A Royal (dis)HHonor: Bangkok Airways Economy Class Koh Samui to Bangkok

Introduction
Aloft San Francisco Airport
Cathay Pacific Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific First Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to Singapore
St. Regis Singapore
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge Singapore
SilkAir Business Class Singapore to Koh Samui
Conrad Koh Samui
Bangkok Airways Economy Class Koh Samui to Bangkok
Le Meridien Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Business Class Lounge Bangkok
Royal Jordanian Business Class Bangkok to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” First Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco


While a coach flight within Thailand is hardly an aspirational travel experience worth writing about, I have to say that Bangkok Airways is one of the most unique airlines I’ve flown. They market themselves as “Asia’s boutique airline,” as they offer some pretty elaborate meal services on short flights and also have lounges for all passengers. And for that matter Koh Samui Airport is an equally unique airport, so hopefully you guys find this interesting.

As I said in the introduction, our coach tickets cost a bit over $100USD per person, which was reasonable. Business class is only a mild premium, though for our date unfortunately the only flight with availability was one of their single cabin A319s, not featuring a business class cabin.

The first thing to note is that just for joining Bangkok Airways’ frequent flyer program, FlyerBonus, you get an extra 10kg baggage allowance. So before flying with them be sure you join if you intend to check a bag. Their normal baggage allowance is 20kg (~44 pounds), so just for being a member you get a 30kg (~66 pounds) baggage allowance. If you’re connecting off an international premium cabin itinerary with heavy bags, that will save you a lot of money.

We were able to check out of the Conrad at 4PM, and made it to the airport by 4:45PM for our 6:50PM flight. The airport is entirely “open air,” so originally I was dreading the time we’d have to spend outside, given that it was close 100 degrees. We were dropped off right in front of the Bangkok Airways check-in counter.


Check-in

The check-in queues were crazy. I mean, literally the longest airport queues I’ve ever seen anywhere. It’s not really surprising, given just how many flights Bangkok Airways has out of Koh Samui. Heck, between 6PM and 7PM they had three flights to Bangkok alone, not factoring in their other destinations.


Check-in queues


Check-in queues

And this is where the next tip comes into play — just for doing online check-in you get access to their business class check-in queue. The main queue must have been over an hour long, while there were only two parties ahead of us in the business class line. So be sure to do online check-in.


Web check-in queues


Web check-in queues

So we had done online check-in not realizing that it would actually save us probably an hour of time. We were checked in within five minutes, and now had almost two hours to kill before our flight. We started walking towards the departure area (the airport doesn’t have gates so I can’t really use that term), which is on the other side of the airport.


Walkway to departure area


Walkway to departure area


Walkway to departure area

I’ve gotta say the grounds of the airport are beautiful, possibly the greenest I’ve seen anywhere.


Walking to departure area

Funny enough the walkway between check-in and the departure area is a bit like an outlet mall in Orlando, with tons of seemingly misplaced shops. Not something you’d usually associate with a Thai airport.


Walkway to departure area

Since we had nearly two hours before our flight and fancied air conditioning, we stopped at the first place we saw, a Swensen’s ice cream shop.


Ice cream

I find Thai service to be friendly across the board. Yes, some people are more polished and sincere than others, though I don’t think I’ve ever run into rude service… except here. The funny thing is the place was staffed by maybe 18-25 year old Thai girls, typically the friendliest demographic, in my experience. However, they couldn’t crack a smile, and seemed pissed off every time someone walked in the door.

On the plus side, the ice cream was good. ๐Ÿ˜‰


Ice cream sundae

At that point we had about 90 minutes left before our flight, so we kept walking towards the departure area. Go figure there was a foot massage place.

A foot massage in air conditioning or waiting in the heat? I think you know which we chose. The massage was by no means great, though I was impressed by the masseuse’s multi-tasking skills — she managed to be on her cell phone the entire time while still using both hands to rub my feet. But since the prices were reasonable and there was air conditioning, I’d do it in again in a heartbeat.


Massage place


Massage place

At this point we had less than an hour till departure, and for a moment even panicked. We completely forgot we hadn’t cleared security, and given the check-in queues, figured there was another hour-long queue to clear security. So we more or less sprinted to the security checkpoint, only to find that there was no one in line, and we cleared in less than five minutes


Walkway to security

Once past security there were a few more outdoor shops and eateries, though we headed to our departure area.


Walkway past security

The actual gate area was beautiful, and felt sort of Tahitian.


Departure area


Departure area


Departure area

Right next to the gate was the “Courtesy Counter,” which offers free snacks and drinks. Like I said, Bangkok Airways has a “lounge” even for coach passengers, which is impressive.


Courtesy Counter signage

While I didn’t eat anything, the spread was fairly good — there were finger sandwiches, popcorn, pizza, etc. Kind of what you’d expect for a middle school birthday party at a bowling alley.


Food spread


Popcorn and drinks

There was also free wifi. You just had to give the agent your boarding pass and they’d issue you a wifi code.

At around 6:30PM boarding began. It was mildly chaotic since they were trying to board three Bangkok Airways flights to Bangkok nearly simultaneously, so naturally that led to quite a bit of confusion.


Flight signage

Bangkok Airways 1172
Koh Samui (USM) โ€“ Bangkok (BKK)

Friday, March 29
Depart: 6:50PM
Arrive: 7:55PM
Duration: 1hr5min
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Seat: 6E (Economy Class)

Since there are no gates, there were a few Disney-world-style-parking-lot-trams waiting to take us to the plane. Unlike at Disney, though, they definitely used the “there’s always room for one more” approach to loading them.


Driveway to planes


Trams to planes

The sun was setting as we were driven to the plane, which made for some beautiful views.


Sunset

We drove past a bunch of Bangkok Airways planes, as our plane was parked at the very end of the tarmac.


Bangkok Airways A319


Bangkok Airways ATR 72


Our A319


Our A319


Our A319

While Bangkok Airways has a fairly modern fleet for the most part, our A319 had a really tired interior. I never made the connection that the aircraft without business class are generally the older ones, so the interior was definitely a bit underwhelming for what’s a “premium” airline.


Aircraft interior


Aircraft interior

We were in seats 6D & 6E, and I took the middle seat. Boarding was extremely efficient, and within about 15 minutes everyone was seated. As soon as boarding was complete one of the crew members came around with refreshment towels.


Towels

I have to be honest, the part of the Bangkok Airways experience I was most looking forward to was their safety video. I mean, take a look at this gem (I don’t know whether I prefer the epic dance routine or the pilot voice over):

If it’s not the greatest thing ever, I don’t know what it is. And while I may have already seen it 162 times on repeat on YouTube, I was most looking forward to seeing the reactions of fellow passengers. What I failed to realize is that the older A319s don’t have video monitors, so there was a manual safety demo.

As we began our taxi the captain informed us of our flight time of 50 minutes, which would put us into Bangkok on-time. The purser, Rosita, also welcomed us aboard, though I couldn’t really understand anything she said. As we taxied out the cabin lights were dimmed, and I was impressed that the crew walked around the cabin to turn on the individual reading lights for anyone that looked like they were reading.

Our taxi took only a couple of minutes given how small the airport is, and we rocketed off pretty quickly.

Less than five minutes after takeoff the crew closed the curtains to the galley to prepare for the meal service.


Cabin view after takeoff

They quickly came around and plopped down something on everyone’s tray, which for a 50 minute flight is a complete overkill.


Meal service

15 minutes before landing the seatbelt sign was turned on and we began our descent into Bangkok.

We had a smooth touch down and quick taxi to the gate, and made it there a couple of minutes ahead of schedule.

The walk to baggage claim took at least 15 minutes, and once there it was another 30 minutes before checked bags began rolling out.


Walk to baggage claim


Baggage claim

From there we got in a taxi to the Le Meridien (or is it just Le Meridien?), which took close to an hour due to traffic. Fortunately the cabbie had some very entertaining affiliate marketing materials to share with us, including this one (I cropped out the top of the pamphlet for a reason):

Ah, the joys of Bangkok!

On the whole Bangkok Airways was a great way to fly. For a coach flight within Asia can it really get better than them? I doubt it. Their old planes are by no means luxurious, but it’s tough to beat what they offer on the ground. Oh, and Koh Samui Airport is pretty damn nifty as well!

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Comments

  1. You certainly don’t have to apologize for writing about a “non-aspirational” experience. I think I speak for a lot of us here when I say that reading about other peoples’ travels (and yours in particular) is interesting regardless of cabin class, and for me at least it increases my body of knowledge for when/if I go to, say, Thailand

  2. I had never heard of them and flew them from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Flight was an hour and they served a meal which was pretty good actually. I regularly fly on American Eagle to Chicago on a flight that long and as an EXP they often don’t even remember to give me a choice of snacks, much less drinks. Usually there is no service for anyone. It was mostly just fun to try a new airline.

  3. Ben, was the foot massage the traditional Asian type, where afterward you feel like every bone in your foot has been broken? Or was it actually relaxing, as their sign said?

  4. Does anyone know if the extra 10kg is also added to the business class allowance?

    Lucky, was there an separate security line for business class?

  5. @ Scuta — Yes, I believe it can be added to the business class allowance as well. I didn’t see a separate business class security queue, though.

  6. Wonderful advice to print own boarding pass.
    Does it matter if you print the BP or have it emailed?
    We’re at the Conrad Koh Samui right now and were thinking of asking the front desk to print it, but wondered if it would make it awkward to choose our seats.
    How did you hear of the benefit in printing the BP? If it’s that simple to beat the queue, I would think more people would come across it and print it. Has me wondering if you just got “lucky” that day in them taking the printed BP folk?
    BTW…here’s a tip for getting cheap airport transport. Found a local driver on tripadvisor (samui explorer) who did it for 700bht each way ($23)…which is 2/3 cheaper than the Conrad!

  7. @ wolfgang — Hope you’re enjoying your stay!

    You actually don’t have to print your boarding passes, but rather just check-in online. I don’t believe online check-in even lets you print your boarding passes, so I’m not even really sure what the purpose is. It was a coincidence that I stumbled across it.

  8. @wolfgang – good to know! what kind of car were you picked up in?

    @lucky – curious what kind of car Conrad picked you up in as well…

    Thanks!

  9. @ stacey — We booked a Toyota SUV both ways which was really nice. On the way back got an “upgrade” to a BMW, which is usually three times the cost. Far preferred the Toyota, though, as the suspension on the BMW was *horrible*.

  10. @stacey–picked up in a large and comfortable black SUV. Leather interior and clean. Web site http://samuiislandexplorer.com/
    Also did a 6-hour island tour for 2,000 baht ($70).

    @lucky–so where did you find this gem of an idea that let you skip the lengthy queues?

  11. @ wolfgang — I saw the option on the website and assumed I’d be able to print my boarding pass, so figured I might as well check-in. While it didn’t let me print my boarding pass, coincidentally it did save me a bunch of time.

  12. Hilarious and one of your better posts. I know – flying Coach must be absolute hell for you and your friend, but 50 minutes in a 3×3 center seat really won’t kill you. That airport and the ‘lounge’ look delightful and I especially appreciate the open, airy feeling suggested in your excellent pix. Ha! A full meal tray in a 50-minute flight, and in Coach Class, is almost a joke these days. Good food, or cheap, I fail to understand why the others cannot keep up, save a huge measure of corporate greed.
    Yup, we’ve visited Thailand and other parts of SEA multiple times in years-past. When we went, (late 80s through mid-90s) Thailand was an obvious bargain; excellent service and facilities at inexpensive prices – if one knew where to go, and some truly wonderful sights to see. (No, we did not visit Thailand for *those other* reasons.) Sadly, today, the their prices have gone through the roof, the services have suffered and we’ve lost interest. As noted elsewhere, as we get a bit older, the comforts of people and establishments with whom we have built a long history become even more welcoming. As noted in my reply to the prior post, for us, that Ideal Escape has become a tiny guesthouse and berg in Bavaria that we’ve visited for 15+ years. We used to spend 7-10 days there each year. More recently, we’d rather return to what has become our second home and an inn-keeping family that loves us as much as we love them. For 2013, we’ll likely complete three visits, and a total of ~45 days in our ‘adopted’ home. They have only two, couple-sized guest suites, charge most folks about $300/night (though we do much better) and we’ve come to love this tiny village. Frau ‘G.’ and her girls cook wonderful meals that we share at the three-generation family table and we come and go as we please. The accommodations are relatively modest, yet elegant and spotlessly clean. The food is whatever we want it to be, from robust peasant fare to 5-star, and always includes the entire family. Our frequent visits with this FUN family have become so important to us that we’ve curbed our lust for other places, (especially the unpredictable SEA). Of course, we pay a fee for this hospitality, and they don’t grant or accept frequent visitor points beyond genuine human pleasure, we find this tiny Guesthouse (about $250-$275 per night, all-in) one of the world’s best bargains. And, we’re truly come to love the multiple generations of this family. Sorry, but beyond Bavaria – or Southern Bavaria, I won’t broadcast where it is.
    When you get a lot older, Ben, you’ll limit your trips to a very few places that have truly become second homes. Given your heritage and your know enjoyment of Bavaria, someday I may share the details – if privately. -C.

  13. How could you possible resist a visit to the establishment advertised in the taxi, in order to find out what a “Jaguccie” is?

    If I had to guess: a Gucci-brand jacuzzi?

  14. @lucky … where on the Bangkok Air site does it say web check-ins can use the Business Class line at the airport? If I can verify it I can spend another hour here at Conrad.

  15. @wolfgang, from my experience you don’t get access to all of the blue ribbon class (business class) counter, you get access to the web check-in counter which on most days is the same counter as one of the blue ribbon class counters. There might sometimes only be 1 blue ribbon class counter, sometimes it’s 3 but I only ever have seen one marked as Web Check-in.

  16. @ wolfgang — I don’t know where on the website it says it, but did you look at my picture, which has a clear sign for a web check-in counter? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Awesome post, even if it’s economy class. That walkway to the departure area doesn’t even look like an airport!
    Have you been to Tahiti? (I recall reading on this post that the gate looked Tahitian.)

  18. In addition to the outdoor lounge, there is also an air conditioned bangkok airways lounge in Samui for business class customers, which is also a priority pass lounge.

  19. Thanks for a great post – your advice will defintely come in handy when I travel through USM in a few weeks! ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Just wanted to give you a huge thanks on the web check-in and FFP baggage tips! You saved my wife and I a huge amount of time (queue at BKK-USM check-in counter was brutal!) and money respectively on our recent trip to Koh Samui.

  21. Just returned from Koh Samui having been armed with the incredibly helpful information outlined in this post. Thank you so much!

    To add a few details, we checked in online which allowed us to skip the queue, however, I’m afraid we created a very long queue once we got to the check-in counter to drop our bags and I think the very reason why it took us so long to drop our bags is the very reason why the queues are so long.

    The agent required us to present our boarding passes or itinerary for our Bangkok to Istanbul flight which we did not have aside from on our phones. We had to connect to the airport’s free wifi to obtain this information. Once she had our ticket numbers, she was able to check our bags through to our final destination, London.

    My advice to future passengers is to have all of your flight details printed and ready to present to the agent. Additionally, gate 7 (international gate) is air conditioned and Bangkok Airways provides small bites and drinks at the gate.

  22. Hi, I am traveling on this airline this weekend and am a bit confused. How many pieces of checked luggage is each passenger allowed on Bangkok Airways?

    Thanks!!

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