside the closet.
However, comments were true to note that the 7M8/7M9 lavatories are narrower than usual. While I still could rotate around without problem, there is another problem with the lavatory.
The sink, while clean, was far too narrow. That may seem to be a creative way to maintain easy access while shaving a few centimeters off, but without the aerator on the faucet I couldn't help but to wet my polo shirt (I was lucky enough to wear a black one).
The light turned from slightly yellowish white to blue when the door was unlocked. Some also commented that the door may impede flight attendants' galley access, but it wasn't much of a problem.
I didn't take any photo from the galley visit, but I just asked the FA whether they flew all 6 daily flights with the -LSH for that day (yes) and whether there is any difference in terms of servicing compared with the B739ER (no; seemed a bit strange to me but let's shrug it off due to language barrier).
I then took a photo of the cabin from behind: 1. The empty seat with raised headrest was mine 2. Seats at row 6 to 35 were quite heavily loaded, but seats at row 1 - 5 (sold at a premium) was filled with only 2 persons and out of the 24 seats at rows 36 to 39 only 9 of them were taken.
When I went back to my seat, I noticed that there were 3 covered area supposedly to plug some internet cables.
The mineral water sold on board, which went for ฿40(US$1.3)
Some views during the cruise, which was uneventful.
We soon descended to CNX, where we were hit with some turbulences.
The wing was still clean enough it managed to reflect the sunlight.
The cabin's lights were dimmed in preparation for arrival.
Final descent afforded views of the quite sizable number of housing projects.
Landing was quite smooth to the point that I only realized we have already landed by the reverser.
The spoilers near the fuselage can be raised quite high (or was it the first time I noticed that?)
Are those two small planes DC-3?
We taxied passing the control tower.
Our plane ended up parked beside DD's B738 (that's not the plane that would bring me back to DMK later that afternoon)
Deplaning was uneventful, but I decided to deplane last.
As I don't know how long it would take for me to fly on 7M9 I asked to take a photo of the cabin from the front before deplaning, which the flight attendant allowed.
I bid farewell and then deplaned through the aerobridge.
Arrival at CNX and post-arrival trip
Typical of Thailand airports, arriving and departing passengers were segregated and I walked through the interstitial corridor.
Second last view of HS-LSH.
From the corridor it was an escalator ride down to the arrival floor.
The baggage claim area was quite crowded and dingy.
I then took a last photo of the plane through the glass window before a ground staff asked me not to take any photo (at least he didn't ask me to delete it).
Since the check-in rows are located outside I then exited the arrival hall to the public/check-in area.
The pick-up area, which was more of a symbolic way to end the report since I had a flight back to DMK in less than two hours.
Thai Lion Air
Bangkok - DMK
Chiang Mai - CNX
With all my experiences with Lion Air as Thai Lion Air's sister, I didn't expect the flight to be a very pleasant one. However, much to my surprise it did. SL's operations at DMK were quite efficient and orderly and apart from wetting myself at the lavatory SL's 737 MAX 9 was especially a joy to fly with. SL's 7M9 came as a significant upgrade over their 739ER, and with SL's aggressive expansion the 7M9 could prove very useful for mid-haul routes too thin to be served with their A333.
Would I fly with SL again? Yes, especially on their 7M9 for short-haul economy. Otherwise, although the routes may be less certain JT also fly 7M8 with the same interior on longer intra-Indonesia flights, which is always another possibility.
Some thing done well for the trip: + Reasonable price (฿800 (US$26) one-way) + Cheap transport to the airport availability + Fast hand baggage only check-in + Acceptable security + Enforced boarding order + Clean, modern, and functional cabin + Comfortable seat + Well-adjustable headrest provision
Things that can be improved: - Drab transit area at DMK - Few power plugs available at DMK - Slightly small seat pitch - Narrow sink in the lavatory - Language barrier with the flight attendant - Uncomfortable luggage claim area at CNX
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