Trip Report: Lufthansa Premium Economy

This is the first of two reports about premium economy experiences. For longer-haul flying, I am reaching a point where being crammed into economy is painful but business class is unaffordable. The compromise is to pay a bit extra for premium economy which is sometimes quite a good value. In this report, I cover a round trip between Bangkok and Lisbon (returning from Barcelona) on Lufthansa made in October 2016.

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The plane

Lufthansa adjusts the capacity on the Bangkok-Frankfurt route throughout the year to match demand, everything from a 509-seat Airbus A380 to a 251-seat Airbus A340-300, which was used both directions on my trip.

The Airbus A340 is a comfortable widebody plane but the type was introduced in 1991 so it is not the latest technology. The normal economy class configuration is 2-4-2.

The cabin

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The premium economy cabin, which is located between the business class and economy cabins, has only 28 seats, arranged 2-3-2.  These seats are 18″ wide and have between 38-39″ of pitch, the distance from one point on the seat to the same point on the next row.

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Leg room is quite reasonable although when the person in front of you reclines, you will still find it difficult to get out unless the person in the aisle seat gets up. There are plenty of storage spaces for items and there is a foot rest on the seat in front of you. Bulkhead seats instead have a leg rest that extends from the seat cushion.

One feature of these seats is that there are two armrests for each passenger so no fighting for personal space. This is a huge advantage over regular economy.

Large touch-screen monitors are available at each seat. The image is bright and the responsiveness of the system is good.

The seats are comfortable although a bit firm. After a few hours, I ended up sitting on my pillow to provide extra padding. Recline is quite deep but I still find it difficult to get any meaningful sleep. On the outbound flight, I probably slept about four hours total. On the return flight, less than two.

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As a comparison, here is a view of economy class mid-flight. You can see the premium economy cabins in the distance, separated only by fabric dividers hanging from the overhead bins. You will notice the monitors in economy are smaller and there is an extra seat in each row resulting in only 17″ width and narrower armrests.

The service

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Before departure, water or juice is served and menus are distributed. There is no advance meal booking beyond the usual dietary and religious meals. The selection consisted of two main courses. For these flights, each approximately 12 hours, there is a main meal and then a breakfast closer to arrival.

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After reaching cruising altitude, a drink service commenced. There was a wide selection of beverages and premium economy includes sparkling wine and a premium beer.

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The outbound dinner was a choice of pork Panaeng curry or pan-seared veal sausages with onion sauce, sauerkraut and mashed potato. I chose the latter. It came with an appetizer of coleslaw with smoked chicken breast and a dessert of apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

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Before landing in Frankfurt, a breakfast of cheddar cheese omelette with Lyonnaise potato, ratatouille and tomato with fresh fruit was served. There was no other choice.

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For the flight from Frankfurt back to Bangkok, we had a choice of beef goulash with carrot zucchini stew and potato leek mash (which I chose) or tomato mozzarella fiorelli with basil cream sauce and tomato concasse. The appetizer was a seasonal salad with pumpkin slices and Italian dressing. The dessert was mango pie with creme fraiche.

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Breakfast before landing in Bangkok was scrambled egg with cheddar cheese accompanied by diced chicken breast, Chinese vegetables (which seemed to be missing) and potato wedges with a dessert of vanilla curd cream with blueberries.

Overall, the food quality was good and the quantity was sufficient. The food is served on ceramic dishes with metal cutlery and glass stemware, which creates a nicer impression.

During the flight, light refreshments (sandwiches, fruits, pretzels, candy bars) were available for snacking.

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Shortly before landing, small chocolates were distributed throughout the cabin. Service from the flight attendants was friendly but efficient. It was notable that effort was made to complete the first meal service quickly, presumably so passengers could go to sleep as both flights are overnight.

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The inflight entertainment system worked well and has many options. By the return flight, I did feel like I was running out of things that piqued my interest. Thankfully, the seats have USB and power ports, so I was able to pull out my laptop and work and use my iPad to read and watch shows.

The system does have a nice maps feature that shows computer-generated views from the tail and the cockpit of the plane. This gives a perspective of what the outside world looks like although it is misleading because the above pictures of our final approach into Frankfurt shows daylight but it was in fact before sunrise.

The lounges

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Premium economy does not come with lounge access but as I have “gold” status with one of the Star Alliance carriers, I was eligible to use the lounge. In Bangkok, I was able to use the main THAI Airways lounge. Other lounges closed too early to use as the Lufthansa flight departs after midnight.

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In Frankfurt, I was able to use the Senator lounges, which are very modern, have a huge selection of food and drink, and offer showers for transiting passengers.

Overall

I particularly liked the 2-3-2 layout in the plane. The middle seat next to me with empty both ways, giving me even more space. The food was tasty and good quality. And the lounge in Frankfurt was truly refreshing. Connecting through Frankfurt is convenient and results in efficient travel times to Europe from Bangkok.

The seat cushions were a bit firm for my tastes (although I find this on a lot of planes), the selection of inflight entertainment was a bit uninspired and Frankfurt is not the most pleasant airport to connect through as it is drab and not particularly intuitive to navigate.

I managed to get an attractive price for this flight, only about US$ 1,400 round-trip. The usual premium economy price is closer to US$ 1,800. The extra space and increased comfort made the trip much less taxing and, for the money, was a good value. Lufthansa’s premium economy would be worth taking for future trips.

 

The Long Delay to Shanghai

After three busy days of meetings in Hong Kong, I made the over-optimistic travel plan to catch a 7:15 pm flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai in order to deliver a training at 9:00 am the following day. Given the air traffic congestion in China, especially into Shanghai, that proved a painful mistake.

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My flight was scheduled on Dragonair, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific that operates more of the local and regional flights, especially to China. When I checked in at the airport about 90 minutes before departure, the agent said the flight was showing on time, even though all other flights to Shanghai were showing massive delays.

Sure enough, about five minutes before boarding time, the departure was rolled back two hours. Apologies were made and vouchers worth about US$10 were offered. (In fact, the agent told me I could just show my boarding pass at any restaurant in the airport to receive the discount; that turned out to not be the case.)

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At the revised departure time of about 9:30 pm, the delay was suddenly extended another two hours to 11:30 pm. While I understand that there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about when the departure times will be (the captain later explained we initially had been given a 3:30 am departure slot) it seems clear that they knew the 9:30 pm departure was not realistic and it should have been revised earlier.

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Finally, we started boarding about 11:00 pm and pushed back not too much after 11:30. We were in the air quickly and on our way for the two-hour flight. When I checked in online, I was able to get a bulkhead row, albeit a middle seat, so enjoyed at least a bit of extra leg room. The flight was full.

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Dinner was served – they actually even handed out a simple menu. The started was a shrimp and angel-hair pasta salad. The main courses were steamed sole with bean curd and black bean sauce over rice, or a pork with apple cider stew and fusilli pasta, which I chose. The pork was okay for airplane food, nothing special. Dessert was Haagen-Dazs ice cream, which is always nice.

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When we landed in Shanghai, the only gates still available were the remote stands in the cargo area, which is quite on the opposite side of the airport from our normal terminal. While I didn’t complain too much – at least I was able to exit via stairs and get a nice picture of a UPS 747 freighter – the bus ride took more than 15 minutes, literally around the perimeter of the airport.

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The upside was that the immigration queue was short as we had arrived so late. It did take another ten minutes for our luggage to arrive and the taxi queue also took about fifteen minutes as there are few cars that late. I finally arrived at my hotel room at 3:30 am and was downstairs in the meeting room at 8:00 am.

It was a long day, but not too bad. I had a good group of students, staff level learning the basics of presentation skills. They all pushed themselves outside their comfort zone, delivering in English even though for many of them, it is a struggle. One girl was petrified and after her three-minute introduction presentation, was nearly in tears. Everyone gave her a lot of positive feedback about being brave enough to face her fears. Was very moving.

 

Touring a Qantas Airbus A380 at LAX

The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft. On my recent trip to Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and see this massive plane from a perspective unavailable to regular passengers.

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Qantas, Australia’s largest airline and the third-oldest in the world, flies multiple daily flights to Los Angeles International Airport from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Generally, two of these flights are operated by the A380 and because of the time zone differences, the planes spend most of the day on the ground at LAX.

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A friend who works at LAX was kind enough to offer a tour of the plane, a rare treat for a lifelong aviation enthusiast like me. Now, as the planes had a long layover, Qantas uses this time for maintenance and a deep cleaning. The planes had only just arrived and so they were pretty untidy when I viewed them. Normally, the interiors are immaculate, so don’t let these pictures affect your perception of the airline.

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With 40% more usable floorspace than the Boeing 747-400, the Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft. Two decks running the entire length of the aircraft can accommodate up to 800 passengers, although Qantas has just 484 passengers in four cabins: First, Business, Premium Economy, and Economy.

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The aircraft is 72.7 meters (238 feet) long with a 79,8 meter (261 foot) wingspan. There are 14 exit doors, 4 engines, and the aircraft range is 8,500 miles. While the Boeing 747-8 is slightly longer, the Airbus A380 is overall a larger aircraft.

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My walk around the plane took several minutes, as the plane is so large, it is difficult to take in its full size, especially when you are up close.

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Looking up at the tail, which reaches 24.5 meters (80 feet) tall, gives you some sense of the scale we are talking about.

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While there were two A380s parked at the airport, we visited Nancy-Bird Walton, the first A380 delivered to Qantas. It was the 14th overall A380 built and its first commercial flight with Qantas was October 20, 2008. Interestingly, this plane suffered an uncontained engine failure on November 4, 2010 and made an emergency landing in Singapore. There were no injuries, but repairs to the plane took more than 16 months and cost more than US$140 million. It has served safely ever since returning to the skies in April 2012.

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Climbing nearly three stories to enter the plane, you get a sense of the massive size of the wings. Even with more than four decades’ experience flying and sufficient knowledge of the principles of aerodynamics, I am still amazed that something this large can take to the air!

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Entering on the main deck, a left turn leads us to the intimate First Class cabin. There are 14 individual seating pods, which offer privacy but are not as enclosed as on many of the Middle East carriers. I like this balance because on the carriers with “suites”, you feel like you are stuck in a cubicle at work, albeit a very nice one!

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The 22-inch wide seats rotate to the side and then recline into a fully-flat 79-inch bed. In this mode, you feel very like you are in your own cocoon. When you are ready for bed, the flight attendants add a mattress and a duvet, so you will sleep cozily. Round-trip tickets between LAX and Australia run about US$23,000 in this cabin, so of course the experience is luxurious.

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Heading towards the back of the plane on the main deck are two massive Economy Class cabins. Each has 17.5-inch seats in a 10-abreast configuration. Each seat has its own touchscreen monitor with loads of free entertainment.

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While the seats are comfortable enough, especially with the adjustable headrest, at just 31″ pitch (the distance between the same point on two rows of seats), I would find this a tad too cramped for a 14-hour flight.

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At the rear of the main deck is a spiral staircase that takes you to the upper deck. Hidden away at the rear of this upper deck is a smaller Economy Class cabin. With just 30 seats and a large exit row, these are the seats you want if you have to travel on a budget!

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Just ahead of the small upper deck Economy Class is Qantas’ Premium Economy cabin. These seats are arranged just seven-abreast and at 19.5-inch width and about 38″ pitch, are equivalent to First Class seats on a domestic flight.

IMG_2205AWith only 35 of these seats in this mini cabin, this would be my choice to enjoy some comfort on a long flight without breaking the bank.

IMG_2208AAhead of the Premium Economy cabin are two Business Class cabins, seating a total of 64 passengers. The seats are arranged in pairs, six-abreast. This layout, which has been in place since the introduction of the A380s, will soon be replaced with a new layout which allows each passenger direct access to the aisles. Truthfully, though, I prefer this type of pair seating as it feels less confined to me and is a better arrangement when traveling with another person. Even which the seats are reclined, it is not difficult to get to the aisle.

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The seats recline to a fully-flat bed that is nearly identical in dimensions to the First Class seat. The primary difference, as near as I could tell, is in shoulder space, which is narrower in the Business Class product. Also, you are more exposed, although the padded “hood” ensures privacy and helps dampen any noise. When I fly long distances, sleep is more important to me than caviar, so I would opt for the Business Class seat and save some money. (Of course, I am still a long way from affording a Business Class ticket!)

So far, everything I have shared is pretty visible to the average passenger, although they don’t let you ramble about on the tarmac! So let me share some of the behind-the-scenes views.

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In the middle of the main deck is a door that looks like a regular lavatory entrance, except it has a combination lock on it. Open the door and there is a hatch in the floor and a ladder descending into the cargo hold level.

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Descending into the belly of the plane, there is a flight attendant rest compartment, that has 12 bunk beds, private pods in which the crew can sleep during the flight. Long-haul crews are assigned rest periods of several hours and they can choose to rest here. Each bunk has a curtain, reading light, and other amenities. They are small places, similar to the capsule hotels in Japanese train stations, and the one wedged in under the stairs has barely any room for your feet.

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There are also four economy class seats in the back of the galley located at the rear of the upper deck. With curtains for privacy, these seats allow another place where flight attendants can sit between performing their duties.

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Another hidden space at the front of the Business Class cabin is the purser’s station. This small workplace and several storage closets are cozy, but provide extra space for the crew. It is worth mentioning that on Emirates, the Dubai-based carrier and the largest operator of the A380, this space is used for showers for First Class passengers.

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We also explored the flight deck, which is located several steps above the main deck. When you go through the first door (in which I was standing as I took this picture), you enter an entirely self-sustaining area. To the left (at the top of the hand rail) is a lavatory for the pilots and to the right are two pilot rest areas.

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The pilot rest areas are stacked like two puzzle pieces. Each contain a comfortable chair, similar to a Premium Economy seat, and a bed. The A380 flies with four pilots and they work in shifts. All four pilots are seated in the cockpit during takeoff and landing, but during the cruise phase, the off-duty pilots can go to the rest areas if they wish.

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The A380 uses a “glass cockpit”, which means that instead of dials and gauges, monitors display all the primary functions of the plane. Additionally, all Airbus planes use a “joystick” device (visible to the right of the co-pilot’s seat) instead of a yoke or control column.

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Of course, my childhood dream was to be a pilot and I am jealous of the view that my friends who are pilots have from their office windows.

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To get a sense of just how high up you are in the A380 cockpit, I leaned out the window for a selfie! Must be careful not to mess up my hair.

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After poking around a bit more, we climbed down from the plane. I walked underneath, which is high enough to walk under without ducking, but low enough that you can reach your hand up and touch the belly of the plane. The view above is of the main landing gears: four bogeys with a total of 20 tires.

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These wheels are about as high as my sternum. Combined, they can handle up to 575,000 kg (1,268,000 lb) maximum takeoff weight.

IMG_2298The view looking forward to the nose wheel. In the distance, a Qantas Boeing 747-40 sits in the hangar, undergoing maintenance.

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I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes tour of the A380. Many thanks to my friend at Qantas for giving me this unique experience and I hope that one of these days, I have the opportunity to fly Qantas across the Pacific.

Learn more about the Qantas A380 experience here.

Spotting at HKIA

A few photos from yesterday afternoon at Hong Kong International Airport:

  
An Asiana Airbus A321

  
Moments after the Asiana A321 pushed back, it was replaced by the same model but from Vietnam Airlines. 

  
There were several All Nippon Airways planes preparing for flights to Japan. This is a Boeing 767-300. 

  
While the Boeing 747-400 is a rapidly vanishing type, there were several fine examples yesterday including this one from Korean Air. 

  
And this one from Carhay Pacific. They have only three passenger models still in service but several cargo models, including the one taxiing out to the runway in the background. 

  
Here is a closer look in artistic black and white! 

  
The newest jumbo jet, which some would say has taken the 747’s crown, is the massive Airbus A380. Many airlines fly these planes to HKG, including British Airways. 

  
Emirates Airlines from the UAE operates the A380 from HKG to BKK, continuing to Dubai. They also fly a nonstop A380 service to Dubai in case you don’t fancy a visit to Bangkok. 

  
The Russian airline Aeroflot has multiple flights a day to Hong Kong. This Boeing 777-300ER was about to board for a return trip to Moscow. 

  
HKG has a great diversity of carriers. This EL AL Israeli airlines Boeing 777-200 was preparing for a flight to Tel Aviv

  
Heading in the opposite direction is this Fiji Airways Airbus A330-200 heading to Nadi. 

  

Thai Airways offers several flights a day to Bangkok and Phuket. This Boeing 777-200 is being readied for the 2-hour flight to Bangkok. 

  
And, finally, the Cathay Pacific Airbus A330-300 that took me back to Bangkok. 

Flying Delta Economy from BKK to LAX

While normally a Star Alliance flyer, I had the opportunity to revisit Delta for the first time in five years on my recent flight to Los Angeles. I looked forward to the opportunity, because I have read and heard good things about Delta’s service, comments from friends that it is the carrier that has defied the reputation of US-based carriers for poor service.

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The first flight was an early-morning departure from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Now seven years old, Suvarnabhumi is settling into its own and is a decent airport to fly from. Delta’s check-in counter was not crowded when we arrived two hours before the flight and the security and immigration process was smooth and efficient.

We encountered a bit of a challenge, as Tawn and I were traveling on separate reservations. When I checked us in online 24 hours earlier, I chose adjacent seats. Between then and our arrival at the airport, one of those seats had been reassigned. Thankfully, the gate agent was able to rearrange seats for us so we were together for the flight.

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Our flight to Bangkok was a Boeing 767-300ER. After years of flying 747s to Bangkok (first as Northwest and then after the merger as Delta), it is nice to see the use of a smaller widebody plane. This capacity discipline helps the airlines focus on profitability over volume and I also think the smaller plane, with its 2-3-2 layout in economy class, is a better travel experience than the 9- or 10-abreast layout of larger planes.

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While we weren’t traveling in Business Class, I thought I would share a picture of the seat. The forward-facing seats are a bit utilitarian but look like a comfortable way to fly. The center section has two seats, so if you are traveling in a pair, you are not completely isolated from the other person.

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The economy class seats are clad in leather, a sea of dark blue that is visually dull but easy to clean. The cabin was clean and in good shape, despite the airplane being 15-20 years old.

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Delta’s entire long-haul fleet offers seatback monitors, with a ride range (hundreds) of TV shows, movies, music, and games. Monitors were bright, high-resolution, and responded quickly to your fingertip touch. Pairs of seats had universal power outlets and these monitors also featured USB plugs.

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One nice touch that Delta has added (or replaced) is distributing free headsets and amenity kits. There was a point post-9/11 where the US-based airlines had cut back every amenity item, which seemed so stingy. For this 5-hour flight to Tokyo, we had eye shades and ear plugs, plus the ear buds. Since the entertainment system uses a standard headphone jack, you can use your own jack or take the complementary ones with you to use again on your next flight.

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The economy class seats are arranged at a 31-32 inch pitch, typical for most airlines. The seats are reasonably comfortable, leg room and knee space is adequate but not impressive. As I mentioned, the narrower plane (only seven seats across instead of nine or ten) is more comfortable as nearly everyone is in a window or aisle seat.

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Once airborne, the cabin attendants began the inflight service: hot towels followed by a drink service, followed by breakfast. The staff was Bangkok and Tokyo based and was generally friendly. The taller flight attendant on the right had a particularly friendly manner to her, a typical “Midwestern Mom” top who was bright and outgoing. These are the type of cabin attendants who really improve the flying experience as they seem to enjoy what they do, which is infectious.

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As it was the final day of a month of vegetarianism for Tawn, I pre-ordered vegetarian meals for both of us. This ensured we were served at the same time. Above is the “dairy okay” vegetarian meal for me, a very cheesy scrambled egg dish that was tasty.

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Tawn opted for the Asian vegetarian dish, which on both flights was more South Asian (Indian) in nature, except for the corn flakes!

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The food tasted fine, with strong flavors, and the overall quantity was appropriate to the length of the flight. Expectations are never too high for airline food and by placing the bar at a reasonable level, were were not disappointed!

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Near the end of the flight, warm sandwiches were served in an unappetizing-looking foil bag. The roasted zucchini and tomato sandwich we received was surprisingly tasty – the cornmeal crusted roll was very nice – and was sufficient to stave off any hunger before arriving in Tokyo.

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We arrived to find drizzly weather in Tokyo. Above, our plane from Bangkok with the Narita International Airport control tower standing against a grey sky. Our connection time was short – only scheduled for one hour but a bit longer as our flight was about 20 minutes early into Narita. This gave me time to take pictures of some of Delta’s other planes:

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The massive Boeing 777-200, the same type of plane we would fly into Los Angeles.

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The classic shape of the Boeing 747-400, which I love looking at but don’t really enjoy flying in economy class because of its dense, 10-abreast seating layout.

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Our plane parked at the gate, about to board. For the flight across the Pacific Ocean, I was unable to arrange for two seats together, so had upgrade both of us to the “Comfort Plus” cabin, which is the premium economy product. The only significant difference is about four additional inches of leg room plus the ability to board ahead of the other economy class passengers.

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The view from the jetway before we step aboard. The Boeing 777-200 is a large plane, impressive in its size.

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The business class and other premium economy passengers had already boarded, so we found the bins over our seats already full, and had to struggle a bit to rearrange space for our items. This was necessary as we were at a bulkhead row and could not store any personal items at our feet.

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The view out the raindrop-strewn window with a Boeing 747 in the background.

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For this longer flight (about 9 hours eastbound), Delta offers a bit more in their amenity kit: toothbrush and toothpaste in addition to the eye mask and ear plugs found in the flight out of Bangkok.

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A simple printed menu laid out meal and beverage choices and at the bottom, had a clever guide to activities during different phases of flight. Again, I think these relatively inexpensive investments (printed menus, amenity kits) make the overall experience more pleasant and improve the passengers’ impression of the airline.

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Here is a peek into the business class cabin ahead of our seats. This aircraft has business class arranged as individual pods in a “reverse Herringbone” layout, with all seats facing the aisle. I dislike this arrangement because facing the aisle means you make eye contact with anyone walking past. I also dislike this arrangement because if you are traveling with someone else, there is no way to communicate with them conveniently during the flight.

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This picture, taken later in the flight, shows one passenger in business class still stretched out in the lie-flat bed position. While I’m sure the seat is comfortable, the seat still looks a bit cubicle-like.

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Our view a bit after takeoff, as the storm clouds reflected the fading rays of the sun.

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The cabin crew was just as friendly as the previous flight’s and began their service not long after reaching our cruising altitude.

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Nuts and pretzels were served along with our choice of drinks. Alcoholic beverages are complimentary on the Asia flights, although it doesn’t appear that many people choose to drink. We did have a glass of wine with our dinner.

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My meal was tasty but nondescript: some sort of a slaw on the left with a Thai-like dressing, a hummus-like spread with asparagus, and a rice and curry dish that was tasty but difficult to identify.

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Tawn’s meal had some similar elements but with a regular lettuce salad and rice with roasted vegetables. Again, portion size was appropriate and the flavors were fine.

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The Delta blankets are comfortable but tissue-paper thin. The cabin crew passed our half-liter bottles of Evian water on both flights, making it easier to stay hydrated and reducing their workload since frequent trips with a pitcher of water and cups was not necessary. This also probably reduces the amount of plastic waste, as one bottle per person is much less plastic than five or six cups would require.

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The cabin was darkened although many passengers watched movies or shows during the flight. Unlike at some airlines, the Delta cabin attendants on this flight did not mandate that window shades be lowered, which was okay as the entire flight took place during the night.

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The sun only started rising about two hours before we landed, so having window shades opened actually allowed for a natural wakening to occur for those who were sleeping.

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Ice crystals formed at the base of the windows, a reminder of how bitterly cold the air is at 40,000 feet.

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About 90 minutes before landing, the flight attendants served sandwiches and a snack box with yoghurt and fruit inside.

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Our sandwiches were slightly different, although mine did not have any cheese despite being a “dairy okay” vegetarian option. Plenty of tasty Starbucks coffee was served.

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Overall, the Delta experience was a positive one. At a certain level, I would still choose an Asian-based carrier as I think the overall experience is better (especially in terms of toilet cleanliness – US-based crews don’t seem to like to keep toilets clean). Nonetheless, the Delta crew was friendly and the hard product (seat, food, inflight entertainment) is competitive.

Trip Report: BKK-NRT-ORD on All-Nippon Airways

Over the holidays we flew back to the United States to visit family. Comparing all the options, we chose All-Nippon Airways, a Japanese airline and member of the Star Alliance, because with their joint venture with United, it was easy to seamlessly book the entire trip through ANA’s website. Here is a look at the highlights of the flights.

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The departure from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is quite early – about 7:00 – but we arrived early enough beforehand so we could enjoy some time in the THAI Airways Royal Orchid Lounge. The lounge was decorated for the holidays in shades of their signature purple hue.

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Now that United has exited the Bangkok to Tokyo route, leaving the flying to All-Nippon, ANA has up-gauged their equipment from a Boeing 767 to a Boeing 777.

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The flight still departs too early for my tastes, but at least you begin the day with a pretty sunrise. As Tawn explained it, since he used to work for United and the flights out of Bangkok (to Tokyo and Hong Kong at the time) both departed very early, he still associated early flights with the excitement of working.

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We were assigned a aisle and window seat but another traveler was assigned the middle seat, so we gave him the aisle so Tawn and I could sit together. There was a nice view as we climbed into the humid and hazy morning sky above Bangkok.

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The flight began with a beverage and snack service, a selection of tasty rice crackers.

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The flight attendants at ANA are very friendly. Sometimes their English isn’t perfect, but they are very sincere and quick to respond to requests.

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I opted for a western-style breakfast, which if I recall was chicken croquettes served with mashed potatoes. When I say “breakfast”, I mean “meal”.

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Tawn chose the Japanese style meal, which was a piece of mackerel served with a variety of pickles and other sides. Both meals were tasty and satisfying.

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The planes used intra-Asia have an older interior, with narrower leg room and smaller, more difficult to view monitors. The entertainment system still offers dozens of movies and a hundred or more TV shows, all on-demand. However, the screens are not touchscreen and you have to use the remote controller.

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The flight to Tokyo took about six hours and we arrived on a sunny and clear afternoon.

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A nice view of an ANA Boeing 767 with the new drag-reducing wingtips. The 767 remains one of my favorite planes, mostly due to the 2-3-2 layout in economy class, where everyone is either on an aisle or no more than one seat away from an aisle.

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Narita is an efficient, modern airport through which to connect. We spent some time at the All-Nippon Lounge, which has a good selection of food and beverage, shower facilities, and a nap area.

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A meeting of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the one in the foreground flown by All-Nippon and the one in the background flown by United Airlines. The two airlines have an immunized joint venture for trans-Pacific and connecting flights, meaning that they operate these flights as if they were a single carrier, sharing revenues and expenses.

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The sun had already set when we boarded our Boeing 777-300 ER bound for Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

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All-Nippon is one of the few carriers to do a 2-4-3 layout in economy class, which provides a range of options for different size groups traveling together. Unfortunately, we ended up with two of the seats in the middle four. However, the good thing is that these are actually two pairs of seats, so the people in the middle each have their own armrest and about two inches between them. That means the seats do not feel cramped.

Also, All-Nippon offers 34″ of pitch (the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in the next row) – this is 3″ more than most US carriers offer. On top of it, these planes us a “shell back” seat that never reclines into your space. Instead, as you recline your seat, your seat bottom slides forward, reducing your own leg room. I prefer this because I rarely sleep on planes, but dislike having someone recline into my space.

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As you can see, the monitors are much larger and brighter, and they feature touch-screen technology. There is also a USB port in case you want to charge your electronic devices. There is also a standard power outlet in between the seats.

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Tawn and I both chose the same meal, a Japanese style grilled pork dish with cold soba noodles, tofu, and rice. Very tasty. One of the things I like about Japanese meals is that they are served with many small side dishes. The variety of tastes and textures makes the meal very fulfilling.

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After dinner, the crew dimmed the cabin lights and everyone was asked to close their window shades.

IMG_1651A view of the rear galley, where there was a bit of space that you could stand and stretch your legs.

IMG_1658Also in the galley was a basket of snacks and beverages with a sign inviting you to help yourself. Flight attendants were also available to take care of any requests, such as brewing a cup of tea for me.

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With strong east-bound tail winds, our flight to Chicago was only 10:30 minutes. The return flight from San Jose to Tokyo, a much shorter route, was actually fifteen minutes longer!

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Our second sunrise of the day, the first viewed while we were on the ground in Bangkok and the second viewed off the coast of Washington.

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About 90 minutes before landing, a second meal was served. This is the minced chicken with noodles (I think!) that Tawn had.

IMG_1669And I had a chicken thigh served with pasta. These meals were a bit lighter than the first meals, but appropriate given that we had departed in the evening and were arriving just after lunchtime.

IMG_1677The cabin with the lights on. It is actually a comfortable enough cabin to fly in, even for the long haul flight. Sure, business class would be better, but for the price, All-Nippon economy class was fine.

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About five seconds before landing, a view across the plane and out the window, where you can see planes at the international terminal where we would disembark.

Plane Spotting at Don Mueang Airport

It has been a while since I’ve shared some aviation porn, so thought I would post pictures from my trip to Mae Sot, Thailand last December. I flew from Don Mueang Airport (DMK) in Bangkok, the older of the city’s two airports.

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Originally reopened as a domestic-only airport, DMK was served primarily by Nok Air and Orient Thai airlines. For some sections of the city, it is more easily accessible than the new airport, although from where I live, it is equally far.

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“Nok” means “bird” in Thai and this airline (with its colorful Boeing 737s) flies domestic routes and is half-owned by THAI Airways International, the country’s flag carrier.

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Airports of Thailand, the organization that runs the major airports, eventually decided to open DMK for international traffic, too, as a reliever to the newer airport, Suvarnabhumi, which despite opening just over seven years ago, long ago reached its design capacity. With that, Air Asia relocated its operations to DMK.

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Nok and Air Asia (which actually is a conglomeration of separate airlines operating under a common brand name) now provide the majority of service to DMK and Nok has recently added a limited number of international destinations.

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One very recent addition to Thailand’s crowded “low cost carrier” scene is Thai Lion Air. Just in the same way that Air Asia is a group of separate but related airlines, Thai Lion Air is the second affiliate for Indonesia-based Lion Air. They are operating brand new Boeing B737-900ER “extended range” aircraft and flying to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur internationally and Chiang Mai domestically. Their plan is to expand rapidly, which should provide the traveling public with downwards pressure on already low ticket prices.

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My flight was on a “Nok Mini” Saab 340. While branded as Nok Air, these mini flights are operated by Siam General Aviation. Some people don’t enjoy flying turboprops, I think they are fun and feel more like the “good old days” of early aviation. The plane is actually very stable and given that the flights are usually no longer than an hour, the seats are comfortable enough. The only challenge is the lavatory, which is tiny!

P1280066DMK is also the repository for a variety of oddball aircraft and airlines. Here is a row of airplanes in various stages of their lives. The Orient Thai B747-300 in the front and their Boeing 767 just beyond may still be used for some charter flights in the middle east, but the THAI Airways jets to the right have been pulled from service and are awaiting either buyers or scrapping. On the distance on the left are two City Airways Boeing 737s, part of an obscure charter airline that mostly runs flights to China.

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Another Boeing 737 operating under the City Airways name, although I’m sure many people would recognize the US Airways color scheme that still covers the plane. The interesting thing to notice is that on the very rear of the tail, the flag on the US Airways’ logo has not been painted over. This is because it lies on the rudder, the movable fin that controls the aircraft’s yaw. It is so finely balanced that adding a layer of paint over the logo would throw it out of balance, so a slap-dash paint job cannot be done.

P1280072A shot of the cockpit of my Saab 340 upon arrival at Mae Sot airport.

P1280074And a final shot on the tarmac at Mae Sot, of the Nok Mini Saab 340 against the setting Winter sun. Hope you enjoyed the photos. Food will return soon!