THAI Airways Bangkok to Los Angeles

When I moved to Bangkok more than seven years ago, I flew THAI Airways’ nonstop flight from New York JFK Airport to Bangkok. In the years since, THAI has discontinued both the New York and Los Angeles to Bangkok nonstop flights. In their place is a one-stop flight via Seoul Incheon Airport to Los Angeles. When shopping for tickets for our recent flight to the United States, this Bangkok-Incheon-Los Angeles flight was the cheapest option offered by a Star Alliance carrier. 

Click here to view the HD version on youtube.

I’ve edited a nice video that overviews the flight, the cabin, the amenities, and meals served. If you would rather view the pictures and read the story, those follow here:

The flight departs Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 7:10 am, a bit earlier than ideal. Thankfully, we were packed the day before and made it to bed at a reasonable hour. Still, the 3:00 am alarm came much too early!  The queue at the airport was short and the wait was less than fifteen minutes to check in. There were no lines at either the security screening or immigration counters. 

Just past immigration is a large scale sculpture of one of the most famous episodes in Hindu mythology, the samudra manthan or “churning of the milk ocean”. It is an impressive sculpture that illustrates that this mostly Buddhist culture has strong Hindu and Vedic Brahminist roots.

We made our way to one of the many THAI Airways Royal Silk lounges. These lounges offer a nice respite from the stresses of air travel: a quiet ambience, comfortable seating, and a selection of reading materials, food, and beverage.

Since we had departed home so early, I helped myself to a latte, some small pastries, and (something I never eat!) a box of chocolate breakfast cereal. Maybe this is because my mother would never allow us to have so sugary a cereal in the house when I was a child, now I enjoy having a bit every now and then as a special treat.

Our Boeing 777-300 was waiting at the gate as the sun slowly climbed above the hazy horizon. The windows of the terminal were not very clean, making for this poor-quality image. Boarding commenced a few minutes late but the passenger load was only about 60% so boarding did not take long. 

The economy class product is comfortable and modern. The seat maps provided on THAI’s website indicated that certain rows of this plane had 34″ pitch. I brought a small tape measure and samples several rows and found a consistent 32″ pitch. Comfortable enough and an inch more than most US-based carriers, but nothing special. Asiana, Korean, and All-Nippon offer 34″ pitch and EVA offers 33″ pitch as the standard in their long-haul economy class.

The morning breakfast option was pancakes and sausage or (my choice) stir-fried pork with ginger, rice, and pumpkin and egg. The food was tasty enough, although nothing very special.

About four-and-a-half hours later, we arrived at an overcast Incheon and were soon at the gate and off the plane. The same aircraft would take us to Los Angeles but all passengers were required to disembark so the plane could be serviced and a new crew could board.

This is my first time transitting Incheon since they opened the new mid-field concourse. It is a bright, sun-lit place with modern architecture. Within a few minutes, we had cleared the security screening and returned to the departure level.

Despite only having about 80 minutes on the ground, we took the time to stop by the Asiana Airlines lounge. As a holder of the United Club card, I have access to Star Alliance member lounges. This is a nice perk for long-haul travel and this new lounge in Incheon is very nice, with a faux library and a baby grand piano. I wonder what would happen if a guest decided to begin playing it?

The selection of food wasn’t very interesting, but I did help myself to some salad and a glass of draft beer. Truth be told, the beef was very hoppy and as I’m not much of a beer drink, I had only a few sips. On our return trip from Los Angeles, we had a slightly longer layover in Incheon and I took the opportunity to use the individual shower rooms to freshen up. 

Returning to the gate area in preparation for boarding, I admired the nice combination of steel, wood, and glass. Despite being very modern, the terminal does not feel cold and impersonal, probably because of the wood floors and many plants.

One sore point about flying through Incheon is that there is a pre-boarding security inspection. All liquids must be disposed of, including any bottled water purchased in the terminal. The claim is that this is for US TSA security reasons, but that makes no sense because at Taipei and Tokyo, passengers can bring liquids from inside the terminal aboard US-bound planes. I hope this restriction is lifted soon because not bringing your own water aboard is an inconvenience that does nothing to improve security.

The flight out of Incheon was only about 50% full, leaving lots of space including an empty seat between Tawn and me. There was only one person in the row ahead of us and she sat in the middle seat, so her recline did not affect our leg room. Once airborne for our 10.5-hour flight to Los Angeles, service began with cocktails. Unlike some airlines that have miniature liquor bottles, THAI carries full-size bottles and mixes drinks to order. 

Drinks are served with a retro stir stick featuring THAI’s original 1960s logo. I managed to collect several of these between our four flight segments, figuring they will make a nice collection in the future.

Menus were distributed out of Incheon. Interestingly, the menus include information for both the Bangkok-Incheon and Incheon-Los Angeles segments. I am not sure why menus were not handed out as we departed Bangkok. You could argue that there is really no point of menus but I think it is a nice touch that makes the service appear more sophisticated. Certainly, it is nicer to think of your meal as having four courses rather than just being a single tray of food, even if all four courses are in fact delivered on a single tray!

I opted for the Korean style beef bulgogi, which wasn’t as interesting as I was hoping. It was tasty, though. Note that each tray comes with a package of kimchi! The dessert was a raspberry chocolate cream cake and the appetizer was smoked salmon.

The other selection, which Tawn chose, was a pork green curry served with Thai jasmine rice. Curry is an excellent choice for airplane food because at high, dry altitudes, your sense of taste is diminished. Curry has plenty of flavor and remains enjoyable. Notice, too, that the utensils are metal, even the knives. We can’t bring water aboard but are given an admittedly dull metal knife.

Slightly less than halfway through the flight, we crossed the international date line and jumped back to the start of our day. I dozed only a bit on this flight, instead watching several movies and television programs on the on-demand video service. Gone are the days of sheer boredom on a plane. There are plenty of ways to distract yourself as the hours go by.

Mid-flight, snacks were available in the form of instant noodles and sandwiches. About two hours before landing, a second full meal service was provided. I opted for the boiled glass noodles (made from mung beans) with sauteed beef tenderloin. Actually, I didn’t find any beef in my serving! 

The other option, which Tawn chose, was sauteed yakisoba with chicken teriyaki. Neither of these dishes were that interesting and while quality was fine, the meals weren’t as interesting on these flights as they have been on other recent THAI flights.

It was a beautiful day as we descended into Southern California. Because the passenger load was so light, I moved to a window seat to take in the view when we landed. Rain storms had passed through recently, so the sky was clear and visibility was better than normal.

After landing on runway 24-right on the north side of LAX airport, we taxied the long way around to our gate. This took us past the United Airlines hangar where one of their Boeing 787 aircraft sits, stranded by the FAA’s grounding of these new composite jets in late January. Hopefully, the fleet will be released to fly again soon.

Pulling into our gate at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, we had neighbors from China and Japan. Had the price been right, I would have liked to fly All-Nippon on this trip.

All in all, the THAI flight was a pretty good experience. From departure in Bangkok to arrival in Los Angeles was less than 17 hours, one of the shortest routes between the two cities. Service was good and the flight was reasonably comfortable, given that we were traveling in economy class.


Flying the THAI Airbus A380 for the First Time

As good fortune and careful scheduling would have it, the return leg of my Hong Kong trip was aboard THAI Airways’ new Airbus A380. The A380, affectionately known as the Whale Jet because of its profile, is the world’s largest passenger jet, eclipsing the venerable Boeing 747’s floor space by almost half. 

The first A380 went into service in October 2007 with Singapore Airlines after lengthy production delays. These delays produced a roll-over effect and THAI Airways, the ninth operator of the type, just received its first aircraft this past September. (Only 92 aircraft delivered in five years…) Initially, THAI used the airplane for Singapore and Hong Kong flights before adding Frankfurt and Tokyo.

Unlike the Boeing 747, which has only a upper deck for only part of the length of the aircraft, the Airbus A380 has a full upper deck. This means that airport receiving regular A380 service need to have passenger jet bridges that can reach doors on both the upper and lower deck. In Hong Kong, one jet bridge is used for each level, although in many airports there are two lower level jet bridges and one upper level.

Most airlines reserve the upper deck for First and/or Business Class passengers. In THAI’s configuration, there is a small economy class cabin on the upper deck, the final eight rows of the plane. When you book your flight online and choose your seat assignment, the small upper deck cabin is not visible. Knowing that those seats existed, I had to visit a THAI ticket office and request an upstairs seat. Above, a view of this economy class cabin, which has a pair of exits in the middle of it, making for some generous leg room.

I was able to secure the last available window seat, the one you see on the left-hand side of the picture with the bin open next to it. One of the nice things about the upper deck is that there are small storage bins underneath the windows to supplement the overhead bins. This makes it easy to store small bags out of the way, freeing up your leg room while keeping items close at hand.

A look forward past the economy class cabin into the large business class cabin. Two interesting things I observed: there is a small security camera in each of the bulkheads, allowing crew members to see what is happening in each cabin, even if the curtains are closed. Also the overhead bins above the center seats have a different shape in business class than they do in economy. Usually, a single design is used in most aircraft.

Another nice feature of the A380 is the tail-mounted camera. You can watch the view on your seat back monitor. Unfortunately, there appeared to be some dirt (bird poop?) on the lens, making the view a bit less enjoyable. I have been on other airplanes that have cameras located under the fuselage looking forward or down, but this tail camera seems to be a consistent feature of the A380.

Taxiing to the runway, you can see a Russian made cargo jet and on the mountain behind, the tower from the Nong Ping 360 gondola. Here’s the view from the gondola at just about that tower, as I wrote about in this entry.

The view of the New Territories about a minute after takeoff. I lived in Hong Kong in 1998-99, not long after the new airport opened. In those days, there was significantly less development in this part of Hong Kong. Nowadays, there are clusters of high rise buildings everywhere as the city continues to grow, mostly vertically.

Inflight dining: chicken and greens served over egg noodles. There was also a salad of chicken and mixed vegetables and a panna cotta with berry coulis for dessert. The food was decent. 

As a comparison, here is the food we were served out of Bangkok, a Penang curry with chicken and bitter melon. It was very tasty, actually so much so that if they served it from a restaurant, I would seek it out. Also interesting that the service out of Bangkok had sturdier dishes for the main course as opposed to the aluminum ones out of Hong Kong. The salad was a so-so shrimp salad and the dessert was a mediocre chocolate mousse.

If you would like to see highlights of the entire trip, include a tour through the business class and first class cabins upon landing, please view the six-minute video above. Coincidentally, on my way out the business class cabin, I was recognized by one of the flight attendants, a friend of one of Tawn’s friends.

Another video covering my flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong aboard a Boeing B777-200, is located here.  

In this final shot from the gate in Bangkok, you can see that there are three passenger jet bridges attached to the plane, two on the lower level and one on the upper level. They have to be very careful as the bridge are close to each other.

Here is a view of the two forward bridges taken from the window on the upper deck bridge. I hope you enjoyed the trip!


TG Business Class to Chiang Mai

For our trip to Chiang Mai for the wedding, the grooms thanked us for Tawn’s help with the maids of honor’s dresses by flying us on THAI Airways business class. Of course, a 55-minute flight hardly needs business class, but it was a nice treat!

Our plane, an ancient Airbus A300-600. Despite its age, the plane was clean and in good condition. Before departure, we were able to relax at the Royal Orchid Lounge in the domestic terminal. They offer comfortable seats and a range of snacks and beverages.

The interior of the plane, which is used mostly for domestic routes and near-regional routes, is a bit of a throwback to a bygone era of decoration. The seats are equivalent of domestic (US) first class, comfortable but without a lot of extra leg room. Of course, it is perfectly comfortable for such a short flight.

Tawn settles in for his flight, complete with a pink pillow, hot towel service, and a selection of pre-departure beverages. Pretty impressive for such a short flight!

Despite the flight’s brevity, they actually serve a snack service, complete with crisp white linens, real silverware, and porcelain dishes. On the flight north, there was a poached chicken breast with a green apple salad.

The dessert was a sweet sticky rice covered with coconut cream, fruit, and black beans. In addition to a variety of herbal drinks, coffee and tea service were provided. The pacing of the service was relaxed and we didn’t feel rushed at all.

On the southbound flight, we were served cold chicken larb patties – chopped chicken with Thai spices, and fresh vegetables. The dessert was a coconut pudding with fresh fruits. Very tasty.

Our plane parked at the gate in Chiang Mai. Service both ways was very attentive and friendly. If I ever have the means, I’ll make business class my regular choice when flying!

Flying to LA on EVA

Tawn and I flew from Bangkok to Los Angeles yesterday, a journey that was about 18 hours gate-to-gate and went pretty smoothly, thanks to the good service of EVA Airways of Taiwan and an upgrade on the transpacific segment to business class. 


In the EVA Airways lounge in Bangkok we had a bite to eat, including this passable pad thai.  Not bad for something that was prepared in advance and was sitting, covered, under the heat lamps.


And ice cream!  Passion fruit and cookies and cream.  That was a nice treat.


Nice view at the gate area at Bangkok Airport in the mid-afternoon sun.


Our flight out of Bangkok was in the premium economy class, which offers about 6 more inches of legroom than regular economy and one fewer seat across the width of the cabin.  Only a little bit more expensive than economy class – and actually similar in price to what US carriers charge for their economy class – and a lot more comfortable.  The food is nicer, too.  This was the dinner served out of B angkok.


Close up of my chicken and rice dish, which was very nice.


Tawn’s seafood and noodles wasn’t very pretty, although it did taste okay.


In Taipei we visited the EVA Airways lounge, which is available to even their “silver” tier fliers, which is a relatively low bar to achieve.  Two flights from Bangkok to the US is pretty much enough to keep that status.  While in the lounge, Tawn tried some of their congee (rice porridge) which he pronounced was quite tasty.


For the Taipei to Los Angeles segment we cashed in some miles to upgrade to business class, which is a nice way to fly.  Considering I’m not at a point in my life where I would ever consider paying for business class, using miles is about the only chance I have!


Appetizer of smoked duck breast, pate served in a plum, and shrimp.


One of the benefits of being in business class on EVA is that you can pre-order dishes from a special menu available online.  That way you know exactly what you will have to eat.  I ordered lamb chops served with mint sauce, gratineed potatoes and mixed veggies.  Tasty.


Tawn’s dish, which he pre-ordered.  A Chinese style sea perch with three types of sticky rice and steamed veggies.  The sauce is made of fermented soybeans.  Tasty.


Fruit plate


Some sort of a cake, served with chopped pistachios.


During the flight, the window shades were closed, lights were dimmed, and in the business class cabin, there are LED “stars” in the ceiling and a cool blue glow.  The idea is that the ceiling lates can gradually change colors to simulate sunset and then sunrise in order to help you adjust your circadian rythm.  However, they change a bit too quickly for that to happen.


Before landing, Tawn enjoyed congee (“jok” or rice porridge) with a variety of condiments.  Compared favorably with the one served in the lounge before the flight.


Made to order latte with a crystal sugar stir stick.  Very nice.


Special ordered “breakfast” shortly before our descent into LA: chicken noodle soup with pickles and side dishes, made by Din Tai Fung restaurant in Taipei.


Coming in over the central coast area of California as the sun’s rays grow long on the hills, about 7:40 pm.


Coming in over west Los Angeles, about ten minutes before landing.  We were a few minutes ahead of schedule but, even then, it still took about two hours to get through immigration and customs.  In any case, we’re here now!


747 Graveyard

Sorry that my posting (and reading and responding to others’ entries) has been slower than usual as of late.  Many of my recent entries have required a lot more leg work.  Here’s the latest:

Two Saturdays ago, as Tawn and I were driving along Ramkhamhaeng Road on an errand to the northeastern outskirts of Bangkok, we were taken by surprise when we saw the front third of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet propped up alongside the street.


This is neither an industrial area nor anywhere particularly close to the airport, so for there to be a pair of airplanes being disassembled in this neighborhood is downright strange.  While there is a fence along the front of the property, there is no proper gate along the entrance.


Curious, we headed back early the next morning, arriving just after 7:30.  A street sweeper sat in her small rest shack, more of an open-air stand, and Tawn chatted with her while I wandered around taking pictures and video.  “Sure, go on in,” she said.  “The workers won’t be up and working for a while still.”

The result of the exploring is a five-minute video.  I think you’ll find it very interesting.  I’m happy with the results.  For those of you without five minutes to spare, here are some of the pictures:


The entire site is probably four acres (16,000 sq meters), adjacent to a school, temple, and canal.  Condo towers and office buildings are visible in the distance and it is really a strange place to be disassembling airplanes.


The monk’s dormitory (robes hanging to dry) is visible next door.  I guess this view reminds them of the fundamental Buddhist teaching about all things being impermanent.


There are two planes here, both from Orient Thai Airways, a local carrier that operates limited scheduled service and also does charters.  I like how the top of this plane looks like a whale surfacing from the waves.


You could be mistaken for thinking this was the set of an airplane disaster movie.  Every area that has been cut by a welding torch is scorched black and there also looks to have been a few small fires set.  Pieces are still very identifiable, though, provided you know your airplane parts.


The vertical stabilizer (tail) of the plane, being cut into smaller segments for disposal.  The red and blue color scheme, which was meant to represent the Thai flag blowing in the wind, has been deconstructed.


There were hundreds of oxygen masks on the property, most still stowed in the overhead compartments that had ben removed and stacked.


Near the front of the property, galleys and lavatories, which are modular units, were standing about, stripped of carts and other supplies, although with the ovens still intact.  Recalling his days working as a regional flight attendant for United, Tawn pretended to be setting the ovens to warm a meal.


Orient Thai had a fleet of about a half-dozen older model 747s.  Their only scheduled international service was to Hong Kong and Seoul, and they used their larger planes mainly for charters, especially during the Haj.  Note the lavatory signage in Arabic as well as in Japanese.  This plane’s original operator was Japan Air Lines.


A two-door segment of one of the planes – basically, the front third of it – was intact and propped upright.  The street cleaner explained that it was destined to be sent somewhere to become an airplane-themed coffee shop.  “You can climb up!” she said.  The homemade ladder had very narrow and widely-spaced rungs!


Inside, the ceiling, carpet, and seats had been removed but wall panels were still intact.  This picture is taken from the nose section, the front of what would have been first class, looking back.  The opening in the floor is the access hatch to the avionics bay.  Looking at the wallpaper, I noticed it is identical to that which was on the Orient Thai 747 that I flew as part of an inaugural test flight from the Don Meuang Airport to the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in July 2006, about two months before the new airport opened.  I wonder if this was the same plane?


I climbed the stairs to the upper deck.  Used as business class for most airlines, both Japan Air Lines and Orient Thai had put additional economy seats up here.


The avionics had been stripped from the cockpit but it was still relatively intact.  The flight engineer’s station on the right-hand side is a clue to the airplane’s age: at least 21.  The last 747 with a three-person cockpit crew was a 747-300 built in September 1990.  Since then, they have been flown by just two people, with computers handling the functions that the flight engineer used to.


After working up a sweat and shooting some 250 pictures and 30 video segments, I finally decided it was time to wrap up and head home.  I felt a bit of nostalgia and melancholy, sorry to see planes that had been so technically sophisticated, and that had flown hundreds of thousands of people around the world, reach the point where their only value was for their scrap.

Edit: Found this link listing the history of all of Orient Thai’s former 747s.  Looks like the plane that is completely scrapped was originally delivered in March 1979 to Japan Airlines and the one with the intact front third was delivered in December 1986, also to Japan Airlines.  From that website I was also able to confirm that, as of this past December at least, the plane I flew on the test flight to Suvarnabhumi is still in operation.