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Winner June 2013


The winning user review for the June 2013 Seatplans.com competition for the prize of a one night stay at the St Ermin's Hotel in London

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Winner: 

Ian_from_HKG flew Thai Airways Royal Silk (business class), on a B747-400 (Config. 1) (24/06/2013)

First leg of a two-sector, two-ticket itinerary on TG from HKG-BKK connecting to BA BKK-LHR

CHECK-IN, IMMIGRATION & SECURITY

I checked in at the Hong Kong Airport Express in-town check-in in Central during the morning. There was only one THAI desk operating, but only one person in front of me so I was served quickly.

Although the flights were on separate tickets, the check-in agent happily checked my bags through to London on my connecting flight (on BA). She also changed my seat assignment to the exit row on the upper deck. I had hoped to do that on-line but the TG website doesn't seem to allow this. She also checked my seat assignment for my return flight. All in all check-in was smooth and efficient, with the only disadvantages being that she couldn't issue the boarding pass for my onward flight (not her fault) and that although polite and efficient there really was no "warmth" on display.

When I went to the airport in the evening of course I by-passed check-in. Security was reasonably quick - perhaps 10 minutes - and since one of the manned desks for HK permanent residents had no queue I used that rather than one of the e-gates and was through in about ten seconds.

LOUNGE

I had tried to research the Star Alliance lounges beforehand but it seemed that TG's lounge had the best reviews so I decided not to lounge-shop. The TG Royal Silk lounge is above gate 40 at the far end of the main part of the building, but the check-in agent had explained precisely how to get there, and there was a small map on the back of the invitation, so I had no difficulty finding it.

There is a First Class section, but only roped off from the business class section so it was easy to see in (and not much different apart from having fewer people in it).

The lounge was quite a bit larger than I had been expecting. Seats were in various configurations of 2 or 4 together, but the lounge was busy so rather than "share" a twin or four in the main area I found a couple of tables tucked away down a gallery at the far end of the lounge. There is a TV viewing area, another area with plenty of PCs for use, a couple of massage chairs, and even an area with some games consoles. There was also a private (but glass-walled) room but a sign indicating it was reserved (though it remained unoccupied). A very decent selection of newspapers and magazines was available in a variety of languages.

There was a central buffet area with dim sum, and a small selection of Thai hot dishes and a decent selection of Thai condiments and salads. There were also some rather ordinary sandwiches. I had some red chicken curry which was nothing to write home about but quite acceptable.

There was a smallish range of spirits, but only two wines (would Sir like red or white?) - a merlot and a chardonnay. Being a white man, I had the latter. Again, nothing to write home about - drinkable, but in my view rather sub-par.

WiFi was available but didn't want to work with my iPad so I connected to my phone instead. Staff regularly patrolled the lounge, taking away empties and keeping everything stocked, clean and tidy.

Altogether I was quite impressed by the lounge, particularly since it is a short-haul out-station for THAI (although this is perhaps in part because it is also the Star Alliance Gold lounge and seems to be used by other Star long-haul carriers that don't have their own lounge), and in my (admittedly limited) experience of its European equivalents puts them comprehensively to shame - it was much closer to what I would expect for a long-haul lounge, although there are no showers.

BOARDING

The flight was delayed slightly due to a late incoming aircraft, but ample notice was given in the lounge and the delay was short. We boarded at gate 46, about five-ten minutes walk from the lounge. Disappointingly, the gate wasn't open when I arrived even though I had waited for the boarding announcement before I left the lounge. However, I am delighted to report that priority boarding was rigidly enforced, with cheap-seat-people being made to wait while both gate desks were used to clear the queue of premium passengers (and the staff who were checking passports whisking first class passengers out of the queue and escorting them to the front of the line).

I have flown TG 747s before, always in J on the lower deck, which must have the oddest configuration I have ever seen. The entire starboard side of the business class cabin on the lower deck is occupied by a galley, so not only is seating just 2-2 but there is a solid wall running down the right-hand side of the cabin. This time the check-in agent had helped me change to the upper deck, which is also 2-2 but rather more conventional!

Thai have updated the seats since my last flight on the 747 and although the odd lower deck configuration remains, the seats have been substantially changed. Framed in a shell, most seats have large TVs set into the shell-back of the seat in front, where there are also holders for water bottles. Being in an exit row, however, I had a smaller screen set into the armrest.

Staff offered water, juice or champagne very promptly. Headsets, blankets and pillows were already on the seat. Menus were handed out as well.

IN-FLIGHT

The drinks service started commendably early after take-off, and menu selections were also sought very quickly. I chose a chicken dish from a choice of three, after seeking a crew member's advice as to which I should choose. I am rarely troubled by indecision when choosing from airline menus, but as a devotee of Thai food I was struggling to decide. As it turned out, the meal was nicely presented and tasty, and I didn't regret my choice, albeit I might have expected better in a restaurant. This was washed down with a very pleasant sauvignon blanc. Top-ups were offered at perfectly judged intervals.

Being a short flight, movies were not offered on the IFE - this was no surprise, as CX (my usual carrier) also only offer TV selections on this route. There was a reasonable selection of TV shows, however, so not only did I not resort to movies on my iPad, I didn't even feel impelled to finish writing this review on board!

Although the flight was short and I didn't want to sleep in any event (I was saving that for my onward flight) I did try fully reclining the seat for research purposes. Here came the first major disappointment of the day.

I already knew the seat was not fully-flat, but I was surprised at just how angled it was when fully reclined. No great danger of sliding down, which can be a problem with some angled-flat seats, since it is in what I am told is a "lazy-boy" configuration. Although I found it very comfortable (excellent padding, I must say) for a short flight, and could probably have slept in it since I tend to sleep on my back when on aircraft and prefer being slightly angled in any event, I think anyone accustomed to sleeping on their side would have found it most difficult.

The crew remained reasonably attentive, and overall I would have to say that the service more than matched my expectations.

ARRIVAL

Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport was, to my mind, a missed opportunity. The interior, with plenty of concrete on display, still looks unfinished - as though all the interior panelling hadn't been delivered on time. That's just visual, though. The real inconvenience is all the walking. I have never, in many many trips, had a short walk through the airport, and this trip was no exception.

I made my way to the transfer desk, but perhaps due to the late arrival of my incoming flight it appears I had missed the BA desk opening times. I approached the Royal Jordanian desk, having taken to heart the oneworld message that each airline would be able to assist passengers of any other member of the alliance. Hah.... I was just told to go to the gate. Whoops, oneworld.... So much for connectivity...

Fortunately, having been told by the Thai check-in agent in HK that she couldn't issue my boarding pass for the BA flight, I had checked in for that leg online and printed my own boarding pass, so I went straight to the BA lounge and asked them to verify my check-in and my connecting luggage, which was done very quickly.

I could go on, but this really marks the end of the TG leg of my journey so I will stop here save for making one observation which illustrates a sharp distinction in the approach of TG and BA. On my way to London, TG happily checked my bags through to London on BA on a separate ticket. On my return, BA refused to do the same, claiming at first that this was because they didn't have a baggage agreement with TG. A very quick google search at check-in demonstrated that this was untrue, since TG have a page on their website listing the airlines with which they have an interline baggage agreement, and guess what - BA is listed.

I also pointed out that on the very same tickets I had checked a bag through from TG to BA - which of course would require an interline baggage agreement - and even showed them my baggage tag to prove this. The check-in staff were unmoved and insisted they would only check my bag through to BKK, so now I have to go through immigration, collect my bags, go through customs, go to the departure hall, check in, go through immigration, go through security... Thanks, BA, you cheapskates... More on the subject here : http://www.businesstraveller.com/discussion/topic/Interlining-bags-from-BA-to-non-oneworld-airline

SUMMARY

Helpful and accommodating, if rather distant, check-in agent, although her willingness to accommodate requests for seat changes on both legs, and her willingness to check me and my bags through to a (non-alliance) carrier on a separate ticket more than made up for her rather cool approach.

A (to me) surprisingly good lounge, well-maintained, with clear and helpful boarding announcements marred only by calling the flight a little too soon. Excellent boarding discipline, decent food, good in-flight service, and a seat which was very comfortable albeit not for everyone on a long-haul flight. Good IFE as well. Altogether an experience I would be very happy to repeat...

Runner up:

Hermes1964 flew Iberia Business Plus, on a A340-300 (18/06/2013)

MAD - GIG

I'm a reasonably frequent short haul economy traveller on Iberia, for which the airline effectively offers a LCC service though with better legroom and reasonably pleasant Spanish focused food for purchase. I've generally found flights to be punctual and crew to be pleasant. However, Iberia reviews are often fairly poor so I was uncertain what to expect. My choice was driven mainly by price and the availability of a fully flat bed.

On arrival at Barajas's cavernous T4S I spent a very pleasant couple of hours in Iberia's Sala Valasquez - I think one of the best lounges there is. Comfortable seating in different zones and excellent food. A full bar and Spanish style hot and cold breakfast on offer. The lounge also has very pleasant views.

Boarding for Business Plus was through a separate air bridge, although we were left standing on the bridge for some 5-10 minutes as they were not in fact ready to board passengers.

The forward cabin is extremely spacious, only four rows. This was Iberia's old BP offering and is not going to be replaced on the older A340s. Carpets and seat covers (seats are shell type but fully horizontal) are in restful shades of brown with bright orange pillows and quilts.

My jacket was taken promptly by a smiley crew member, but thereafter it was clear that we had arrived too early. There was a good ten minutes or so of shuffling around, opening up cupboards and general commotion before the service settled down and attention could be focused on the passengers. In that time however, I settled in and was struck by the sense of space, particularly as the cabin was less than half full. The cabin was generally clean but overall showing its age.

Once the preparation was over drinks, newspapers, magazines, menus and well stocked amenity bags were supplied with warm greetings. The Purser also came around with her iPad to introduce herself personally to each passenger, wish them a pleasant flight and take lunch orders. I thought this was a nice touch.

Take off was some thirty minutes late and it was another thirty minutes or so before drinks were offered. This felt too long! but once the service started I found it charmingly traditional and somewhat reminiscent of first class service in the early eighties. Drinks were served from an open trolley with full bottles and a large silver ice bucket. Nuts and olives were served from a large bowl, and hot (and dripping wet) towels offered in individual dishes.

Tables were laid with white cloths and mixed Spanish starters served and traditional almond gazpacho served on a tray, to which entrees were added. I had a tasty and very hot veal hamburger, but there were fish and pasta alternatives. Deserts were orange tart or hazelnut and chocolate ice cream with biscuit topping. There was a fine selection of Spanish reds and whites, with port and desert wine also offered.

Unlike some of my fellow passengers who tried everything, I was by now nursing a head ache from early start so skipped the alcohol, but I was impressed by the pleasure which one of the crew members took in advising them on the selection and offering them tasters before they chose. That did however result in several hours of loud snoring which could be heard throughout the cabin. (There's a cue for a separate thread!)

After lunch, blinds were lowered and bottles of water supplied and I settled down for a good, horizontal sleep. A bar had been set up at the back of the cabin with a limited selection of sandwiches and drinks.

The entertainment system is touch screen but didn't really have a huge amount to offer.

About 1 1/2 out of Rio a tasty light meal of Spanish meats bread and fruit was served along with a wide selection of teas and coffees. Landing was on time and disembarkation quick.

This was a surprisingly pleasant flight ( certainly didnt feel like ten hours) and I would certainly consider and recommend Iberia's business offering. Having taken a short haul hop on their new A330, which features an entirely new cabin throughout, this should further upgrade the overall experience.

It is a shame though that Iberia can't get is economics/management right because at heart it appeared, at least from this flight, to have a very high standard of inflight service to offer, from a mature crew who appeared assured and genuinely personable, and with a good overall product to offer.


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