Sawasdee, again! Welcome back to my series from last summer, on my way to Cambodia.
We were in the arrivals section following flight TG314 from Kolkata. To our right was immigration, up ahead a long walk to transit security. Going through the rather strange alleyway we took a very full escalator up to the arrivals level: several Thai Airways employees held up placards for flights with short connections. WE586 to Phnom Penh was one of them, but alas here we were with a long time to kill. It was quite the walk towards security: I had seen a video on YouTube which showed that it would be important to go the right way in the short layover, but to expect long lines at transit security, in addition to confusion of who's heading for a domestic flight and who's international. With the Asian bank about to depart and most other arrivals through in to BKK, security lines were snaking in towards the regular arrivals, too. A ground staff person tried their best to separate domestic & international connections, with decent amounts of success.
LONG LINES AT SECURITY
Not a whole lot to report here, except that the line was about 35 or 40 minutes long. It moved, but there were a lot of people to get through. ‘Yo, if this is the same on the way back we’re done for’ said my brother, wary of the 1hr25min connection on the way back. Security was pretty comprehensive. Once it was all done, it was 0735 hours when we got through, giving us 6hr15min to kill. Suvarnabhumi is home to the 6th largest airport terminal in the world at the time the trip was taken (keeping aside new Istanbul & Beijing Daxing), which meant there was a lot of exploring and walking that was done.
Time for some spopting through BKK's notoriously friendly spotting locations
Food options at Concourse F…
Concourse C is home to Thai's A380s - these would head to Tokyo & Osaka
Always nice to see SriLankan - wait, it's been forever since I've seen a SriLankan airplane! Used to be an A330..
NAP, OR LACK THEREOF?
Some spotting later, it was over to get some get some sleep. Initial plan was to get in to a lounge and rest there, but we figured Concourse F was the least busy, and how wrong we were. Appreciating the planes landing and the variety of airplanes, we found some chairs to nap on, in shifts of course. Quietness soon became chatter & laughter soon as a large group of friends (or family even) came around. They were loud - good for them! For us however, it was a nap disturbed. Oh well… Before we knew it, it was just under 2 hours before departure.
Feeling well awake & refreshed, big brother and I hit the bar - it would be Singha beer for us, the most well known brand in Thailand at least. More interestingly however, we recognized this beer brand on the 2018 Ferrari Formula One SF-18H, a major sponsor for Kimi Raikkonen!
For lunch, we hit Burger King. Chicken sandwiches for both of us. In both places the staff were very friendly and helpful, a common trait in Asian countries.
Close to 1235 hours we confirmed that it would be gate F2A - so a short walk over. Convenient! Heading down to the gate the number of chairs empty reduced as more and more people filled the gate - it would be a full flight over to Phnom Penh. With the gate established & still some time before departure I did some more spotting, because why not :) A solid view of the Cathay Pacific A350-900 to Hong Kong:
Emirates & their several A380s in to Dubai
Four major alliances in this one picture, my first time achieving this!
Mahan Air A340-600 in the background
In the meantime I noticed the boarding passes of the other passengers: some had an orange border indicating they were ThaiSmile specific boarding passes, unlike ours which where the purple Thai Airways boarding passes.
Broken chairs were a common trait around BKK
Best I could get for the Oman Air 787-9
Boarding was called on time, 31 minutes before departure. By the looks of it they were trying to get as many passengers as possible on the coaches heading to the airplane. There was another set of escalators heading down to the parked coaches: unfortunately we were left in the middle. No opportunity to take pictures of planes parked at the gate.
Bus to the Airbus
Best I could do for the Arabian Airbus A340-600s :(
It was quite the long drive to the plane: there were a few parked by concourse B, Bangkok Airways ATRs and Airbus’, Thai Smile A320s, etc. We drove past HS-TBD, which was in the midst of it’s turnaround after returning from Krabi & heading to Phuket at Concourse B, the plane which got us in from Kolkata. Our bus parked by HS-TXM, a sharklet equipped Airbus A320-200, 4.5 years old of age and assembled in Toulouse. Just the one set of airstairs to take us up to the plane. I quite liked the colorful stripes going across the fuselage & engines, certainly giving off the less formal feel of a subsidiary. Like the A330s, Thai Smile’s A320s do several short regional flights, where the longest is 4.5 hours to Jaipur in India (vs 6hrs on the A330), and several 30-45 minute runs across the Indo-China region, domestic flights included.
The airplane was equipped with 16 ‘Plus Smile’ seats, which was European Business Class, aka empty middle seat, and 156 Smile Class seats, making for 172 seats on the A320. There were very young crew members welcoming us onboard who were in a more western influenced uniform. There was another crew member in between the class dividers handing out landing cards for Cambodia.
Took our seats, 35H and 35K…which were the second row in Smile Class - go figure! One would think those numbers would be on a wide body haha. Seatback on the Thai Smile A320s are in a plastic shell, but with another pocket in the bottom: so no seatback IFE, but of course.
I got to look at Thai’s maintenance facilities in the distance: it looked like Thai’s 787s were being cannibalized, the PW powered A330s about to be ferried out, and the sole narrow body in the mainline flight, a B737-400.
View from the window: more Airbus narrow bodies
PW equipped A330, cannibalized 787…
A loading truck pulled up with a couple of wheelchairs, they were boarded and things went pretty quickly from here: this flight was completely full, meaning there was someone else in the middle seat. Boarding was done in 15 minutes since the first announcement at the gate. Doors closed & pushed back at 1352 hours, 2 minutes after departure time.
The singular B737-400 preventing TG from being an all wide body fleet airline, although I believe this plane has since been retired.
Another Thai Smile A320, and a Bangkok Airways ATR 72
Both IAE V2527 engines were fired up, followed by a quick taxi to Runway 19L: the safety briefing happened, in addition to the crew going around confirming special meal orders, which included my brother’s and my Hindu meal - hmm, wonder what was in store for us.
Hey again, HS-TBD! :)
Rolled on to the runway, power added, I was warming up to the sounds of the IAE V2500 engines, as we roared in to the cloudy skies over Bangkok after rotating at 1401 hours, 9 minutes after push back. Got a decent view of the construction projects over at Suvarnabhumi, with more parking bays coming up. Continued to fly South before turning Southeast very close to the coast. This is where the crew finally got some time to do their introductions & welcome us on to the flight!
The two classes were divided with the curtains being pulled after crossing through 10000 feet, we were planning on ‘cruising’ at 29000 feet: not only a lower than normal altitude for any flight, but given how short this flight was we were at 29000 feet for about 4 or 5 minutes. No seriously, a very quick flight!
The young crew sprung in to action: while one went up front to help set up the cart for the back, one went around with special meals, which meant my brother and I were some of the first to be served. Thai Smile are known for their very cute meal packaging, I still have the cloth bag around somewhere!
In the meal box itself was, it was underwhelming. The Hindu ‘Smile Meal Set’ consisted of the mystery salad being the main course itself: unfortunately after having forced my way through it on TG314, this was not very good to eat. Thankfully we got a decent lunch at BKK. There was kheer, a lightly sweetened rice pudding which was pretty decent. There was a sealed cup of water and a mixed fruit juice. All of this while the engines were still producing thrust for us to climb!
Seat back contents
Looked at the magazine, flipping pages through them: there was an interesting article about the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, the place I saw a tiger in the wild for the first in 2010. Looking at the route map, there was no surprise to see where all Thai Smile serves, mostly domestic flights & short flights in and around South East Asia: I was surprised to see some of the India flights: Gaya, Varanasi (both of which used to be served by the Thai 737-400s), Jaipur, Lucknow & Mumbai (alongside the B747-400 option!).
As the rest of the passengers got their meals, I looked over in envy: the main course was a ham & chicken salad, with a fruit cup. This looked really good! I knew I wanted to send Thai Airways India an email to replace our Hindu Meals back to regular meals. The TVs were deployed, some nature documentary stuff was being showed, unfortunately no headphones were provided, but that’s okay, was a short flight anyway! They even managed to squeeze in a tea & coffee service in between.
Wonder what GoAir thinks about this slogan?? :)
The Captain came over the PA system with details of the flight: 1423 hours ICT, 23 minutes in to the flight: as we flew across some weather, they were already in touch with the Phnom Penh controlling agencies. From the sound of it, we were in for some bumps on the way down thanks to some weather, so the seatbelt signs would be on pretty early, all the way down.
Cabin crew prepared the cabin for arrival - I could see some precipitation as it went through the engine intake. It got bumpy, fun for some, not for others!
Pretty soon we descended through the clouds and Cambodia was in sight, the Mekong River in particular. Chopping through the clouds & rain with a low power setting reminded me of all the times I was on a 9W 737 descending in to Mumbai - pretty similar, but very different at the same time!
The approach in to Phnom Penh’s Runway 23 takes us very close over downtown Phnom Penh, in addition to getting very close to other residential areas with several streets winding right through them. In fact, one could see the dependency on two-wheelers to be quite prominent.
I was very excited to explore this country as the pilots got down HS-TXM back on the ground at 1449 hours, 49 minutes in flight. Given Phnom Penh’s lack of parallel taxiways, a JC Airlines Airbus A320-200 waited for our arrival before back taxiing down on to Runway 23 for departure. Winds were pretty much down the runway.
There were at least 10 airplanes on the apron, some at the gate, some not quite - most domestic airline planes were at a remote bay parking, while the international planes got the jet bridges. Taxied off the runway on Charlie before making way to the terminal. A Shenzhen Airlines A320 meanwhile was headed out to Guangzhou, on time. Usual announcements were complete, followed by some western pop songs playing - not quite sure what artist, but goes with the ‘youth appeal’ that most traditional airlines have with their subsidiary feeders all over.
Bayon Airlines MA60
Docked at gate 3 I believe after a 5 minute taxi, 6 minutes before time at 1454 hours. The single engine was turned off as we took our position at the gate. Doors disarmed, cargo doors popped open as the crew got underway with the quick turnaround.
Disembarked at 1457 hours, I thanked the crew for their efforts on the short flight.
Several security forces lined up close to the gate - hmm, that was bizarre, why are we getting this VIP treatment?! Turns out - a member of the Cambodian Royal Family was onboard our flight which would explain the heightened security. Immigration was largely empty, however severe line envy kicked in as the line in which my brother and I were in was the one with the officer that wasn’t quite as fast as the others. Immigration was suddenly very full as nearly 200 other passengers came in - this was one of the few wide body airplanes coming in, the ANA B787-8 over from Narita! The crew were done pretty quickly with their post flight checks and sailed through the crew line in no time.
The nice & easy layout of the airport meant that picking up baggage & customs were quickly passed through. We were out in amongst the crowds of the lovely people at 1518 hours, 23 minutes since we docked at the gate. This began an exciting, yet hectic trip around Cambodia, an adventure like no other for me!
Bangkok - BKK
Phnom Penh - PNH
Before diving in too much about the country & trip itself, it would be smart to stop and summarize this flight. Of course, not ideal selecting the wrong flight to begin with: after security at Bangkok there were TG employees with signs for WE586, the morning flight to Phnom Penh. Should’ve been able to make that just fine! Anyway, a long layover at BKK went by pretty quickly, and without much issue. The flight itself went very well, bumpy, quick, but the crew were proactive & friendly. An own goal with the hindu meal, goes to show that sometimes the special meal gamble might not be the way to go. Would I select Thai Smile for a 4.5 hour flight over to Mumbai? Or a 2.5 hour flight to Hong Kong when there are wide body flights at the same price point? Probably not. But in the end, Thai Smile does it’s job as a feeder perfectly well, and I can appreciate that. This airline has started flights to Kolkata as well, alongside the A330/B777 daily service, great to see expansion!
Looking at Thai Smile's A320 usage is also quite impressive. Several flights squeezed in, and all of them more than on time. HS-TXM's rotation looked like this for the way: WE285 0850 1010 BKK HKT WE286 1115 1240 HKT BKK WE582 1350 1500 BKK PNH WE583 1600 1705 PNH BKK WE267 1835 2000 BKK HDY WE268 2035 2200 HDY BKK
In addition most all flights being largely on time. Amazing!
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