NEWS: Bangkok Airways has introduced a newly revamped business class on short haul routes.
Skimming a few thousand feet above the deep blue coral see of the gulf of Thailand, heading to a sandy palm fringed beach, and in the comfort of a small friendly airline. What could be more comfortable that sitting on Bangkok Airways?
Sitting on the beach quite frankly.
Bangkok Airways sell themselves as a boutique luxury airline – and by heck, they’ll make you pay for it. Fares are eye-wateringly high on Bangkok Airways if you don't buy a long way inadvance. It at least offers an expensive but full service carrier to Thai’s islands using relatively modern planes. This is an important distinction to note: its competitors such as Thai Orient may be cheaper, but they fly the antiques of the airline world. Their accident rate is also correspondingly higher, whereas Bangkok Airways has only succeeded in killing 38 passengers in 3 incidents since 1987. This is actually a very good safety record. The other main competitor for Bangkok Airways is Thai Airways, which has a more comprehensive international service, but fewer domestic frills.
Bangkok Airways Pty Co., Ltd, to give it its full name, has its main base at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok. It flies to many domestic destinations around Thailand, as well as Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, the Maldives, Burma and Singapore. It is however notoriously eccentric when it comes to routes, and tends to open and then close them at will. Kuala Lumpur, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Ho Chi Minh City and a rash of places in China were all once destinations. No more.
Bangkok Airways is moving resolutely upmarket, and long haul. It used to operate just with prop planes – the ATR-72s – before moving onto (and then rapidly scrapping) Boeing 717s. Many of these appeared in the livery of it's offshoot, Siem Reap Airways, which has since closed after being banned for poor safety standards. It is now a big customer for Airbus, with 9 narrowbodies in the fleet, and eventually it will move onto longhaul operations using the A350.
So what do you get for your money? Not a lot quite frankly, but anything is better than nothing in the airline world. Bangkok Airways reviews and opinions are mixed but generally positive, because you get a meal – even in economy. And there is a rare delight of access to pre-flight lounges, even in economy! Alas they are all, like the airline itself, dry. Add to this some of the most delightful landing strips next to sandy beaches in the world, and you can see why Bangkok Airways is gaining a reputation as part of the holiday, rather than a means to it.
It's certainly well worth trying if you're a bit bored with what other airlines offer.
Bangkok Airways Airbus A319 on the stand at Hong Kong, still in the Siem Reap Airways livery with Bangkok Airways decals
NEWS: Bangkok Airways is buying the new Airbus A350. It has six A350s on order which have been ordered in a three class (Business, PE & Economy) configuration. With this new aircraft it plans to open new routes like London (STN - Stansted), plus India and Japan, commencing 2013.
Bangkok Airways used to be a one-size fits all, economy class only. But, and economy class with meals.
No longer – there is now the new business class, called the Blue Ribbon Club. You get the usual perks - separate check-in, a lounge, and priority boarding. On the Airbus aircraft the armrests are moved into the middle of the 3 seats, making 2 wider seats, you get (marginally) better food (but still no free booze) and an extra 10kg of luggage, making 30kg in total. Tickets only cost an extra 10 quid or so, so most of the time it’s worth it. At some airports there is also a private minivan that delivers you and other business class passengers to the plane before the other customers.
All seats are in a 3-3 layout in economy, which has a very standard Airbus seat, with little to recommend or veto it. In business the seats are pretty much the same, although the middle seat is flipped down to give a small side table.
The A320s seat 163, in economy with Row 10 and Row 11 being the overwing emergency exit - if you ask to sit here, you will get 2 inches more legroom.
The rather squat A319s seat 144. It has only one overwing ejectable windows - sit here, in row 10, and you'll get 2 inches extra legroom.
All models have large 14 inch fold down LCD TV screen under the overhead lockers for both classes, although these are generally only used for the moving map. Service can be a bit slow, with only a single isle for service.
There are several curiousities with the ATR-72. You often boarded using the rear door, which is an unusual design, so the front door can be used to load cargo. In this case a tail stand is installed when passengers are boarding in the case the nose lifts off the ground, which is actually more common than expected.
Bangkok Airways ATRs don't have an Auxiliary Power Unit, and as a result you'll see little trolleys running around Bangkok Airways planes to start them. Occasionally you may witness a process known as "hot refuling" in Koh Samui, where one engine is kept running (to ensure no re-start is needed) while fuel is pumped into the wings: while not forbidden, it is certainly a rarely used process in aviation.
Some of the aircraft still appear in the livery of Siem Reap Airways International (Airline Code FT). This was a wholly owned subsidiary of Bangkok Airways, however Siem Reap Air was blacklisted due to unacceptable safety standards, and appeared on the European Union list of prohibited carriers and is therefore banned from operating services of any kind within the EU. The airline ceased operations in December 2008, and all the aircraft were put back into service with Bangkok Airways.
The A350-800 is a long-range, mid-size, wide-body jet, which will seat 258 passengers in a 3-class cabin layout. Although details have been kept under wraps, it is expected that there will be seatback TVs in all classes, 30 seats in Business Class, with flat bed seats offering 180 degrees of recline, 24 is premium economy, in a 2-2-2 layout, and the usual seats in economy which will be 9-abreast.
It will have a range of 8,000 miles, so it can reach the UK or Australia, and initial discussions are reported to have taken place for a 2 or 3 day a week service to London Stansted, plus India and Japan, commencing 2013.
Once on board, the service is pretty ordinary, however they do come around with the meals pretty quickly, with one trolley moving down the aisle, from front to back, followed with another trolley with the drinks. However, beware: you won’t get any beer, wine, or indeed any booze unless you’re on a long international flight. Bangkok Airways are dry.
Things have - rather like Koh Samui - moved onwards and upmarket. And just as is the case with Bangkok Airways, it now flies to some decidedly Business Orientated locations such as Hong Kong. As a result, Bangkok Airways has started experimenting with a few short films on these flights. They aren't great, but at least it's something. They are shown on the overhead TVs on the A320s: there of course are no seatback TVs on Bangkok Airways.
Fah Thai looks like most usual inflight magazine, however it has that almost expected Thai twist - it tries to sell you anything and everything, and much inbetween that you never knew you wanted.
There are a few OKish articles - normally reviewing a resort out in the islands - however these are rarely objective, and often come straight back to trying to sell you something, yet again. Needless to say there are pages and pages, and yet more pages, of adverts.
The main base of Bangkok airways is, as you’d expect, Bangkok, at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok (BKK). From there it flies to many domestic destinations around Thailand. If you are taking a cab to the airport, make sure you tell the cab driver it is the new airport: the old Don Mueang (DMK) airport handles most of the domestic flights, and many passengers end up here by mistake.
Koh Samui (USM) is the mainline route. It has an amazing 16 flights a day, and alternates between the old turbo prop ATRs and the newer Airbus’.Phuket (HKT) has 6 flights a day, all Airbus, with a rush of 3 planes in the evening.Chaing Mai (CNX) has a flight 4 times a day, at 0800, 1200, 1700 and 2030 ( A319s except for the 2030, which is a very popular flight that requires an A320).
Trat (TDX) has 3 flights a day, all ATRs. Krabi (KVB) has 2 direct flights a day, at 0800 and 1650, plus an indirect flight via Koh Samui on a turboprop. Sukhothai (THS) has 2 direct flights, at 0700 (that then goes onto Lampang (LPT) with an ATR) and at 1520. Luang Prabang (LPQ) has 2 flights a day at 0915 and 1330 on an ATR.
Internationally, Phnom Phen (PNH) has 4 direct flights a day, at 0740, 1340, 1800 and 2015 (beware that the evening flight is on a prop ATR). Siem Reap (REP) has 5 flights a day, and justifies an A320. Hong Kong (HKG) has 2 direct flights a day, at 0800 and 1030, plus the rather useless 0945 on an A319 that goes all the way down to Koh Samui, and then back up to Hong Kong, taking an extra 3 hours in the process. Having said that, it IS a pretty way to get there. Pretty long, too.
Rangoon (Yangon or RGN) has two flights a day. Singapore (SIN) has just one flight a day – and that goes via Koh Samui, leaving at 1445 and taking until 1920 in the evening to get there. However, it is an A319. Finally there is the report island of Male (MLE) in the Maldives which has 3 flights a week from Bangkok, using an A319, taking off at 1400 and landing at 1620. If you’re puzzled by the inclusion of Male in Bangkok Airways lineup, you only have to look at the flight: many of the workers on the island come from Thailand.
There are two types of lounges. Boutique Lounges are available to economy class passengers, and offer free snacks, tea, coffee or juices, and free internet access. Meanwhile the Blue Ribbon Club Lounges are for business class, or passengers with FlyerBonus Premier Membership. They are slightly gaudier, with lots of bling like crystal chandeliers. They have a hot meals, shower rooms, a massage parlour and a quiet personal library room.
Right up on the roof level, next to the Singapore Airlines Bangkok lounge, the Bangkok Airways Boutique lounge Bangkok for economy class passengers is a pretty good way to start your international flight, particularly if you are on one of the longer flights such as to Hong Kong.
Food is better than in it’s domestic cousin downstairs. It is laid out on the counter at the far end of the lounge, and it really consists of just sandwiches and pieces of fruit, with soup and some nuts. Hot momos are in the rotating cabinet.
Beware that this lounge is dry - Drinks consist of tea, coffee, or fruit juice only. If you want something stronger, Bangkok Airport really isn’t the place, however there are a couple of restaurants one floor down on the main concourse that also have a small bar like area.
To find this lounge, walk down Concourse A, past the Thai domestic lounge, and at the far end is the Bangkok Boutique lounge. It feels just like a business class lounge, and as you walk in you can feel a bit of a fraud handing over an economy class boarding pass. Have no fear though: the lounge dragons here will just wave you in... into the maelstrom of an overcrowded lounge, packed with hungover backpackers asleep on the benches, and Thai children running riot in the aisles as they head to the isles.
Seats are deliberately uncomfortable to keep you upright – not that anyone seems to care. There are hard wooden armrests deliberately to stop you using them as a bed.
Food is on a couple of while stone tables. It really consists of just sandwiches and pieces of fruit, however it IS all free, and that’s a good perk in itself. Drinks are really second rate. There is tea and coffee, or fruit juice. It is quiet common to see people enter the lounge, eye up the drinks cabinet, and then head back out of the lounge, up the concourse, and clock the real bar next to the Coffee Club at the root of Concourse A.
Oh my life. It’s like something out of Dubai. Bangkok airways have certainly gone for the bling factor here, with crystal chandeliers, leather bonquets, and velvet wallpaper. Much of this is just style over substance, with few real perks in this lounge over the plain vanilla economy class version. However, it does have one major advantage: quiet. Not many people bother with Business Class on Bangkok Airways, and so few people wander in here.
Once you get past the more extravagant design with hanging crystal chandeliers, there is a bit of a cosier feel, particularly if you enter the quiet personal library room, which is also used as a personal meeting room.
Food is good, with a decent menu of hot dishes, although they may not be to everyones taste. Sausage crossant anyone? There is hot pie cabinet, sandwishes, and pot noodles. Drinks are still poor – just juice, coke or tea and coffee. If you want a real drink, nip out of the lounge, to the root of Concourse A, where there is a Coffee Club and a bar.
Koh Samui is the regional heart of Bangkok Airways, and this is where the most extraordinary airport terminal – and airport lounge – is to be found. Not just on Bangkok Air, but on pretty much any airline. It is open air, and thatched!
From check in, USM airport will probably charm you - there are the delights of the thatched hut for check in, mechanical weighing machines (with a rotating dial and everything) and until recently there were even hand written boarding cards.
Then – once past the other thatched hut that is security – there is an extensive open air lounge for business and economy passengers, in extensive landscaped grounds. It is only the hum of the airbus, and the smell of Jet A1, that reminds you, you are still at a busy international airport. If you want the Blue Ribon Club the small glass walled hut by the fishponds is for you - here, there is air conditioning, however that's about it for perks.
Drinks are served in the third thatched hut on the left. Alas, the lounge is dry – you will have to visit the airport restaurant if you want something to eat: this, conversely, is very expensive, but they do have Chang beer, and do a decent line in Full English Breakfasts (which do work wonders on your hangover, but are not so great once you get in the air and bounce over the Gulf of Thailand). This is in – you’ve guessed it – a thatched hut, by security.
There is a small - very small - lounge in Phuket. It really isn't up to much, but it's worth popping in if only for a sausage crossant and a melon juice. As an economy passenger, you need to get your money's worth.
There are about 20 chairs in the main room, which also boasts two very slow computers. At the far end is a small serving counter which dispenses food and juice rather like a British Rail canteen in the 1960s - which is to say slowly, making you feel as is enourmous effort went into making it. Thankfully, it is also free.
The airline could see the rise of tourism around some of the fantastic beaches in Thailand, which at the time were dominated by the backpacker market. Consequently it built its own airport on Koh Samui, which was opened in April 1989 , a second airport at Sukhothai Province in 1996, and a third airport at Koh Chang in Trat Province in 2003.
Until 2000 the airline just had prop planes, but started using jet aircraft in 2000, when it added Boeing 717s to its fleet. These were not a success, either for the airline (or for the manufacturer, which called them the “Mad Dogs”). The airline rapidly scrapped them and took the airbus route, building a fleet of A320 and A319 from 2004.
To service the backpacker market Bangkok Airways started and offshoot called Siem Reap Airways International. This was a wholly owned subsidiary of Bangkok Airways, however Siem Reap Air was blacklisted due to unacceptable safety standards, and appeared on the European Union list of prohibited carriers which was banned from operating services of any kind within the EU. The airline ceased operations in December 2008, and all the aircraft were put back into service with Bangkok Airways.
The most notorious incident on Bangkok Airways occurred with the infamous crash in Koh Samui of a Bangkok Airways de Havilland Canada DHC-8 in November 1990. All the holiday makers on board were killed when the plane slammed into a coconut plantation. There were numerous procedural errors by the crew who displayed very poor cockpit discipline while flying in heavy rain. They didn’t monitor altitude, or cross check with one another.
More recently in 2009 a Bangkok Airways ATR-72 skidded into the control tower at Koh Samui. The pilot of the aircraft died and passengers 6 sustained serious injuries (not from the crash – they were all hurt in the subsequent evacuation).
For a few (thousand) Baht more, you can travel in the front of the plane. Now, the perks aren't that great, but you do get significantly more luggage allowance if you fly Bangkok Airways in Business Class, and you get to go into the Business Class lounges too. Admitedly, you still can't get a drink, but for some things you just have to git your teeth and bite the bullet.
As always, my advice on dressing properly in the pages on how to get an upgrade applies.
English language version: bangkokair.com
Note that all reviews and opinions on Bangkok Airways (PG) food, service, seats, planes, upgrades, lounges, the Boutique Lounges, and the Frequent Flyer scheme is soley at my judgement. No legal liability is accepted if you take my advice.