Serpent Across the Mekong: Flight of the Thai Airways TG404 Airbus A330 seat 40A

Haiku time:

Tee gee four oh four
Seat pitch twenty eight inches
No one hears your screams

TG404 from Singapore to Bangkok is scheduled smack dab in the post-meridiem, which means it’s pretty much worthless for business travel. This has two consequences: as fares are cheap and availability is good, I seem to end up on it whenever I’m connecting out of Bangkok to somewhere else; and because the flight’s passengers tend to be the very definition of “low yield”, TG doesn’t hesitate to field its crappiest aircraft on it. Today, at least, they’ve replaced their previously ubiquitous Airbus A300, held together with baling wire, duct tape and chewing gum imported into Singapore with special permission from the Dutiable, Controlled & Prohibited Goods department of Singapore Customs, with a somewhat less antiquated A330. While I kind of miss the A300’s Commodore 64-vintage sickly beige interior and rotary audio channel selector, which always brought back fond memories of childhood flights when my knees were not necessarily jammed into the seat in front of me, in all other respects this plane is a mild improvement.

Despite Thailand’s generally stunning genetics and the same trowelful of makeup as that used to much success by Singapore Girls, Thai Airways flight attendants are generally not very attractive, doubtless because they received their positions through family connections in the vast, corrupt bowels of this state-owned airline. (A phenomenon easily observed elsewhere in the region, compare Garuda vs Lion or Malaysian vs Air Asia.) The plane is packed to the brim, and while waiting for Porn the trolley dolly(*) to fetch me my inevitable coconutty curry — as they say in Japan: Atsumono ni korite, namasu wo fuku, or “Learn from the stew, blow on the raw fish”, and ’tis a foolish man indeed who eats the “Western” meal selection on TG more than once — I hammer away at my Japanese kanji drills on my laptop like a crack-addled chimpanzee.

(*) Yes, really. It’s Thai for “blessing”.


TG925 MUC-BKK A340-600 seat 31J

With the exception of Frankfurt, whose biggest failing is its extreme popularity (and which isn’t that bad in my book either), I’ve always found German airports a pleasure to use and my maiden visit to MUC, and its recently launched “Star Alliance all under one wing” Terminal 2 at that, was no exception. It’s hardly an exciting airport, but there’s glass, steel and big signage everywhere. Passport control to leave Schengen took about 10 seconds, the lady checking passports not even bothering to interrupt her conversation with her cubiclemate, and once out of the EU I beelined for the Senator Lounge.

A major plus for LH lounges has always been their spread of food, and today MUC held the banner high: today there was a choice of half a dozen salads, an array of cold cuts and cheeses, Bayerische leberkase (which means liver cheese, looks like meatloaf, and bears a disturbing resemblance to Finnish sausages tastewise), various breads and soft pretzels, crispy dessert concoctions, and a full bar including two kinds of beer on tap. The downside, though, is the wireless internet, which they (or, rather, T-Mobile) are just giving away at 8 euros per hour. Would it kill them to, say, drop one of the salad dressings and use the money saved to free up the net? But at least they have comfy seats with built-in power plugs, so I could wait out the projected 15-min delay for my flight and recharge my iPod as I did so.

Of course, once at the gate it wasn’t a 15-min delay (it never is, is it?), but closer to an hour’s wait. I’d been glad to see from the outside that the plane we were about to board was smallish, but had four engines: in other words, it was the somewhat uneconomical but long-range and, most importantly, brand new A340. At BCN, they’d already confirmed that I had an exit row, but after walking past some delicious-looking business class pods that caused me to (almost) feel a pang of regret at not paying US$750 to upgrade, I was surprised to find that my seemingly unpropitious row number was, in fact, the first row in Y and an exit row bulkhead at that, with oodles of space. I’d even begun to hope that the neighboring seat might be empty as well… but moments before the doors were closed, the huge guy I’d seen already at the gate resting his arms on his own stomach plopped down next to me. He offered to swap his window with his aisle, which I obviously rejected — and for once I thanked the big, chunky, inflexible divider between us, which kept him from spilling onto me. I did feel a little sorry for the guy though: he was way too big to open up the table or even reach the in-seat controller, so he just sat there for the entire flight, staring at the route map.

Speaking of route maps, the ThaiVision variant on this is one of the spiffiest in-flight entertainment systems I’ve seen to date anywhere. Not only was there a huge spread of movies and music (I watched “Last King of Scotland”), but they finally had an updated, interactive version of Skymap, including goodies like half a dozen views to choose from and live navigation data. Alas, the interface for it was a little buggy, with the zoom and move buttons working only sporadically. (8 hours into the flight, I figured it out: pressing and holdingthe Channel up/down buttons zoom in and out. But the program still crashes and hangs sporadically.)


TG648 BKK-FUK A300 seat 34K

The plane turned out to be the flying museum piece I expected, a crunky old Airbus (the oldest in Thai’s fleet, if I’m not very much mistaken) with all the aesthetic charm and usability of a Commodore 64. I can understand Thai flying these domestically, or even making the occasional hop to Singapore and back, but medium-range redeyes with these things is pushing it. But then again, flying to FUK instead of KIX/NGO/NRT saved some time and (for NRT/KIX) a pretty painful transfer, so beggars can’t be choosers…And it could’ve been worse. The flight was around 70%-ish full, but my neighbor jumped across the aisle, leaving me with two seats to use. After a “light meal” that consisted of a pastry and a cup of juice, I stretched out diagonally and, much to my own surprise, slept for ~3 hours of this 4.5 hr flight.Breakfast was big but bad. Yogurt, fruits and juice I could deal with, but the centerpiece was a “crepe omelette” gruesomely splattered with a vomitous white sauce so foul I could only eat one — I can’t remember ever running across literally inedible airline food before. What happened at TG catering, which is usually pretty good?

The sky over Kyushu was cloudy as we flew in, only the shapes of a few hills peeking through the mist. I girded myself for the battle that awaited.