36. HKG-BKK-SYD-AKL on TG/NZ in F/J
So this big “Super” Typhoon was headed straight for Hong Kong. The airport was scheduled to shut down at 6PM on Sunday September 22 in preparation for the storm. Luckily for us our flight was at 1:25PM and thus far did not seem to be affected. Should we have had to change to another flight or an earlier flight I would have been very disappointed. You see, these coming flights were in First Class. Not Economy. Not Business (which would be awesome enough as it is), but First Class. And not just any First Class, Thai Airways First Class, including First Class lounge and Services in Bangkok. Our 1:25PM departure from Bangkok was the only flight that day with First Class. And it is First Class on the brand new A380 which has awesome Suites. And we pre-ordered our meal online on the Thai Airways website. Lobster Thermador. We couldn’t let a Typhoon let us miss that.
We monitored the flights closely during our time in Hong Kong and decided to stay the course and take our flight as scheduled.
Hong Kong China to Bangkok, Thailand
Departure Time: 1:25 PM
First Class seat 1F
Duration 2.75 hours
Once we arrived at Hong Kong we went to the Thai Airways ticket counter to see if there was any fast track through security and immigration. We were informed there was not but our inbound aircraft had left Bangkok on-time and all looked well for our flight. That was good news.
The Thai Airways Royal First check-in counter at Hong Kong airport.
We took the Hong Kong airport people movers towards the lounge area in the terminal. We would visit two lounges on this morning. The first would be the Thai Airways First Class Lounge. We wanted to check that out. We heard it was nice but not too different from the Business Class Lounge but wanted to check it out nevertheless. It was a short walk from the People Mover exit up towards the Thai Airways First Class lounge.
Some plane spotting on the way to the Thai Airways First Class lounge at Hong Kong airport.
The signage pointing to the Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge.
When we arrived at the lounge we were asked for our boarding passes and lounge invitation cards. We gave those to the check-in desk and were escorted to our seats and handed menus in case we wanted some hot food served to us.
The Royal Orchid Lounge menu. I went with one last round of Dim Sum before we left Hong Kong.
Views of the Thai Airways First Class Lounge at Hong Kong.
The Dim Sum was delicious.
After about thirty minutes exploring the lounge, including Lady Tocqueville taking a session on the big cushy massage recliner chair we left the Thai Lounge and headed to the United First Lounge. Normally United, or any American carrier, cannot compete with the foreign carriers on service and comfort on airplanes and airports. Here was an exception, however. United’s First lounge at Hong Kong is rumored to be one of the best in the system. So we had to check it out.
Entrance to the United Club which had separate distinct Business and First class lounges.
Great plane-spotting from the United First lounge, including the very airplane on which we would be flying, the Thai A380.
We presented our boarding passes and were welcomed into the United First lounge. It was awesome. And we had the whole place to ourselves. See, United had to cancel all their incoming flights from the USA to Hong Kong due to the Typhoon. So the lounge was open, but nobody was in there.
It was eerie and cool being in there by our selves. We were handed a menu from the lounge attendant.
They had all sorts of delicious items on the menu including more Dim Sum. But we had to decline. We had already had breakfast at the JW Marriott and I had Dim Sum at the Thai Lounge. We were going to be feasting on Lobster Thermador shortly on the plane. With great restrain I declined.
The United First Lounge in Hong Kong has a big open feel to it.
There was tons of free booze, including Patron Tequila. We went with some Champagne to kick things off.
They had the lounge fully catered with a massive food spread of breads, jams, cheeses, snacks, crudites, sandwiches etc. And the place was empty and probably not going to be used. It was almost sad to see such a pretty display go to waste.
Right about our boarding time we left the lounge and headed to the plane. I was really excited to be flying on the A380 for the first time. The Thai First class is on the upper deck. I didn’t realize A380’s boarded from a jetway that went directly upstairs. I thought the upstairs people had to walk up a flight of stairs.
Boarding for the flight to Hong Kong began just as we arrived. We gave our First Class boarding passes and were shown to the jetway. We followed the signs for first class, took a left and climbed up the jetway into the cabin.
As soon as we walked in, we were both blown away. What a new, clean, spacious cabin! We were the first ones on board and had some time to explore.
The glorious spaciousness of seat 1F. Check out the privacy screen on the left hand side. It had an up down button so you could chat with your neighbor or shut it down for privacy. In this case my neighbor was Lady Tocqueville so we always kept it down. On right side is your own coat closet and a door to give privacy from the aisle side. This was truly an enclosed seat.
A view of the cabin. It is amazing that on the upper deck of the plane they can fit 12 of these seats. It was a 1 – 2 – 1 configuration 3 rows deep. The plane was oversold due to the typhoon and the cabin completely filled up.
The TV was massive and the seat so long I couldn’t even reach the other end of the seat with my legs when I had them outstretched.
For the sake of science and journalism I reclined the seat to the sleeping position during boarding to show the spaciousness of the seat. It was long and wide. The two pillows provided were very comfortable. I went with lumbar support for one and head support for the other.
The First Class Cabin literally has a lounge area, that is to the right. Just a sitting couch and a space to chill out during the plane. In the center of the photo is the staircase to the downstairs. It was always roped off.
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Normally I don’t take pictures of airplane bathrooms but this was the nicest one I had ever seen. I was standing in the part of the bathroom that had a chair and a giant mirror for doing your make-up or freshening up. The side pictured is the sink and toilet. There was even a Fresh Orchid hanging out for scent. Linen towels instead of paper, too.
As soon as we got settled in our seats a very kind flight attendant introduced himself as “C” and told us if we needed anything for our comfort to call on him. He them popped a bottle of 2004 Dom Perignon (USA Retail Price – $175 a bottle) and offered it to us. We gladly accepted.
The delicious ice-cold 2004 Dom Perignon. I had read reports that the 2003 Dom was typically served and people prefer it less than the 2002 Dom. So maybe the 2004 is the newest vintage Thai is corking. either way, we loved it.
A view from the lounge area in the front of the plane. For a short flight we didn’t use this space but on a ultra long-haul I imagine it would be a nice place to stretch your legs or chart with your colleagues or family.
They were not stingy with the Dom Perignon. They were quick with refills and we enjoyed 3ish servings each even before take-off. The cabin eventually filled up and we pushed back for take-off, on time.
One we got in the air it was a bit of a bumpy ride. But not as bad as I expected considering the Super Typhoon was nearby. We were both happy to have made it out of Hong Kong without getting stranded and we settled in to enjoy this unique experience for us.
They began the in-flight service shortly after take-off. An amuse bouche was served and our drink order was taken. Lady Tocqueville will do a full write-up on the food and drink served on this flight so I will spare detail here. But know it was awesome and we downed our Lobster Thermador with a healthy dose of Champagne, Paired White Wine, and aged Cognac to finish the meal. How cool is it that my wife drinks Cognac?
The Lobster Thermador in all its glory. Stay tuned for the full food and beverage report to come on Lady Tocqueville’s Food Blog.
A view of the flight tracker about 2 hours into the flight. We didn’t have to go too far out of our way since the Typhoon was coming in from the East.
The Thai camera is pretty cool considering it is mounted to the top of the tail fin. What a view I watched as we came in through the clouds, unto the Thai farmland, and eventually onto the runway.
At landing the flight attendants handed out Playing Cards featuring the Thai A380. I guess you are not allowed to bring them into Thailand since they were marked “For Export Only”.
This flight was incredible. I have taken over 1,000 flights in my life and it was truly the best. During the flight Lady Tocqueville looked over at me while enjoying her lobster and the 2004 Dom Perignon. She said all those credit cards we opened up and churned were so worth it to be able to have aspirational experiences like this. I was given the green light that we could begin a new churn when we returned home in 3 weeks to be able to have those kind of awesome experiences again. We really enjoyed the service, equipment, food and ambiance of this flight. An A+.
On landing we walked down a jetway and all First Class passengers were herded onto our own shuttle bus. There were Thai Airways agents with signs with our names on it that joined us on the shuttle bus. The shuttle bus ride was short and within a couple minutes we were at the terminal.
A view from the shuttle bus for First Class passengers.
Thai Airways is known for their amazing service for First Class connections in Bangkok. And we really enjoyed this service. The escort brought us to a priority security line where we quickly cleared security. Then she walked us and one other guy over to a golf cart where our hand-luggage was loaded and we were quickly swept through the terminal towards the First Class Lounge. People who were walking in the terminal looked at us a bit funny while we coasted by them in this golf cart. After a 2-3 minute ride we were dropped off at the Thai Airways Royal First Lounge.
View from the golf cart.
The priority screening area. As I have mentioned before I am no fan of airport security as it exists today in most of the world. I believe it to be Security Theater and not actual improvement in security. But we have no choice so we have to comply with it. Here the screening was standard compared to our other flights. The guy in white, pictured just before the metal detector had a meltdown with a security agent. They took his toothpaste, which was a full size toothpaste but had about 10% of it left, probably less than 20mL or 20mG. But they took it nevertheless and he freaked out and started yelling at the lady and making a big stink about it. I sympathized with him. In the normal world, searching someone’s property without a warrant is a violation of their natural rights. And certainly taking of their property is theft. But this is the security state we live in these days. And if a thief came after my stuff and took it from me, I would be agitated and frustrated as well. But it didn’t feel right to watch him yell at this little Thai Lady about it. For me in protesting violations of rights, civil disobedience is the way to go. Not uncivil rudeness.
We arrived at the First Class lounge. They were waiting for us. I guess our Thai agent with us radioed ahead we were coming in. We were quickly escorted into a private room within the lounge that felt like a living room. We dropped off our luggage and requested some time at the Thai Airways Royal Spa. Because we were flying First Class and connecting to a First Class flight we were entitled to a complimentary hour massage at their spa. The Lounge agent radioed to the lounge and we were told they were immediately ready for us. So we walked the 30 meters or so from the First Class Lounge into the Royal Spa.
As soon as we got to the Royal Spa we were greeted by name and sat down in the narthex. They brought us some tea and some cold towels to refresh us. We particularly liked the zen bonzai/terrarrium thing that was on the table.
After about five minutes we were taken by our masseuses to our private massage rooms. We each had our own seperate and private massage. We went with the touch of silk oil massage.
The massage bed and massage room. I was asked by my masseuse, a relatively tall young Thai woman to take a shower before we began the massage. She handed me a pair of disposable black underwear and showed me to the room’s shower and toilet.
The private bathroom with shower and toilet at the Thai Royal Spa.
A view of the shower.
After I rinsed and dried off, I proceeded back into the massage room. The masseuse presented four different scented oils for me to smell. I liked #3 the best and the massage began.
It was a very relaxing and pleasurable hour. The masseuse was strong and I enjoyed the sense of relief while my back cracked as she ran her hands up my back muscles. Now this is relaxation! When it was through I showered and dried off and put my duds back on.
After the hour was up we were rejoined in the front area of the spa and given some tea to unwind and fill out a survey about the experience. We both gave the spa “Excellent” ratings in all categories.
We walked back to the First Lounge. We had about 1.5 more hours to kill during our layover. It seemed like there was at least one staff for every passenger in the lounge and ours quickly came by to take our food order. An iPad was used to facilitate the descriptions of each of the dishes available. I went with some spicy green chicken curry.
11 pages of food choices on the Thai Royal First Lounge menu.
My curry served with a purple local drink. It was great and refreshing.
The lounge also had a buffet area where you could choose from many different canapes and snacks. We were stuffed so we passed on even more of these delicious goodies.
At boarding time we were taken from our private living room and escorted, along with 5-6 other passengers to our gate.
View of the Thai Royal First lounge entrance on our way out.
We were walked to the gate instead of taken in a cart. It was about a 5 minute walk to the gate. We were actually brought there towards the end of boarding. It appears this was done to let the supplemental security screening that was taking place for our flight die down of business and economy passengers. And sure enough we got to gate C7 and had the screening area to ourselves.
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Bangkok, Thailand to Sydney, Australia
Departure Time: 7:20PM
First Class seat 2F
Duration 9 hours
We were also in First Class for this 9 hour overnight flight to Sydney. This was on a 747 and Thai Airways has the first class cabin in the nose of the plane on the first floor. We boarded a 75% full First Class cabin. Our initial impressions of the cabin were decent. It did not seem as new and pristine as the A380 on which we just arrived four hours prior. The seats were massive and seemed like they would stretch out nicely, but the cabin didn’t seem very private. It was open and spacious which is good, but the aisles were narrow and you seem to be in everyone elses’ and the flight attendants’ business all the time.
View from the seat near the nose of the plane. Our seats were great because they were side by side in the middle so it was easy to chat during the flight. My bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead so they stowed it in the coat closet in the front of the plane.
Legroom was again epic although the lack of privacy and narrow aisle was off-putting, if only marginally.
Tumi toiletry kits were passed out. These were the nicest toiletry kits yet with a great Tumi bag and a bunch of little goodies inside.
Here is the card which stated the contents of the toiletry kit. Most of the stuff in there were either French branded (like the Hermes Moisturizer) or Thai branded (like the Mouth Spray).
Pajamas were passed out and I went with a size Large. During our taxi to the jetway I was allowed to go the bathroom to change into the pajamas. They took my “civilian clothes” and put them on a hanger in the aforementioned coat closet. They were pretty comfy though quite short. They looked like Capri pants on a French Tourist. But they worked.
Drink and food menus were passed out. This flight would have a 10-course dinner after take-off followed by a breakfast service in the morning.
The 10-course dinner service menu. Of particular note was the black caviar service about a 1/3 of the way through the meal.
More details from the menu.
2004 Dom Perignon was corked again and we enjoyed some more of this yummy stuff. I chose a French Red Wine to accompany my dinner, the spicy Pa-Nang Curry.
2004 Dom Perignon and nuts to get things started.
The “Hot Savoury” course.
I like how these First Class seats can accommodate two people who wish to dine together. You can see off to the left how the two passengers are eating together. The ottoman of the seat turns into a dining seat and the table is big enough to accommodate many plates of food.
The caviar was great. It was served with cold Stolichnaya vodka. Caviar is not really my thing, but I enjoyed the whole experience of it. Being a non-fan of eggs, I skipped adding the shaved egg yolk and egg white garnitures.
I finished the meal while watching a French movie, Les Profs. It was funny and had me laughing out loud. It is ironic that Thai Airways censors their in flight movies for language, sexuality, etc. This movie had plenty of cussing in it, but it was in French. And it was not censored. Being proficient in French, I was laughing out loud from some of the funny moments and the poor or “censored” translation of the cuss words. For example, gros con was translated as “jerk”. Merde was just blurred out as it ran across the screen in English.
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Tofu pickled vegetables. Not my favorite.
Some spicy and tasty sherbert.
Cream of mushroom soup was solid.
The main event, the Panang Curry which was pretty decent although not as spicy as I would like.
The cheese course is always a crowd pleaser with me.
Then came the desserts. As this was about the 10th course, I was ready to tap-out.
The seat turned down into a bed by the flight attendant. They even add a mattress pad!
A view of the seat in “lay-flat” bed mode.
The service on this flight was just OK. The main flight attendant, an older Thai Lady, was not all that friendly and seemed more interested in getting the service complete as efficiently and stoically as possible. She worked in a very regimented manner. Especially compared to the exceptional service we had on the Hong Kong to Bangkok flight, this was a disappointment. The seat on the other hand, other than the lack of privacy, was awesome. Towards the end of the meal and movie I popped a Melatonin and got ready for bed. I asked the Flight Attendant to turn down my seat into a bed. She laid flat the seat, brought over a freakin’ mattress pad, and set up the pillows and comforter for bed. I strapped on my eye-shade, NASCAR ear-plugs, and dozed off for 6-7 hours. It was a very solid, comfortable sleep. I skipped the breakfast service to continue sleeping and by the time I woke up again we were descending into Sydney. We got to Sydney on-time and we were amongst the first off the plane.
Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand
Departure Time: 9:45 AM (Actual 10:15 AM)
Business Class Seat 4A
Duration 3.25 hours
In Sydney we were just connecting passengers to an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland that was scheduled to take off in a little over 2 hours. Thai Airways had already given us our boarding passes in Hong Kong. So we figured we would clear the connecting passenger formalities (which included security screening and an explosives detection swab of my suitcase) and head over to the Air New Zealand Koru Club to un-wind and eat breakfast. Or so we thought.
We got through security just fine and headed towards the lounge. The lounge agent looked at our Sydney to Auckland boarding passes and said we would have to go to the transfers desk to get new boarding passes. It turns out the boarding passes issued by Thai or other airlines don’t scan correctly on the Air New Zealand Barcode scanners. We had passed the transfers desk just as we left security and I thought it was a bit strange we would have to go back there. I asked the agent if they could just re-issue our boarding passes in the lounge. She said they couldn’t. I found this hard to believe but there was no point in arguing with the person of authority in the situation so we went to the transfer counter. When we got to the transfer counter, we were dismayed to see the line was 20+ passengers deep with only one Air New Zealand agent working. We waited for a few minutes, and the line hadn’t even moved at all. This was ridiculous.
The Transfer Counter Line in Sydney at around 8:00AM on a Monday. There was a phone on the wall with a phone number to call in case you came to the transfer counter and there was no agent. I called this number and asked to speak to an Air New Zealand agent. They transferred me to the Air New Zealand Departure desk. I explained that we are on a First Class ticket, are transferring to Air New Zealand Business class to Auckland, and already have our boarding cards but the Koru club says we need different boarding cards because the Air New Zealand barcode scanners can’t scan the ones we currently have (I am thinking to myself, couldn’t they just key us in manually as an exception if they won’t scan?). The agent asked if there was a long wait at the transfer desk. I told her about 20 people in-front of us. She told us to go to the gate and get our new boarding cards there instead of waiting in the line. I was grateful for that. Before I could ask her the gate number, since it was yet on the departure boards, she had hung up. I had to pull up the Sydney Airport website on my phone using the free Sydney Airport WiFi and look up departure information there to find our gate. Once we figured out the gate we went to it. Since it was about 2 hours before departure, the gate was nearly empty. We went up to the agent and explained our plight. She, like the rest of the Air New Zealand agents at Sydney, was a contract agent working for DNATA. Normally I feel like contract agents aren’t empowered to be extremely helpful. However, she was sympathetic and after 3 minutes wrangling with the computer gave us our new boarding cards with the Air New Zealand friendly barcode. We then walked back to the Koru Club with our boarding cards and were admitted entry. What a 45 minute hassle!
The Air New Zealand Koru Club.
The Air New Zealand Koru Club Sydney on a busy Monday morning.
The drink fridges were a highlight. Too bad it was before 9AM and we couldn’t partake.
The “no cell phone zone” of the Koru Club with the guy in the blue polo in the back loudly having a skype conversation with his wife about his return to Dunedin later that day. You could even hear her side of the conversation through the laptop speakers.
After about 30 minutes refreshing in the lounge, we headed to the gate. As soon as we arrived we received an announcement that the flight would be delayed by 30 minutes. After this delay we promptly boarded when they called the business class cabin.
The cabin on this flight was great, especially for a Trans-Tasman journey. When I had originally booked this flight it was operated by a 767 which had decent business class seats. This 777 was swapped in during the last schedule change. It is the equipment they use for their ultra long-haul flights like Auckland to Los Angeles. These were great lay-flat seats.
View of the cabin during boarding.
Legroom was decent even when not reclined at all. The ottoman was great for putting up your feet or having your companion join you for a meal.
The “seat nook” was very efficient and functional.
After take-off we were offered a lunch menu. After days of Asian food we went right for the Porcini pasta to get back into Western Food a bit.
The Air New Zealand Sydney – Auckland business clas menu.
The pasta was great, especially washed down with Steinlager Pure beer and some sparkling water.
I can’t turn down a good cheese tray. Especially one that offers some delicious craft Cheddar cheese.
During the flight I blogged while Lady Tocqueville caught up on sleep. We landed uneventfully in Auckland about 20 minute late. We whizzed through customs and immigration and before we knew it were at Arrivals to meet up with our friend (who we’ll call D-man). He arrived after 5 minuts and we were on our way to his flat in central Auckland.
It had been quite a journey to get from Hong Kong to Auckland. Escaping the Typhoon, having the best flight we ever had from Hong Kong to Bangkok, the wonderful massage and transfer experience in Bangkok, the comfortable but turgid flight from Bangkok to Sydney, our annoying transfer in Sydney, and the flight on which we just arrived in Auckland made for about 24 hours of travel. Even in First Class, it can wear you down. But it was worth it to have the wonderful experiences we had. What a journey it had been thus far!