The arrival area at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport
Having arrived from Singapore, we quickly made our way through transfer security, which was surprisingly painless given the time of day. We logged onto the free wifi (which was irritatingly hard to connect to) and bummed around in several seating areas on the upper floor of the departure area where there were shops and cafes, which was clean enough compared to the pit that is the level below where the gates are. We had a quick meal in a café serving thai food which was the least extortionate of the bunch, and bought some bottled water to bring on the flight with us.
By then, we had mostly exhausted our 2 hour free wifi allowance, and decided to head to Gate E7 where our aircraft awaited. We knew from various forums that Thai Airways had been experiencing extremely low load factors on many routes in the aftermath of the unrest that had rocked Thailand earlier this year, and had hoped that our flight was going to have a light load. The sight that greeted us at the gate was certainly a positive one, as the gate area was practically empty 45 minutes prior to scheduled departure.
Boarding was carried out at a leisurely pace, as us passengers took our own sweet time to board the plane.
Our A340 to Frankfurt
We were again warmly welcomed onboard with the traditional sawadee by the female cabin crew members manning Door 2L dressed in the traditional thai uniform. The aircraft that operated the flight was HS-TNC, a 9 year old A340-600 named Chon Buri. We had specifically chosen to take this flight over the other TG flight to FRA operated by the A380 as I had not flown on an A340 since June 2001 (on a SQ A343 to Beijing), and had never flown on a -600 series before.
It was a long walk to our seats in the rear economy cabin, which was expected considering that prior to the introduction of the Boeing 747-8i, the A340-600 was the longest passenger aircraft in the world. As with most A330s and A340s, the seats were arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, with our seats having a very generous 34 inch pitch. Take note, the seats on the left side of the cabin had only 32 inch pitch due to the layout. The aircraft was fitted with a Panasonic S3000i AVOD IFE system with touchscreens, which were not very sensitive, and I once again resorted to using the controller as it got the job done a lot faster.
My friends and I kept a close watch on the aisle to see whether there were any more passengers boarding the aircraft. I switched my IFE screen to the nose camera whilst setting the airshow channel on the screen of the seat next to mine. Soon, the purser announced over the PA that doors were closed, and my friends changed their seats so quickly you would’ve missed it if you blinked. We now had the 16 seats in rows 46 and 47 between the 3 of us. I remained in 46K, one friend shifted to 46G across the aisle, and the other to 47G, preparing to enjoy the lie flat comfort only offered in First, Business, and in this case, the middle 4 seats in Economy with their armrests up. The rear cabin had an extremely light load, probably no more than 15 people, whilst the forward economy cabin had a slightly higher load.
The view from seat 46K on the ground in Bangkok
Contents of the seat pocket
The view across row 46
Pushback was carried out on schedule due to the early completion of boarding and the aircraft taxied out to runway 19L for departure, passing numerous Thai Airways aircraft at their gates. Thai Airways has to have one of the most diverse aircraft fleets of any major flag carrier out there, operating the Airbus A300, A320 (Thai Smile), A330 (with both RR and PW engines), A340 and A380, along with Boeing 737s, 747s, 777s (every variant except the 777F, which they did operate via lease from Southern Air a few years ago) and soon the 787. The safety video played on the screens as the cabin crew secured the cabin for takeoff. The taxi route was short and there was no queue of aircraft so we turned straight onto the runway and the A340 lumbered into the air.
Pushing back from Gate E7
HS-TGX at Gate E9, preparing for departure to Munich as TG924
Turning onto runway 19L
And takeoff! 11 hours to Frankfurt!
Climbing turn towards the Northwest over the Chao Phraya River
If you’re familiar with the long running joke that the only reason the A340 gets off the ground is because of the curvature of the earth, I’d have to say that there is some truth to that joke. This was the most gentle ascent I’ve ever had in a large commercial aircraft. Even with this flight being on the -600 model, which are powered by RR T500s as opposed to the CFM56-5C4 hairdryers on the -300s, the aircraft still felt very underpowered from a passenger perspective.
Once the seatbelt sign was turned off, the cabin crew quickly went down the aisle closing every window, which made the cabin very dark even though it was broad daylight outside, following which a drinks service was quickly conducted, with salted peanuts given out. This was shortly followed by a lunch service, which on this sector consisted of a ham salad, bread roll with butter, thai chicken curry with rice and vegetables with a chocolate cake for dessert.
I queried the flight attendant serving lunch as to the load on the flight. She very sheepishly replied that there were only 51 passengers in Economy out of 199 seats. To put the load in context, the entire economy class load of 51 could have comfortably fit into the Business class cabin on the same aircraft, which has 60 seats. First and Business class had similar load factors, so there were probably less than 80 passengers on the plane, which had 267 seats.
Darkened economy cabin
Wing view over Myanmar at FL360
Lunch is served!
The meal portion was sufficient and the curry chicken and rice quite tasty for an airplane meal.
I don’t typically sleep well in economy class, even with the luxury of choosing any combination of seats in the cabin. I watched some episodes of Silicon Valley on the IFE, as well as the Need for Speed movie as the flight progressed over India and Pakistan. We were offered a small sandwich as a mid-flight snack about 5 hours into the flight.
Flying over Central Asia
My friends and I passed the time by playing multiplayer Battleship and Poker on the IFE, which worked very well, even on the older IFE system. The crew were very proactive, regularly making drink runs through the cabin. There was always at least one cabin crew member in the mid-cabin galley who would always oblige any request for drinks and snacks. The cabin crew members alternated their duties, with some entering the lower deck crew rest to get some sleep. All of them were very friendly and chatty, and made the flight pass quite quickly.
We were served dinner about 2 hours prior to landing in Frankfurt. The dinner consisted of a plate of fruit, a bread roll, prawn Pad Thai (which was excellent) and a cake for dessert.
About 45 minutes out of Frankfurt, the captain announced that descent would commence shortly, and the cabin crew started to prepare the cabin for arrival. There was no air traffic congestion and we proceeded directly into Frankfurt Airport, landing about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
Descending over Germany
On final approach into Frankfurt
It was a long taxi from runway 25L to the gate, but once the aerobridges were connected, all the passengers were able to disembark quickly due to the light load. Passport control was empty and we passed through quickly. By the time we got to the luggage belt, we did not have to wait long for our bags, and aside from a short queue at customs due to the passengers from an Air China flight who did not understand the instructions of the customs staff, it was relatively smooth sailing after disembarkation. We had a train to Stuttgart to catch in 2 hours, but first off, to find some food, drink and a TV screen showing the World Cup match between Argentina and Switzerland.
Chon Buri resting at the gate after the 11 hour flight
If you read the first report of this series, you would know that my first choice for this trip would’ve been Air India, in Business on the 787. VT-AND at the gate preparing for departure back to New Delhi
Once again, the flight was what you would expect from Thai Airways. Friendly and efficient crew, comfortable seats with 34 inch pitch, made even better by the light load. Decent IFE and excellent food onboard.
Happy and safe flying!
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