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Vietnam - with Turkish Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Qatar Airways and Finnair

Vietnam - with Turkish Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Qatar Airways and Finnair

Old Nov 12, 12, 1:37 pm
  #1  
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Vietnam - with Turkish Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Qatar Airways and Finnair

Hi there!

Welcome to a series of nine trip reports covering my summer vacation in Vietnam 2012.

The first three parts have been posted in separate threads, you can find them here:

Part I: Swiss International Air Lines, First Class - A 340-300: ZŁrich to Bangkok
Part II: Royal Jordanian, Business Class - A 330-200: Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur
Part III: Egypt Air, Business Class - B 777-300: Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok

So as not to fill up the board, I will post the remaining six parts in this thread. And incidentally, I forgot Thai Airways in the title. In any case, here's a look at what's coming up in this thread:

Part IV: Turkish Airlines, Business Class - A 340-300: Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City
Part V: Vietnam Airlines aka Vasco, Economy Class - ATR-72: Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao
Part VI: Vietnam Airlines, Economy Class/Business Class - ATR-72/A 321: Con Dao to Hanoi via Ho Chi Minh City
Part VII: Qatar Airways, Business Class - B 777-300: Hanoi to Bangkok
Part VIII: Thai Airways, First Class - A 340-600: Bangkok to Milan (I should have been going to ZŁrich...)
Part IX: Finnair, Business Class - A 320: Milan to Helsinki (Not sure what I was doing on this flight, without a ticket...)

Last edited by William Agius; Nov 12, 12 at 2:20 pm
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Old Nov 12, 12, 1:56 pm
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Old Nov 12, 12, 1:59 pm
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Turkish Airlines, Business Class Ė A 340-300: Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City

Here is the link to the photos of this report.

Date: 3. September 2012
Airline: Turkish Airlines
Aircraft: A340-300
From: Bangkok
To: Saigon
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1H, window

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I arrived in Bangkok the previous night on the Egypt Air flight from Kuala Lumpur. Not really fancying carting my stuff all the way into Bangkok only to have to cart it back to the airport the next day, I spend the night at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi at Bangkok airport.

Around noon I pack my bags, check out and make my way to the terminal using the underground, and above all air conditioned, tunnel from the Novotel.

CHECK-IN

Turkish Airlines uses check-in row S at Bangkok airport. When I arrive there are already quite a few people checking in for the flight. It looks like there’s a larger group travelling today.

The check-in agent conscientiously checks my visa application for Vietnam and then duly issues my boarding pass. Today I’m on 1H, a window seat. He also hands me a priority pass to get me through security quicker. And indeed, for a change security is a breeze. Immediately behind security is passport control and then I’m airside.

I return to the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge I sat in a few days previously as I waited for my flight to KL on Royal Jordanian. I’m feeling much more awake today.

THE LOUNGE

When I arrive the lounge is very quiet, there are only two more passengers there, which gives me an opportunity to take some more pictures without irritating anybody.

BOARDING

About 45 minutes before departure the flight shows up as ‘BOARDING’. Time to head for the gate. Once I’m inside the holding pen it’s not that easy to take pictures of my aircraft. It’s an A340-300 and I’m delighted to see it’s wearing the STAR ALLIANCE livery.

There are some passengers wearing a Turkish Airlines sticker, presumably in transit from Istanbul to Ho Chi Minh. I take this to mean that all passengers disembarked in Bangkok for the aircraft to be cleaned.

However, later on when I enter the aircraft as the first passenger through the L1 door, I am surprised to find that many of the seats in Business Class are already taken. I can only imagine that these were transfer passengers who simply elected not to deplane during the turnaround.

THE CABIN

The cabin is a huge let down. Of course I am aware of the fact that the A340-300 still has the old Business Class. But that’s not really the issue. The cabin is just in a very sad state. First of all, there are bits and pieces of food littered around the cabin and the seat. And I don’t mean the ‘short turnaround, no time to clean’ variety of food but more of the ‘can-anybody-even-remember-when-they-last-gave-this-cabin-a-good-scrub’ variety.

The arm rest on my left is broken. You can fold it up to reveal the remote control for the IFE and the power plugs. But mine won’t lock in the ‘down’ position. Every time I try to lean on it, it if flops open again.

Another interesting point is that the overhead bins of the middle row only reach halfway up the Business Class cabin, starting at row 3. Seeing as Turkish Airlines never had a First Class on this bird, I’m assuming this means that in its old configuration the aircraft only had three rows of Business and the rest was Economy Class.

As you may have gathered by now, I am not amused!

DEPARTURE

Oh for heaven’s sake. You’d think we were departing for the long flight all the way back to Istanbul judging by the pathetic crawl and subsequent climb we are treated to on this bird.

SERVICE

The crew is perhaps the biggest let down on this flight. I’m not entirely sure if they were uninterested in the passengers or in their job in general. When I step on the plane there is a flight attendant standing by the entrance. But she’s giving me the silent treatment.

Before we push back the crew distribute the earphones for this leg. And what a low quality product they are! Honestly, I really don’t understand why they even bother at all if this is the best they’re willing to do.

Generally speaking the service is very chaotic and unorganised. The male attendant working the left aisle starts serving the first three rows on his side with food. Half way through, he disappears and instead out comes a female flight attendant distributing the hot towels, which they then forget about altogether on my row.

After that the male attendant resumes his service, while my side of the plane is still staring at an empty tray table.

THE MEAL

Eventually another female flight attendant appears and starts serving the food on our side. There is no ‘would you like something to eat’ or the likes, instead she silently plonks down the icy cold plate and moves on to the next row. And then nothing. At some point during the flight she does manage to open her mouth to ask me what I’d like to drink. I ask for a diet coke. She vanishes again for quite some time. When she returns, she silently plonks a glass of sparkling water on my tray table, just as I take my last bite out of the sandwich.

Later on when the crew come round to collect the dishes, she removes everything without even saying a word. ‘Have you finished’ might have helped as the guy next to me still has half a glass full of drink, which apparently he was planning on drinking he tells me. Sorry mate, too late. Not quick enough, gone! Better luck next time.

The meal is okay given the short duration of the flight and considering the Business Class cabin is nearly full. It consists of a sandwich and a piece of some apple pie with crumble on it. I wasn’t expecting the full Do & Co experience on a flight of only 75 minutes, but when the sandwich is still so cold it hurts your teeth and gums I draw the line.

The apple pie looks rather nice. It’s just a pity the crew doesn’t find it necessary to distribute a fork to eat it with. Of course one might argue that I’m being picky here. But in fact most passengers in Business Class request a fork in the end, which leaves the crew running around the cabin with cutlery as the passengers get started on the dessert.

After the meal we still have about 40 minutes to go to Saigon. As the crew don’t seem to be volunteering coffee, I use the call button to summon a member of the crew. To give them credit, two of them immediately appear from two different directions, which is more than you can say for some airlines. I ask for a coffee and get a reproachful look from the crew. Was it something I said…?

Eventually the coffee arrives – with a plastic spoon. At the risk of sounding overly critical, I must say I really do think that plastic cutlery, plates and drinking equipment should not be allowed in Business Class. No matter how short the flight.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we start our descent and I’m glad to see the end of this flight. At least the views outside are nice.

Ho Chi Minh airport is surrounded on all sides by densely populated areas and on the approach we come in very low over a residential area which only ends just before the perimeter fence. As we taxi to the terminal I sight a few soviet-built rare birds from days gone by, most of which don’t look as though they’re going anywhere any time soon.

I collect my visa, go though immigration and then take a taxi into the city.

CONCLUSION

To be fair, one should not generalise based on the experience made on one flight alone, especially such a short one as the Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh sector. Nonetheless, as they say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And I am quite disappointed by the performance Turkish Airlines gave today on this flight. The hardware was old, dirty and worn and the crew very evidently couldn’t care less. Would I fly Turkish Airlines again? Hard to say, for sure they will not be my first choice when booking future travels.

EPILOGUE

Saigon is a charming place. I really like it. It has an old fashioned character about it that is an interesting mix of French architecture, dating from the country’s colonial past as part of French Indochine, and red flags with the hammer and sickle I remember seeing on TV when I was a kid during the cold war and which I had already nearly forgotten had ever existed. How quick we forget!

Driving in Vietnam, one of the last great adventures of our day. Whatever you do, just don’t stop.
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Old Nov 12, 12, 4:55 pm
  #4  
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It's much more fun driving on a motorcycle there.
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Old Nov 13, 12, 12:16 am
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Interested in how QR HAN-BKK in J was like. I ended up going with Y on that route even though J wasn't too much more.
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Old Nov 13, 12, 2:38 am
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Interesting read. I've never flown Turkish Airlines myself, and after reading this report I'm not really eager on flying them to be honest.
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Old Nov 13, 12, 1:32 pm
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Vietnam Airlines, Economy Class Ė ATR-72: Saigon to Con Dao

INTRODUCTION

This is a trip review on Vietnam Airlinesí subsidiary VASCO. VASCO is an acronym for ĎVietnam Air Services Companyí. This trip review covers my journey from Saigon to the to the beautiful island of Con Dao, which belongs to Vietnam and lies due south of the mainland, a short flight of 45 minutes away from the capital.

And here's the link to the photos of this trip report.

Date: 4. September 2012
Airline: VASCO on behalf of Vietnam Airlines
Aircraft: ATR-72
From: Ho Chin Minh City
To: Con Dao
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat: 1D


GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Vietnam is a fascinating and beautiful country. Even Saigon, the capital, has a certain charm about it, although it may not exactly be what youíd call beautiful. The city still retains many traces of its colonial past as part of French Indochine, most noticeably the cathedral of Notre Dame in the centre of town, which was built by French craftsmen using bricks that were brought all the way from Marseille in France.

So far I was always under the impression that Beijing has the worst traffic Iíve ever seen, mainly due to the fact that most Chinese seem to have a very developed death wish and simply drive like maniacs. That was until I came to VietnamÖ

Itís not that thereís a lot of congestion and you certainly canít say they drive too fast. They couldnít even if they tried probably. The thing is, the cities are crawling with Vespas. The Vespa is the most popular mode of transport within the cities and itís not unusual to see as many as four or five persons on a Vespa at the same time, driving through the narrow streets of Saigon just like thousands of other drivers.

From what I gather the strategy when driving in Vietnam is just to never stop, no matter whatís coming your way. Instead slow down and start honking like something crazy.

Fortunately I had the pleasure of being driven to the airport in the hotel shuttle, which I suppose is quite a derrogative term for something with a Mercedes star on the bonnet. The journey to the airport from the hotel takes about 45 minutes, mainly due to the traffic. The airport is actually very close to the city.

CHECK-IN

I arrive at the domestic terminal, which looks like itís quite an old facility from its architecture. Apart from that though, itís clean and seemingly well equipped. I find my row for check-in and am processed by a friendly young lady. Initially she places me on 14A. Just as I turn to leave though, she calls me back and asks me if perhaps I would prefer the exit row Ďbecause you have long legí. I have two actually and I agree that by Vietnamese standards I probably am rather tall. So she issues me a new boarding pass for 1D, window seat.

THE LOUNGE

From check-in I head one floor up to the departure lounge. Security is a very relaxed affair, you donít have to remove your liquids or your laptop, which makes the whole process much easier.

There is a Business Class lounge but the young lady tells me that my Air France Platinum card is only valid in the international lounges if travelling on an Economy Class ticket. So instead I have a look around the airside shopping area, which is certainly different from the retail selection at other airports. Anyone for some frozen snake perhaps?

BOARDING

Boarding is called on time. Literally. I donít know if the PA was kaput or what but the gate agent starts yelling something in Vietnamese Ė the only bit I understand is Con Dao Ė at which the other passengers at the gate stand up and go through the gate. So I follow suit. I head down the stairs to the waiting bus.

All in all, I count 40 passengers on this flight. The bus driver demonstrates the same driving style on the apron as his compatriots on the public roads. We pass an Farnair ATR-72 freighter, which is a long way from home, before pulling up next to our ride to Con Dao.

THE CABIN

The cabin of this bird looks very well used and the headrest covers look as though theyíve been ironed to death.

DEPARTURE

From what I can observe, the inner one of the two parallel runways is used for departures at Saigon, while the outer one is used for arrivals. Take-off is quite sprightly for this little turboprop. As announced by the pilot we hit quite a bit of turbulence as soon as we get airborne.

SERVICE

The cabin crew consists of two young Vietnamese ladies, both of which are friendly and welcoming.

THE MEAL

Service on this short flight consists of a bottle of VASCO branded still water and a jasmine scented prepacked towel.

By this time weíve left the mainland behind us, rather abruptly the muddy brown waters in the Mekong Delta give way to the clearer waters of the open sea.

ARRIVAL

The approach into Con Dao is quite spectacular. Think St. Maarten in miniature. Most of the approach is over water, then we fly over the beach at a very low altitude before eventually touching down.

As the icing on the cake, I disembark and walk across the small apron to the terminal building.

The driver taking me to my hotel is already expecting me. For the next four days I am going to do exactly nothing at all except sit in or by my own pool. What bliss!

CONCLUSION

Domestic flying in Vietnam is a lot like taking a bus. And from what I can tell, thatís how VASCO understands its mission. No more, no less. Canít really argue with that!

EPILOGUE

My hotel in Con Dao is the Six Senses and I am even fortunate enough to get an upgrade to one of their beach villas. Although in actual fact itís a bit of an overkill, the villa is spread out across three bungalows and can sleep six! Still, the large pool is certainly very cool.
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Old Nov 14, 12, 12:48 pm
  #8  
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Vietnam Airlines, Economy Class & Business Class Ė ATR-72 / A 321: Con Dao to Hanoi

INTRODUCTION

The four blissful days I spend at the Six Senses Resort in Con Dao are tremendously relaxing. In essence I spend my time sleeping, swimming, reading and eating. Even so I must say Iím also glad to be leaving again. I think another day of doing absolutely nothing at all and I might slowly start to get bored. Apart from that I am also more of a city person, so Iím looking forward to exploring Hanoi.

This trip review covers two sectors: first, the flight from Con Dao to Saigon in Economy Class, followed by the flight form Saigon to Hanoi in Business Class.

And here is the link to the photos of this trip report.

Date: 8. September 2012
Airline: Vietnam Airlines, on behalf of VASCO
Aircraft: ATR-72
From: Con Dao
To: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
Cabin: Economy
Seat: 3G

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT


There is only one Ďroadí on Con Dao island which runs from the airport to the harbour. The term Ďroadí should be used in the most liberal terms here so as not to insult the sensitivities of the local population. The Ďroadí in in fact a path covered with gravel and littered with heaps of cow ..... The perpetrators are usually not far off and usually to be found standing either on the road itself, seemingly oblivious to the traffic, such as it is, or by the roadside. Towards the airport the cow .... subsides and makes way for the proverbial sleeping dogs, lazily waging their tails in the heat of the midday sun.

I am driven to the airport by the hotelís very own shuttle service. The trip from the hotel takes about 15 minutes. On our way there we drive along the cost, which looks beautiful today with the waves breaking against the coral reef.

CHECK-IN

As soon as we arrive, one of the conciergeís sidekicks ushers me to a seat, takes my passport and heads over to the only one of the five check-in counters thatís open. The place is empty when I arrive, so the check-in process is quickly done.

Iím not usually one for collecting boarding passes, but I think this one Iíll keep, a boarding pass of VASCO printed on an ancient matrix printer.

BOARDING

About 45 minutes before departure my ride arrives on the inbound from Ho Chi Minh City. The line for security does not open until the aircraft has landed and stopped in front of the terminal. There are two departure gates.

The gate is at ground level and there are a few large windows open to let in the breeze and which allow for some good photo opportunities of the admittedly rather quiet airfield.

At exactly 12h00, as stated on my boarding pass, boarding begins. Con Dao airport is a gem in that you get to walk across the apron to your aircraft. Whatís more, none of the officials seem to mind the picture taking. At all airports I make a point of asking if I may take pictures. But Con Dao is the only place Iíve been to so far, where the official offers to take a picture of me in front of my plane!

THE CABIN

This aircraft carries the full livery of Vietnam Airlines. I step inside to find the cabin is also Vietnam Airlines branded. Unlike the aircraft I flew down to Con Dao with, this one looks very neat and prim and I wonder just how long itís been in service. Canít be long by the looks of it. This bird has leather seats in the Vietnam Airlines colours and also the head covers carry their logo.

DEPARTURE

Originally Iím on 9B, an aisle seat. But fortunately the flight is not entirely full and as the engines power up I quickly move forward to grab a window seat on 3G. We backtrack down the runway and do a 180 degree turn at the end, with some nice views of the beach. We already have clearance, so once weíre lined up with the runway, without stopping the props spool up and we go hurtling down the runway. Immediately after take-off we do a sharp right turn to point us in the direction of the mainland and Ho Chi Minh City.

SERVICE

There are two cabin crew on board this bird, a young woman and a young man. Both of them are very friendly and helpful which, on second thought, I think I can say about all the Vietnamese I met on this trip. Both of them look very serious, but as soon as you interact with them they break out into a beaming smile.

THE MEAL

As the seat belt sign goes off, we are given a lovely jasmine scented prepacked refreshing towel. This is followed by a bottle of VASCO branded still water.

ARRIVAL

The flight is only 40 minutes. About 15 minutes into the flight the lovely shades of azure of the sea beneath turn a muddy brown as we approach the Mekong delta. A short while later we make landfall and immediately start our descent into Ho Chi Minh airport.

Upon arrival we taxi all the way back, past the domestic and international terminals, towards the threshold of the runway we just landed on. Space is scarce at Ho Chi Minh airport, so we park on a kind of mini apron which is capable of holding three aircraft the size of an ATR.

We are then bussed to the domestic terminal. In the arrivals hall I make my way to the Vietnam Airlines counter, where I receive my boarding pass for the onward flight, as well as an invitation to the Business Class lounge.

From there I go landside again, turn right and walk over to departures hall from where I left for Con Dao earlier in the week. From there I head upstairs for security and I am airside again.

Date: 8. September 2012
Airline: Vietnam Airlines
Aircraft: A321
From: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
To: Hanoi
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 3G

THE LOUNGE

There are two Business Class lounges in the domestic terminal and both are operated by SASCO, which appears to be the airport authority. One lounge is located near gate one. It has great views of the domestic apron but by the looks of it, itís the smokerís lounge and I donít much fancy that. So I head for the other lounge near gate 12, from where my flight will be departing. This lounge has no views but it has wifi instead and there are no smokers in sight. The food options in the lounge are interesting. I help myself to a plate of chips but I only find out once I sit down that theyíre stone cold!

BOARDING

Boarding starts on time, incidentally from the same bus gate I boarded to fly to Con Dao. There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers, and when I arrive at the bottom of the stairs I am pleasantly surprised to find there is also a separate bus for Business Class and premium passengers.

In due course we are bussed to our aircraft, an Airbus A321 registered VN-A348. I take my time and let the others board ahead of me, which gives me more time to take pictures of the gorgeous Vietnam Airlines livery.

THE CABIN

Vietnam Airlines has a dedicated Business Class cabin on its A321 fleet. Interestingly though, there is only a standard curtain cabin divider between Economy and Business Class. The seat looks positively enormous and wide and is tremendously comfy. I settle into my seat and wait for the service to begin.

One of the flights attendant comes through the cabin with scented cold towels, which are very welcome given itís 33 degrees outside and very humid. Behind her the lead flight attendant has a tray with orange or apple juice. I choose the apple juice.

THE PROBLEM

I barely have the time to finish my drink when captain Costas (surprising name for a VietnameseÖ) comes on the blower to inform us that our plane will not be going anywhere because of pressurisation Ďissuesí. He informs us that we will all have to deplane, return to the terminal and wait until a replacement aircraft becomes available. For a moment I suspect that this is where my holiday starts to go pear shaped.

The buses are already waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs, the smaller one for the premium passengers and two larger busses for everybody else. Inside the terminal the Vietnam Airlines ground staff are already expecting us and hand out transit passes as we enter the building.

I return to the lounge and wait for further news. Originally my flight should have left at 16h00. When I check the departure screens at around 16h30 to see if thereís any news, I notice that there are two other flights to Hanoi leaving soon. One is at 16h50 and the other at 17h30. So I make my way to the counter and ask the friendly young lady if perhaps it might be possible to rebook to one of those flights. To which she gives me a surprised look and informs me that actually my delayed flights has started boarding again from its original gate and will now also be leaving at 16h50.

So I return to gate 12 where indeed the flight is boarding. So we do the whole process again, Iím actually getting quite good at it in the meantime, only this time the bus heads to another corner of the airfield and indeed to another aircraft, VN-A345.

THE CABIN, continuedÖ

Much to my surprise and pleasure this aircraft looks and feels much newer. Apart from the fact that it has newer, nicer looking and even more comfortable seats up front, I am amazed by how clear the view is through the window. No greasy spots where some uncouth slob decided to lean his greasy bonce against the window and have a nap, no kiddie paw smudges and not a single scratch. Just my luck really, because by the time we reach Hanoi it will already be too dark anyway.

Eventually we depart at 17h15, nearly two hours behind schedule. As we taxi out for take-off we pass VN-A348, which has since been moved to the maintenance apron and is being taken care of by a bunch of engineers.

SERVICE

Once it becomes clear that the new plane is ready to fly, we get another towel and drinks round, although this time itís only still water. In their announcements the crew welcome us aboard and repeatedly apologise profusely for the delay.

DEPARTURE

We take off in a southerly direction and subsequently do a wide right turn to point north. This departure route brings us round to pass by the airport.

THE MEAL

Once weíre airborne and the seat belt sign is switched off, the service begins. There is a choice of beef in some kind of pastry, dim sum or some Asian beef dish. I choose the dim sum of course and a soda water with that. Vietnam Airlines have this interesting system. Once you make your choice, the cabin crew will put a sticker on your seat which matches the tinfoil on your meal. Like this they can see at a glance what youíve ordered, which I find rather nifty actually.

First the table is set with a yellow tablecloth at the centre of which is the lotus blossom that is the Vietnam Airlines logo. When the tray arrives, it contains, apart from the dim sum, a salad with Australian dressing, a fruit salad, butter and additional chilli sauce. Iím not sure what this is for because the red stuff in the tinfoil served with the hotmeal is already quite sufficient to blow the top of your head off. There is also warm bread and I choose the lovely garlic bread.

After a coffee round my tray is collected again. Throughout the flight the crew does a number of drink runs. Iím quite impressed.

At some point, captain Costas, who initially I thought sounded Spanish but is sounding increasingly Greek, comes on the blower. I figure this must be the Ďweíre about to start our descentí speech. But instead he informs us that we still have more than an hour to fly because of thunderstorms en route weíre having to circumnavigate. Rather than flying a straight line, our route takes us from Ho Chi Minh City in a northeasterly direction towards Da Nang and then from there we do a left turn towards Hanoi.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we land in Hanoi at 19h25, with more than two hours delay. The hotel has sent a car to pick me up. The journey to the centre of Hanoi takes about 50 minutes to complete by car. The pick up is a BMW 7. Once I get in, the driver shows me the drinks menu and asks me what Iím having. There are also refreshing towels and a few filled macaroons sent as a welcome gift by the hotelís p‚tissier. Something tells me Iím going to like thisÖ

CONCLUSION

Despite the delay, or perhaps I should say precisely because of the delay, I had a very good experience with Vietnam Airlines. I am particularly impressed with the way they handled the irregularity of our aircraft going tech. I think they put a lot of effort into minimising the inconvenience for the passengers as far as possible. Throughout the process they were very apologetic but also very professional. So thumbs up for that! I would certainly have no problem at all flying with Vietnam Airlines again. And in fact I am rather curious about what their long-haul product is like up frontÖ

EPILOGUE

So what about Hanoi? Personally, I love the place and the people, both of which draw you in with their openness and charm. While Saigon is the economic powerhouse of Vietnam, Hanoi is far more laid back in the way that only a capital city can be that knows it has nothing to prove to anybody because it is, after all, the capital city.

With its horrific traffic, huge crowds and French boulangeries Hanoi leaves you confused, dazed and gagging for more. I am still trying to figure out why. There are certainly prettier and more spectacular cities around Asia. But I think that is precisely it: unlike ambitious Kuala Lumpur, chaotic Bangkok and sterile Singapore, Hanoi and her people are surprisingly untypically Asian. The obvious conclusion to draw from that might be to assume that the city has managed to retain some of its heritage as part of the French colonial territory of Indochine. But that would be to do the city an injustice for it has its very own distinct style. So I think Iíll just leave it at that and simply say that Hanoi is unlike any other Asian city I have visited so far. And I like that!
William Agius is offline  
Old Nov 15, 12, 8:28 am
  #9  
 
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Another interesting and engaging read. Thank you again.

Nice to see some pictures of the Royal Silk Lounge (via your Link), which I hope I-ll have an opportunity to use myself at some stage.

And maybe I should give Con Dao a try too.

Last edited by michlflyer; Nov 15, 12 at 8:33 am Reason: spelling of Con Dao
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Old Nov 15, 12, 2:32 pm
  #10  
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Qatar Airways, Business Class Ė B 777-300: Hanoi to Bangkok

My holiday in Southeast Asia is quickly drawing to an end and itís time for me to begin the long journey home. Itís been a lot of fun. Even so, I am looking forward to returning home. Vietnam is a lovely place and I hope to return some day, but it is also a vicious assault on the senses that leaves you reeling.

And here is the link to the photos.


Date: 11. September 2012
Airline: Qatar Airways
Aircraft: B777-300
From: Hanoi
To: Bangkok
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1B, aisle seat


In Hanoi I stayed at the Sofitel Legende Metropole. The original building, which still stands today and is still in use as a hotel, was opened in 1901. At the time it was the only decent place to stay in Hanoi and subsequently became the preferred hang out of the rich and famous, both resident and visiting.

Later on during the American war, it became a refuge and a safe haven to the foreigners in the beleaguered city, at the time many embassies converted the guestís rooms at the hotel into offices and set up shop there.

After the war, the place fell into disuse and neglect, and by the time the Accor Hotel Group took over the building in the nineties, it was merely a derelict and rat infested ruin.

Today the Metropole is restored to its original splendour and enjoys once more the reputation of being the best place to stay on town.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Just before 15h00 my butler knocks at my door to collect my baggage. I check out and head downstairs to the lobby, outside the driver is already expecting us. I leave central Hanoi just after 15h00, the journey to the airport takes some 45 minutes to complete. The roads and streets in central Hanoi are small and narrow, itís a tight squeeze for us and the incessant swarm of the omnipresent Vespas.

CHECK-IN
The driver drops my bag on the carpet in front of the Qatar Airways Business Class check-in counter. He wishes me a pleasant journey and then bids me goodbye.

The agent at check-in issues my boarding pass as well as the lounge invitation. In Hanoi all airlines use the same lounge, with the exception of Vietnam Airlines who have their own one.

THE TRANSIT AREA & LOUNGE
The lounge is one floor up from the public area. The terminal is a strange place, itís packed with souvenir stalls with gaudy lights in some places, while other parts of the building are more or less deserted and empty.

The lounge itself is rather large for the airport and offers both warm and cold food and drinks. I help myself to the glass noodles with pak choy and enjoy the view outside until the time comes for me to board my flight to Bangkok.

BOARDING
At 16h50 a Qatar Airways rep comes to the lounge and invites all passengers to board. By the looks of it there are eight adults and four beastly kids on the flight this evening. By the time I reach the gate theyíre already making the final call for the flight.

THE CABIN
The cabin of this bird is very nice. I think of all the intra-Asian flights I took on this trip this is the nicest one. There is even a small kind of pot mounted on the bulkhead on both rows and the roses in it are actually real and very fresh. There is a cushion at every seat, as well as a pair of earphones, which have been placed in their specific compartment by the side of the seat.

The toilet on this bird is enormous. You could throw a party in there. Itís also well stocked with Molton Brown goodies, shaving kits and dental kits.

SERVICE
The crew, as is to be expected, are an interesting mix of nationalities. All of them are very friendly and take a professional approach to their job.

Service begins with drinks, served while we are still on the ground. I choose the lime and mint squash and it is delicious and refreshing.

After that I receive a small lacquer plate with a warm rose scented towel. This is followed by the distribution of the menus on this short sector. The flying time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.

DEPARTURE
We push back right on time. Weíre number three for departure behind a FedEx A310 and an Air Mekong Canadair Regional Jet. For an aircraft as grand and majestic as the Triple Seven it would be appropriate to describe the take-off roll in terms of power and grace, to go rambling on about thundering down the runway and defying the earthís gravity and that kind of talk. But in actual fact the more suitable description in this case would be to say that we bounce down the runway until eventually we bounce into the air and stay there. The runway in Hanoi is the most uneven one I have every departed from! It has the whole plane shaking.

THE MEAL
There are no choices on the flight today. The flight isnít really long enough. When the tray arrives it contains a hot meal that is beef with rice, carrots and pak choy with garlic. The pak choy tastes very bitter so I just leave that. The rest is okay. Nothing outstanding, but itís okay.

For dessert there is a fruit salad with dragon fruit, papaya, strawberries, pineapple and grapes.

To drink I have another glass of the excellent lime and mint juice and some San Pellegrino sparkling water. After the meal I have a cup of coffee.

All in all itís an unspectacular flight, there no Ďwowí moment but I have nothing to fault Qatar Airways with either on this short sector.

ARRIVAL
There is one very strong point in Qatar Airwaysí favour. Before we land the cabin crew distribute the embarkation cards for Thailand. For passengers in Business Class they also provide a fast track voucher for immigration. This is something Egypt Air did not provide when I flew with them from Kuala Lumpur back to Bangkok earlier during the trip.

CONCLUSION
Out of the four airlines I did international flights with in Asia on this journey Ė Royal Jordanian, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways Ė Qatar Airways gave by far the most professional and polished performance. The crew were not exceptioanlly friendly or anything of the sort but they demonstrated a high level of professionalism on this flight.

EPILOGUE
As we climb out of Hanoi and the beautiful landscapes of Vietnam slowly vanish under a veil of humidity and heat haze, I reflect back upon my journey through this fascinating and amazing country. It will take me a while to fully appreciate and understand the country and the people I encountered. I donít think Iíve ever before experienced anything quite like Vietnam.
William Agius is offline  
Old Nov 16, 12, 1:51 am
  #11  
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Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 321
Thai Airways, First Class Ė A 340-600: Bangkok > Milan Malpensa

Iím on my way back from my vacation in Southeast Asia. The original plan would have seen me returning from Bangkok to ZŁrich in Thai Airways First Class and then immediately carrying on with KLM via Amsterdam to Helsinki for a meeting. But then it all goes horribly wrongÖread on!

And here is the photo link.

Date: 13. September 2012
Airline: Thai Airways
Aircraft: A 340-600
From: Bangkok
To: Milan Malpensa
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 2K

CHECK-IN


I spend my last day in Asia exploring the sights of Bangkok, and I think I manage to do most of them. I check out of the Novotel Suvarnabhumi at eight oíclock in the evening, once Iíve finished packing and had a shower. I then make my way through the deserted underground passageway linking the hotel to the railway station and the terminal beyond.

I arrive at the Thai Airways First Class check-in area on row A just after 20h00. First I am ushered to a sofa and brought a drink and a refreshing towel.

The friendly Thai Airways check-in agent apologises profusely as she informs me that the flight to ZŁrich has gone tech and instead of departing at 00h30, it is now scheduled for a departure at 07h30 in the morning, arriving in ZŁrich after 14h00 of the same day. So instead, she suggests I fly on the Thai Airways flight to Milan and then take a Swiss flight to ZŁrich from there, which would arrive at 11:00. I explain that I have a flight to Amsterdam with KLM at 09h50 on a separate ticket and need to be in Helsinki by the evening. So that wonít work.

In a bid to find a solution she first suggests I take the Thai Airways flight to Arlanda and then from there a Finnair flight to Helsinki. However the idea is quickly discarded because that would mean downgrading me to Business Class. On the Arlanda route Thai Airways operates a B747-400 with the old First Class seat, which is sold as Business Class. I donít fancy that. So eventually we settle on a routing that will take me with Thai Airways from Bangkok to Milan in First Class after all, and then from there with Finnair to Helsinki in Business Class. Thai Airways generously also offer to endorse the KLM ticket, despite the fact that itís not really their problem. For me this means that I will still be able to use the return portion from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam. I ask the check-in agent if this will work, they canít just take another airlineís ticket and use part of it as they like. But she assures me that it will be fine. They will cancel the outbound from ZŁrich via Amsterdam to Helsinki and I keep the return for the following day.

Iím quite happy with the arrangement and as an aviation fan I normally welcome such irregularities. Although in this case itís quite a pity because I was hoping to clock another flight with the B737-900 from Amsterdam to Helsinki. Some other time maybe. The check-in agent brings me a bottle of water and asks me for some more patience while she makes all the necessary arrangements.

40 minutes later, with my boarding pass for the Milan flight and a Flight Interruption Manifest for Helsinki in hand, Iím good to go.

THE LOUNGE

From check-in there is a direct access to a dedicated security lane and behind that is immigration for First Class passengers. The check-in agent escorts me through to the other side. Itís a swift process and even the immigration officer is all smiles and charm, even cracking a joke at seeing my Ďexoticí passport. Blimey!

Behind immigration there is an escalator heading downstairs, straight into the Royal Silk Business Class lounge. At the bottom of the stairs another Thai agent is already expecting me with the funkiest buggy Iíve ever seen. The check-in agent bids me goodbye. I get on board my chariot and am whisked away to the entrance of the Royal First Class lounge.

Inside the lounge I am given yet another tremendously cold refreshing towel and a glass of some fruit juice. I also order a glass of sparkling water with a slice of lime.

My head has been bothering me all day, I think it must have been the uncomfortable seats on the river taxi, so I decide to head over to the Thai Spa and see if a massage might be able to do something about it. I am escorted to the Spa and handed over to my masseuse. First she gives me another refreshing towel (Iíve stopped countingÖ) and a glass of cold ginger tea. We discuss what I need taken care of and then head to the quiet area and the massage seats. The woman is a genius and over that ensuing forty minutes she works magic on my neck and shoulders. It feels like Iím being butchered but by the time she finishes me off I return to the First Class lounge feeling quite elated. And soon after itís time to head to gate A3 for boarding.

BOARDING

Boarding starts just a few minutes after I arrive at the gate. First Class and premium passengers are invited to board first through the L1 door. I am the second passenger to arrive in the First Class cabin.

The vanity kit, a selection of newspapers, the earphones and an orchid are already at me seat. In short succession I am also given yet another refreshing towel, this time a warm one, a glass of water and my pjs.

THE CABIN

The cabin and seat look nice and well maintained. In fact the seat looks nearly new. There are two cushions on every seat, as well as a blanket.

During the flight I visit the toilet and it is very clean and well stocked with products from Bulgariís Essence de Thť Blanc and Essence de Thť Vert. All the refreshing towels are scented with the latter.

DEPARTURE

We depart slightly behind schedule due to the heavy traffic out of Bangkok tonight. Once we get airborne, we are treated to an excellent view of the urban sprawl that is Bangkok.

SERVICE

Service on this flight is efficient and friendly. The First Class cabin is served by the male purser, a very charming and funny middle-aged lady and a younger but equally friendly gentleman. All the female crew are wearing these beautiful traditional Thai costumes made of silk.

The purser introduces himself and wishes me a pleasant flight. He tells Iím in good hands with his colleagues and if there is anything I need, all of them will be more than glad to help.

THE MEAL

There are no nibbles or canapťs with the drinks before departure. Once we take off the crew obviously want to make sure passengers manage to get as much rest as possible and so they get started with the service straight away. First the table is set for the meal. Every passenger has his own breadbasket. There is garlic bread too, I love garlic bread! Later on once Iíve demolished the bread basket a new one arrives.

First we have the caviar service. This is really tasty. I am offered a second helping but I figure that would be too much of an indulgence.

The caviar is followed by a tasty minestrone with two side dishes of smoked salmon and a puff pastry filled with patť.

For the main course I have the salmon with linguine, basil sauce and Mediterranean vegetables.

And for dessert some fresh fruit.

After the meal I go and change while the flight attendant makes up my bed.

A NEW DAY

Itís seven hours later. I managed to have a really good sleep on the very comfy seat/bed.

Iíve overdosed on the garlic bread. I completely forgot Iíll be meeting with a business partner later on. I head for the loo to brush me teeth. I even try scrubbing my tongue with copious amounts of high quality Colgate toothpaste. But itís of no avail, now I can only hope the immigration officer will not have me arrested for threatening the life of an official of the Italian police with my lethal garlic breath. That was potent stuff on that bread.

Shortly after I take my seat again itís time for breakfast. We start with another refreshing hot towel. After that the table is set again for breakfast. I check to make sure, yes there is no more garlic bread this time round.

We start with fruit salad, and very delicious it is.

Next come the Cornflakes with some milk and a bit of sugar.

And then comes the hot meal: Spanish omelette with grilled tomato, hash brown, sausage and bacon. I follow the purserís suggestion and have some chilli sauce with that. And very tasty it is too.

During the breakfast service my coffee cup is replenished regularly.

The meal ends with one last hot towel.

ARRIVAL

In the meantime it has been gradually becoming light outside. I look out to see the sun slowly rising over the Alps. You can tell itís the end of summer because there is barely any snow left, even on the peaks.

We come in over the flatlands of the river Po. I must say, itís been a nice holiday but I am still glad to be back to more familiar climes and sights.

The purser and the other two attendants working the First Class cabin pass from seat to seat to bid each passenger farewell individually and to thank them for flying Thai.

We bank left to point in a southern direction on the downwind for arrival. We pass the airport and then start doing a series of gentle right hand banks until eventually we are lined up with the runway. Just before touchdown I see an Air One A320 accelerating and an Easyjet bird waiting to line up behind it on the parallel runway. And then weíre down.

We taxi in behind a Delta B767-400 but I forget to check where itís coming from.

The L2 door opens and all the passengers in Business Class are instructed to wait while the First Class passengers disembark. As we do, each passenger is given another orchid as a farewell gift.

Outside there is a representative from the handling agent expecting me. She welcomes me to Milan and then escorts me through the airport, through security and immigration until we are eventually in the A concourse. She takes me up to the contractor lounge Finnair uses and briefs the receptionist about the irregularity. The receptionist will contact Finnair about two hours before departure to check me in, I can then collect my boarding pass directly at the gate as I board.

With that done she apologises once more on behalf of Thai Airways for the inconvenience and bids me a safe onward journey and a good day.

CONCLUSION

Where do I begin? First of all there is that Thai Airways lady at the front line, the person who deals with my case. She really tried her best, she had a very Ďcan-doí approach to finding a viable solution to my problem. But itís not just her, the whole operation Ė at least from what I can tell as a passenger Ė is very polished, right down to the way I am taken care of upon arrival in Milan.
William Agius is offline  
Old Nov 16, 12, 2:40 am
  #12  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Programs: TK M&S, BAEC, EK
Posts: 251
Very much enjoyed reading the final instalments (?) of the trip report. Will there be a coda for the Helsinki legs?

Thai Airways certainly seem to have tried extremely hard to get things on track for you again.
michlflyer is offline  
Old Nov 16, 12, 1:17 pm
  #13  
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Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 321
Originally Posted by AA_EXP09 View Post
It's much more fun driving on a motorcycle there.
Hi AA_EXP09

I'm sure it is, although I suspect you'd probably need quite a bit more time too.

Originally Posted by HangukStyle View Post
Interesting read. I've never flown Turkish Airlines myself, and after reading this report I'm not really eager on flying them to be honest.
Hi HangkuStyle

I'd heard so many good things about TK that I was really eager to try them. But to be honest, I don't think you'll miss much if you don't fly with them.

Originally Posted by michlflyer View Post
Another interesting and engaging read. Thank you again.

Nice to see some pictures of the Royal Silk Lounge (via your Link), which I hope I-ll have an opportunity to use myself at some stage.

And maybe I should give Con Dao a try too.
Originally Posted by michlflyer View Post
Very much enjoyed reading the final instalments (?) of the trip report. Will there be a coda for the Helsinki legs?

Thai Airways certainly seem to have tried extremely hard to get things on track for you again.
Hi michlflyer

Yes, the last part will be coming up shortly and everything shall be revealed. As for Con Dao, if you like lazing about by the beach then I can certainly recommend the place. And Vietnam in general is a fascinating place.

Cheers,
William
William Agius is offline  
Old Nov 16, 12, 11:13 pm
  #14  
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Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 321
Finnair, Business Class Ė A 320: Milan Malpensa > Helsinki

THE GRAND FINALE

Nine boarding pass receipts later and I find myself in the contractor lounge at Milanís Malpensa airport. I arrived earlier in the morning on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok. Youíre probably wondering why on earth I chose Milan to change planes from Thai Airways to Finnair, given that itís neither a Star Alliance nor a Oneworld hub. Well, the simple fact is, I didnít choose. I should have been heading for ZŁrich, but then my plane went tech. The details of that trip you can find in my Thai Airways post.

Here is the link to the photos.

Date: 13. September 2012
Airline: Finnair
Aircraft: A320
From: Milan Malpensa
To: Helsinki
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 4A

CHECK-IN

I havenít got a boarding pass. Actually, for that matter I havenít even got a ticket either. All I have is a FIM Ė a Flight Interruption Manifest. Essentially it is a document permitting the transporting carrier, Finnair in this case, to accept me as a passenger without a ticket due to an involuntary rerouting. The FIM will ensure that Finnair get paid for providing transportation despite the lack of a coupon to prove they did.

THE LOUNGE

Iím sitting in the contractor lounge provided for Finnair passengers. The Thai Airways representative brought me here to ensure they let me into the lounge without a boarding pass or ticket.

Itís a nice enough lounge but itís a pity there arenít any windows. Itís turning into a lovely early autumn day outside. Even so, the lack of any natural light does not prevent all the Italian business men here from donning their sunglasses.

About an hour before departure I head downstairs to the gate area. Downstairs I find a place with some good views of landing and departing aircraft. I was unaware of how many freighters Malpensa receives.

Once the gate opens, I approach the counter. I hand over my FIM and in return I am issued a boarding pass for seat 3F, a window seat on the right side of the aircraft. There are 20 seats in Business Class but only eight passengers today.

At the gate next door theyíre getting an Air Malta flight ready to depart.

BOARDING

Boarding starts and status members, Business Class passengers and families with kids are requested to board first. I donít think the flight is going to be full judging by the queue.

THE CABIN

I like the Finnair cabin. The bulkhead is covered in this pattern that I assume is intended to look like snow flakes falling. Itís nice, but I think if you live in a country that sees so much snow anyway, youíd probably appreciate some bright and sunny design more.

The seat is the standard RECARO slimline variety. The middle seat is kept empty in Business Class for more private space and comfort. Once boarding is completed, I move across to 4A. Iím hoping to get at least one picture of the Thai Airways bird that brought me here earlier in the day. When we left Bangkok it was gone midnight and simply too dark for any decent pictures.

DEPARTURE

Departure is to the north and unfortunately weíre on the outer one of the two parallel runways. This means that even with the zoom Iíll be too far away to take any decent photos of the Thai bird. To reach the runway we pass behind the threshold of the inner runway. This still leaves enough height clearance for approaching aircraft passing overhead for landing.

Having spent the last two week flying mainly on heavy widebodies, Iím somewhat taken aback by the force and acceleration of the A320. We rocket into the sky and climb out past the low cost terminal.

We do a sharp right turn to fly along the Alps. In the distance I can make out the airfield of Lugano Agno. The mountains look so nice today, quite as though you could reach out and touch them.

We stay on an easterly track for quite a while and maintain rather a steep rate of climb for a while until weíre clear of the mountains. Then we bank left again to point the aircraft towards Finland.

SERVICE

Oh I know, stereotypes and all that. But what will you do? Todayís crew really consists of four severely blond female flights attendants in their dark blue uniforms. Theyíre quite a contrast to the colourful Thai Airways crew from the previous flight. But theyíre nice enough.

Before we depart the crew come round distributing Finnish, Italian and English newspapers. Once weíre airborne, service begins with the distribution of the menu and hot towels. Theyíre not scented.

After that comes a drink round. I have a Diet Coke and a packet of Pretzels.

THE MEAL

And then comes the meal. For starters we have a shrimp and potato salad with dill on some kind of rye bread toast. The main course is marinated and tremendously tender beef in a horseradish sauce with broccoli and some root vegetable mash, I mean purťe. Dessert is some creamy thing with berries. With the meal the crew also pass round a basket of warm bread. I have a sparkling water to drink with that.

Generally speaking the quality of the meal is good, in fact itís rather tasty. But the presentation is somewhat lacking. First of all, would it really cost so much more to serve the hot meal in a real dish, rather than that unsightly tin? Secondly, it would be nice to have the plastic lids removed from the dishes before the meal is served. And thirdly, the tray is too big. The meal looks a bit forlorn, quite as though there were a few items missing. But the meal hits the spot alright.

Iím starting to feel sleepy, but in a good way. Once the meal is removed I lean back, close my eyes and in that warm, oh so comfortable space before sleep overcomes me, the memories of my trip to Vietnam unfold before my eyes. Itís a though I am there again, but of course it is only a dreamtime. One way or another, I think I will long remember Vietnam.

ARRIVAL

North of the Alps the weather is rather cloudy. It stays like that all the way to Helsinki. When we land the temperature is a mere 17 degrees Celsius.

We turn off the active runway, do one quick and short taxi to the gate and park next to an Icelandair B757-200 with a familiar nameÖ

The airport is busy when I arrive. Basically the development of the facility has not kept pace with the ambitions of its hub carrier Finnair. There are people everywhere. There are not enough places to sit, so in addition to the passengers actually going somewhere, there are also those passengers standing around for a loss of any better place to stand and wait. The fact that arriving and departing passengers are not segregated does not help either.

I exit the terminal building and it strikes me just how cold it is here, Iím definitely wearing the wrong clothes. Still, it feels like autumn already and I like that. So I shanít complain.

CONLCUSION

Just one thing remains. I guess those of you who have followed this series from the start are wondering if things did work out all right in the end. No, they did not. When I arrive at the hotel I login to my KLM account to check if my flights for the next day from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam are still there, just as the Thai Airways lady had promised. Of course they are not. A quick call to KLM establishes that Thai Airways did not actually do anything about the booking. As a result, I no-showed on the original ZŁrich-Amsterdam-Helsinki legs so the return was cancelled.

I ask the friendly KLM agent if she can reinstate the flights or something. But she tells me that the flights I was booked on are completely sold out, even with my Platinum status she cannot even get me on the waitlist. So I have no other choice but to buy a new ticket with Lufthansa via Munich. Their flight leaves 15 minutes later than the original booking with KLM and arrives in Basel 30 minutes after the KLM flight. Just in case youíre wondering, a full fare Y class oneway from Helsinki to Basel will cost you in excess of CHF1000. But I am not angry. I guess I should have known better, having worked in ticketing for an airline myself for many years. Still, I give the Thai Airways lady full marks for trying. And Iím certainly not going to let this hiccup at the end ruin what has been a fantastic trip and really good fun.
William Agius is offline  
Old Nov 17, 12, 7:48 am
  #15  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Programs: TK M&S, BAEC, EK
Posts: 251
Great to have the last in this series.

I suppose the twist in the last paragraph makes things more like real life.

Look forward to reading another series sometime.
michlflyer is offline  

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