The airline with the best average rating is Thai Airways with 8.1/10.
The average flight time is 3 hours and 23 minutes.More information
I was not able to publish any trip report in October 2022, as was originally planned when I published my Emirates trip report in September, since I squeezed in a short weekend trip back to Chennai for the festival of Diwali. It consisted of two flights on Singapore Airlines — including one on 9V-SMF, an A350 that has the honour of being the 10,000th Airbus aircraft ever built — and one on Malaysia Airlines, this being my first flight not only on MH but on any Oneworld member, as well as my first-ever flight on the A330(-300), which I have always wanted to fly but never got the chance for a long time.
Therefore I will first get my Thai Airways flight from Chennai to Bangkok (on 27 June) out of the way, before publishing my Emirates flight from Dubai to Chennai (on 17 June) — a little different from the chronological order — and wrap up with the TG A350 flight from Bangkok to Singapore (also 27 June). I have plenty of other flights in December — though the original Delhi plan has been postponed because of the harsh winter and pollution there — so I might not be able to write about my October flights before 2022 ends, but rest assured I will at least have attained Bronze status on Flight-Report by the end of the year!
I have been guilty of including too many photos in my trip reports, which slows down the reading experience, so starting from this report I will try to cut down on the number of pictures that I include. It’s good that Flight-Report has a limit of 150 pictures per article, or I wouldn’t know where to stop!
Why Thai Airways should have retired the 777-200ER and not the A330-300
When I published my first trip report on Thai Airways in June 2022, I felt sorry that it had retired the A330-300, a capable medium-haul widebody workhorse with a decent onboard product. But I was also happy that it had retired its old 777-200s (HS-TJA–TJH) and 777-300s (HS-TKA–TKF), which dated back to the 1990s and early 2000s. However, something that I failed to notice then was that TG still continued to keep its dated 777-200ERs (HS-TJR–TJW) in its fleet: four of them were in active service, and the other two parked. These, despite being younger (built in 2006–2007), offered a dreadful onboard product which no amount of colourful seat covers could hide. And this would come back to bite me hard on my return journey from Chennai (MAA) to Singapore via Bangkok.
Every time I opened Flightradar24 to track the TG337/338 Chennai flight throughout the end of June, I would get a horrible sinking feeling. The 777-200ERs operated the route for most of the month of June, with few exceptions. ‘Hey, it’s no big deal, you still get an A350 at the end,’ I would reassure myself — referring to the final flight from Bangkok to Singapore. But nothing would change the fact that TG was sending its most dated aircraft (now that the 747s and non-ER 777s were retired) to a dated, direly-in-need-of-repair airport like MAA: in short, the worst of both worlds.
This put into perspective how nice my TG A350 flight into Bengaluru at the beginning of the month had been, with a great product, a great crew, three empty seats to myself, a blissful immigration experience and, above all, a luxurious airport hotel room to sleep in before the morning flight to Chennai. This flight, in contrast, was the worst of everything: a completely unnecessary delay at check-in, thanks to incompetent government airport officials; nearly missing the flight as a result; having to put up with loud, obnoxious co-passengers who were only interested in entertaining themselves; dealing with the grainiest in-flight entertainment system in a long time, with a dated, low-resolution monitor that was difficult to navigate — indeed, perhaps my worst flight ever. Still, I guess I should be grateful for small things, like the decent food, friendly service and not-dirty cabin, as these are all but first-world problems.
Some ThinGs are changing for the better…
Fortunately, things have improved quite a bit since then: to meet popular demand, TG has reactivated three A330-300s (HS-TEN/TEO/TEP) — though they seem to be flying only to Japan — and starting from July, the Chennai route has typically been operated with the 787, both -8s and -9s, as was always supposed to be the case. In fact, the 787-9 — of which TG has only two, HS-TWA and -TWB — has been flying quite a bit to Chennai recently, and I have booked this segment to MAA on TG in December, connecting from SQ in BKK, specifically with the hope of catching the 787-9, which I have never flown before. I sincerely hope I don’t get ‘TGed’ again, for lack of a better term, and the odds of getting the 787 (at least the -8, if not the -9) seem good at this point.
But TG’s other Indian destinations (I am elaborating on the Indian routes since I am more familiar with them) have not been spared from fleet inconsistency. Bengaluru once used to consistently get the A350 — as it did when I flew there in June — but from August to October 2022 it received other aircraft, including the ghastly 777-200ER, on occasion. Thankfully, since the beginning of the winter schedule on 30 October, it is back to the A350 for BLR… but it is Mumbai that now gets the awful 777-200ER instead, not to mention the TG331/332 flight to Delhi that has always received the 777-200ER all these months. (At least DEL, unlike other Indian cities, has more than one daily flight on TG: the TG315/316 flight is the only Indian route to be operated by the 777-300ER, at least on most days!)
In October TG restarted Hyderabad, another Indian destination, which it serves with the 787, and from January 2023 it will also restart Kolkata in the east. But passengers — at least those who care about the inflight product — are likely to be dealt such nasty surprises from TG every now and then, as Kolkata is also likely to get the 777-200ER like Delhi (TG323/324 and TG331/332, not TG315/316) and Mumbai. To add insult to injury, TG has reactivated its remaining two 777-200ERs. Of course, reactivating planes that were previously grounded is necessary to cater to the sudden boom in capacity, but if you are not going to refurbish your older planes, why disappoint your passengers by flying them at all?
If I were in charge of TG’s fleet planning — not an enviable role, if you ask me — I would throw out the 777-200ERs at once and send them to the scrapyard along with all the non-ER 777s. I would also bring back all the A330s into service — including a Star Alliance-liveried A330 (HS-TBD), seeing as TG has no Star Alliance-liveried planes otherwise — though I would stop short of reinstating the money- and fuel-guzzling 747s, A380s and A340-600s, which are too old or too big to be brought back, with the First Class product being too much of a burden. But since I am only an enthusiast and not an executive, there is no point debating on fleet decisions, so let’s dive straight into the trip report.
I will try to summarise why I nearly missed my flight, but the essence of the matter is that the blame rests with incompetent government airport officials who are incapable of accommodating unusual situations. This would likely not be the case at a private airport, where officials are much more receptive of customer demands.
Before I start, here is a picture of two toy elephants I bought while in Thailand, which I took while leaving home. The one on the left was from a duty-free shop at Suvarnabhumi Airport earlier in June 2022, while the one on the right was bought from Chiang Mai, from my first trip to Thailand in May 2016.
At 10:50pm on Sunday, 26 June, I was at the international departure terminal of Chennai Airport, and I proceeded straight to the Thai Airways economy check-in counters.
I thought that I would be able to check in and proceed to security and immigration just like the other passengers without issue, and I had also ensured that I had the all-important insurance for transiting through Thailand, which was thankfully scrapped after a few days, on 1 July. Little did I know that I would not be able to budge an inch for the next hour-plus, all while my family waited outside the terminal, preparing to intervene should anything untoward arise. It was only around 12:30am that they left the airport after the issue was solved. This, then, was the problem in detail.
I had already completed the SG Arrival Card, which is mandated by the Singapore government for all arriving passengers, and must be filled up before immigration at Changi. I showed the email I received from Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to the check-in counter officials, but they refused to let me through, because apparently it did not have a QR code that they could scan. Apparently, they had some sort of template document which showed that a sample SG Arrival Card must have a QR code. There was another man who was also continuing from Bangkok to Singapore and was also not being allowed to proceed to security. I requested them many times to allow me, saying that this was the only proof of having filled up the SG Arrival Card that I received, and that there was nothing else. But the check-in agents called up senior officials and, after speaking for a while, reached the same conclusion: if there was no QR code, the passenger would not be allowed to proceed.
Clearly these officials — while all employees of the Airports Authority of India, aside from wearing Air India lanyards (though that airline is no longer owned by the government) — were familiar only with handling those Thai Airways passengers who were terminating in Bangkok, and were not able to handle those who continued to another destination. This might not have been the case with a Singapore Airlines or other flight that was going directly to Singapore, though there is no way of knowing for sure how the officials would have handled that case. At their behest I filled up the SG Arrival Card again on the ICA’s website, and even downloaded their official app, which only redirected me to the ICA website once again. After once again receiving an email from the ICA — which had no QR code — I showed it to both the check-in officials and to the other man who was travelling with me. The officials refused to budge.
It was now 11:40, and my father, waiting impatiently outside the terminal, was frequently calling me up for updates on the situation. All I could tell him was that the officials were not allowing me to proceed because of my SG Arrival Card not having a QR code. At least my insurance was in order, unlike the other traveller, who had to purchase insurance online on the spot (though it was inexpensive at least) and show that to the agents. The deadlock continued until midnight, when someone from the airport authorities finally intervened and allowed the two of us to proceed, since apparently ICA emails no longer carried any QR code, something that the check-in agents were completely unaware of. My boarding pass finally in hand, I called up my father, who breathed a sigh of relief, though the ordeal was still far from over.
Now I went towards immigration and security…
…only to be immediately presented with an extremely long queue, most of which consisted of Lufthansa passengers on the LH759 flight to Frankfurt.
People continued to queue up in droves for that flight’s check-in.
There was no way I could make it through that line for my flight, so I asked one of the airport officials at the beginning of the line, who was chattting with her colleague. She asked me to approach the check-in agents for assistance. When I went again to the check-in counters, I was shouted at, and the peeved agent made it clear that there was nothing he could (or would) do. It was only later, around 12:40, that a more helpful airport official came to my aid — upon my insisting repeatedly that I would miss my flight — and allowed me to fast-track to the front of the line. All while COVID-19 advisories continued to play at the entry to the immigration queue, though they went unheeded by the mostly maskless crowd. (Everyone had to mask up on board, however; it was only in November that the Indian government eliminated the need for masks on flights.)
Security was another hurdle, though at least it didn’t take long. After it was done, I had to practically sprint to the old international departures section, reach the empty Gate 16 and dart to the aircraft, where — to no one’s surprise — it was a 777-200ER lying in wait, as if to ensnare me. It was 1am now, nearly time for departure, which underscores how close I was to missing the flight. As if the airport upkeep and officials were not shoddy enough, the plane was no better, nor were the co-passengers, though at least the service and food were as decent as you could get on TG.
Flight: Thai Airways International TG338/THA338
Date: Monday, 27 June 2022
Route: Chennai (VOMM/MAA) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (VTBS/BKK)
Aircraft: HS-TJW, Boeing 777-200ER, named Phetchabun
Age: 15 years (first flight: 21 October 2007, delivered: 29 October 2007)
Seat: 54K (window)
Boarding: 1:00am IST, UTC +5:30 (2:30am UTC +7)
Departure: 1:30am IST (3:00am UTC +7)
Arrival: 6:15am UTC +7 (4:45am IST)
Duration: 3 hours 15 minutes
* Third flight on Thai Airways International, after the two A350 flights on 3 June.
* First flight on 777-200ER, and third on 777 overall, after the two 777-300ER flights on Emirates Airline earlier that month.
* Only aircraft registration flown in 2022 (until October) to end with an ‘odd’ letter, i.e., W. The others — in order: 9V-SCD, HS-THF, HS-THJ, VT-IZD, A6-EPF, A6-ENJ before this flight; HS-THL, 9V-SMF, 9M-MTH, 9V-SCL thereafter — all end with ‘even’ letters: D, F, H, J, L.
There are ancient aircraft that feel new, and newer aircraft that feel prehistorical
While HS-TJW was technically the newest 777-200ER belonging to Thai Airways, being built in late 2007, very little about it felt a day later than 1997. Some other airlines, like KLM, Air France, Austrian Airlines and British Airways — and formerly Delta Air Lines until its 777s were retired — have much older late-1990s/early-2000s-vintage 777-200ERs, but have maintained them immaculately and have refurbished them with the latest cabin products. Sadly, this is seldom the case with Asian operators of the 777-200ER, from All Nippon Airways to Asiana Airlines to Korean Air, which continue to fly the aircraft with dated onboard products.
At least Singapore/Malaysia/Vietnam Airlines have retired the 777-200ER (in SQ’s case, along with older non-ER 777-200s and 777-300s, with the onset of the pandemic; in MH’s case, after the dual disasters of MH370 and MH17 in 2014) while ANA and JAL are in the process of retiring their old 777s and 767s. But the likes of KE and TG persist with their old 777-200ERs — and KE also has the ancient non-ER 777-300 — though at least TG has retired the non-ER 777-200s and -300s, which are nearly a decade older than the 777-200ER, and good riddance to them.
Note also that Asiana, Malaysia and Vietnam Airlines never operated the 777-300ER, only the -200ER, and while the latter two have thankfully thrown it out, OZ stubbornly refuses to do so, much like the other big Korean airline. When OZ and KE eventually merge, I can only hope that the surviving Korean Air brand retires all its 1990s/2000s-vintage aircraft, including a number of old 777s, A330s (one of which crashed in October in the Philippines, mercifully with no fatalities) and non-wingletted 737s. And, of course, that KE finally introduces a new livery — I have always hated the dated KE livery with a passion — for which a new logo was teased in January, though it will be some years before it comes to light. But I digress.
Coming back to TG, the airline with one of the most beautiful liveries in the world… I adore TG’s purple orchid as much as I abhor KE’s ancient livery, but on the stubby 777-200ER neither is good. It shows how much I dislike the 777-200ER, certainly if its onboard product is outdated. At least this plane had multicoloured seat covers, which the A350s didn’t, but this hardly takes away from the decrepitude of the 777-200ER in general.
And, of course, who can forget the grainy 4:3 monitor, a far cry from the touchscreen high-definition LCDs I am used to, which is reminiscent of old-fashioned CRT TVs from the 1990s with its black boxy design. This was also a touchscreen, but that is far from the point: can you even read the scrolling line at the bottom of this display?
Parked next to us was D-AIGP, a Lufthansa A340-300 in the Star Alliance livery built in 1998: the textbook example of an old plane that never really feels old from the inside, the polar opposite of HS-TJW.
The safety video played at 1:15am. As another example of the poor resolution, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to make out the ‘Star Alliance Member’ text in the bottom left corner of the screen, which would be clearly visible on any other aircraft.
Soon we were pulling out of the gate, leaving behind D-AIGP as well as 9K-CBD, an A320neo of Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways which would return as J9428 to KWI.
Meanwhile my co-passengers were a rather unruly bunch of Tamil-speaking men older than 40, and they continued to chat and gossip with each other well during the taxi. Neither did they comply with the crew’s instructions to wear a mask nor did they fasten their seatbelts… until it was almost time for takeoff. After trying to make small talk with them for a while, with my decent-but-inadequate knowledge of Tamil, I gave up. Clearly, another factor to pull down the score of this flight, which was already well below zero. Below is a chat with my father.
We taxied past the row of (predominantly IndiGo) aircraft in the domestic part of the terminal.
Soon we were hurtling down the runway.
At 1:35am we were finally airborne, and cruised out east past the Bay of Bengal.
Flying to the 1990s/2000s, at the infancy of personal inflight entertainment
Now I decided to see what inflight entertainment looked like in
the late 2000s when this plane was built the 1990s when the Internet was starting to go global. The obverse of the (wired) remote control was a clunky jumble of buttons on a grey background.
The reverse, to my astonishment, was a telephone: it was straight out of the 1990s with its Nokia 9000 Communicator-inspired looks. Phone calls on an aircraft have always been a rarity, more so with an antique piece of equipment like this. There was also a slot to swipe a credit card, much like on this Air Seychelles A330 review on Flight-Report in 2015, but I did not take a picture of it.
I turned to whatever was offered by way of an inflight entertainment system.
The moving map, at least, was fairly informative for all its antiquity and simplicity.
The guide to the entertainment system and remote control looks retrograde today, but at the time it was quite the advancement in technology — especially as the screen supported touch gestures.
Theoretically, menu and duty-free shopping options appeared…
…not that you’d expect them to work, least of all on this old plane.
There were guides to telephone calls, both normal air-to-ground calls and the inflight seat-to-seat variety.
There was also in-seat power on the aircraft, though I could not get it to work because of the loose connection of my chargers.
Enough of the nitty-gritties. As far as the actual entertainment selection was concerned, there were the typical Western and Asian movies. I was interested in knowing how (non-)extensive TG’s Indian offering would be on a flight from India, and this was hidden under the ‘World Cinema’ section, which was mostly Asian in nature — and by Asian I mean Korean and Chinese.
There were a grand total of two Indian (Hindi-language) movies, both of which I have seen featured on not only TG but also SQ. As you can see, The Blue Elephant 2 is not Indian but Arabic — Egyptian to be precise.
What Are the Odds? is that kind of indie film which was released only on Netflix and not in theatres. While it may be acceptable for the nouveau riche who can afford to spend big bucks on streaming services — Netflix being historically out of the reach of the Indian aam aadmi (common man), despite recent price cuts — it is no representation of Bollywood, and certainly should not be (almost) the only Indian choice on an airline with several daily flights to major Indian cities. Then again, TG may not have as much of a say in licensing deals as SQ, let alone EK with its hundreds of Indian titles across a dozen languages.
At least the food isn’t a relic from the past
It was at 2am IST (3:30am Bangkok time), half an hour after takeoff, that the crew rolled out with the meal service. The female flight attendants serving my aisle were Mananasan N. and Wilasinee P. As you can see from the number of beer glasses, my loud seatmates wasted no time in getting high, metaphorically, when they were already high literally.
The nondescript meal service (there, of course, being no menus) consisted of a delicious green chicken dish with rice and some sort of cold vegetable salad, served with a number of sides: a channa masala chaat (Indian chickpea snack), a packet of roasted almonds and the obligatory dry airline bread roll with some butter. Dessert was a crumble cake that I would gladly bite into again, and overall the meal was one of the few highlights on an otherwise dismal flight. To drink I had a glass each of water and apple juice, there being almost nothing else onboard.
Landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport, another product of the mid-2000s
The meal satiated me to some extent, and I somehow drifted off to sleep for an hour or so. Thai Airways was kind enough to provide pillows and blankets on this short sector. Before long, it was light outside, and the cabin crew asked the passengers to fasten their seatblets in preparation for descent. Throughout, the noisy drone of the engines served as a reminder that I was essentially flying in a time capsule.
At 5:55am Bangkok time (4:25am IST; 6:55am Singapore time) we were already circling around Suvarnabhumi Airport, which was built in 2006, a year before this aircraft.
By now day had very much broken, and the fields surrounding eastern Bangkok became closer to us, followed by buildings and finally the airport.
At 6:05am we touched down at BKK, with the colourful (but sad) lineup of parked TG planes on the ground serving as an attraction to the side.
Soon we were pulling into the terminal, with a Swiss 777, a parked Thai A380 and an ANA 787 in the near distance — clearly, Star Alliance territory.
As you can well expect from South Indian passengers with scant regard for onboard discipline and decorum, almost everyone got up well before the aircraft had ground to a halt.
It didn’t take long for the plane to empty, and at last I would be stepping off this godforsaken aircraft that, while most passengers were probably indifferent to its failings, angered me no end at the lack of a cohesive fleet planning strategy at Thai Airways.
Not that the friendly flight attendants had any part in making this flight miserable: instead, they displayed all the courtesy that you find aplenty in Southeast Asian skies, but is often hard to find in the United States or Europe.
Goodbye, Phetchabun, and good riddance. See you never!
Having finally got off this wretched aircraft that I am sorry to have had to add to my flight log, I proceeded to the transfers section, where a lovely sunny A350 awaited to take me back to Singapore.
The scores above are evident how much I hated this flight: from the aircraft, to the fiasco at departure, to the rundown Chennai international departure section, to the unruly and troublesome passengers, to the grainy inflight entertainment system and the noisy engines… I could go on. The fact that I have barely 54 pictures in this report, instead of bursting near the 150-picture limit with my enthusiastic photo-taking, speaks volumes about how much of an outlier this flight was. Still, despite so many negatives, TG managed to get a few basics right: the meal and drinks, the friendly service and — if I were to be generous — the colourful seat covers.
Thai Airways’ 777-200ERs are truly ruining its smooth-as-silk reputation, and much as TG doesn’t have a choice in returning grounded aircraft to service to meet increasing demand, these aircraft should have joined their non-ER 777 brethren on the taxiways of Suvarnabhumi Airport — never to fly again — instead of continuing to disappoint passengers all over Southeast Asia with their horribly outdated product.
Next I will write about my superlative Emirates flight from Dubai to Chennai, and after that my continuing TG flight from Bangkok to Singapore.