Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) – Kathmandu Tribhuvan (KTM)
STD: 10:15 ATD: 10:30
STA: 12:25 ATD: 13:30
B777-200 HS-TJD “Mukdahan” (19.1 years old)
Might have spent a bit too much time in the lounge on this transit, but given that we were to board at gate D1A which was a five minute walk away I thought it would be fine, forgetting that the “A” affixed next to our gate meant a bus gate (yet again, KTM always seems to get a bus gate).
A word on the Royal Silk lounges at BKK. Given the vast single terminal layout of the airport you can sometimes find yourself in a tricky situation when it comes to estimating how far you are from your assigned gate. The main Royal Silk lounge is located in the main terminal and takes up a pretty large amount of floor space, but TG also has satellite lounges on each of the different concourses. These lounges are smaller but I find are better. The food selection is more or less the same minus maybe a main hot entree or two, but the wet bar is self service and is therefore an easier affair than the manned bar at the main lounge. The F&B area is also easily accessible from all seats rather than having to trek back and forth in the main lounge, and given the size of the smaller lounges the thermostat is much better regulated which is important given the heat and humidity of Bangkok. They tend to also be quieter which is nice.
After picking up 5 orders of freshly made mango sticky rice (D concourse on security level is the best stall, don’t bother with the ones sold at the multiple “Taste of Thailand” outlets) to bring back with me to Nepal, I headed over to D1A where I found the lounge to be empty…I suppose it was 10:05 for a 10:15 departure…woops. As I walked over to the desk the agent from afar greeted me with yet another “wai” and immediately knew who I was. “Khun Arun?” she asked politely with a smile, slightly embarrassing me in the process for being the last to board (turns out I wasn’t). A bus was waiting for the schlep over to the remote apron where our old 777 was waiting for our trip to Nepal.
Boarded through 1L and was greeted by no less than 3 cabin crew at the door, all chipper and immaculately groomed. I was told not to bother with my seat assignment and to take any seat I wanted. Walked into the cabin and was disappointed to see it was the old first generation angle flat product. This bird is one of the oldest 777-200s in the TG fleet (I remember flying this very plane back in the late 1990s when it was still configured in the ridiculous 2-4-2 recliners in Business Class and 3-4-3 in Economy with no IFE to speak of). It has since been refurbished and now has IFE from nose to tail but hasn’t been retrofitted to TG’s 2nd or 3rd or even 4th generation product (hard product consistency has never been Thai’s forte). Upside: the 2-2-2 configuration giving a very spacious feel to the cabin. It also helped that only 5 out of 30 seats were occupied, one of whom was an on duty TG engineer.
Settled down and right off the bat I could tell this set of crew would be great. The “runner” (galley operator) came by and welcomed me onboard and rather than the usual pre-departure drink tray he offered a full open bar from the galley. He recommended a mimosa and who was I insult him with a no? He then asked whether I preferred Vueve or Moet and I went with the former. Seeing that I was sweating from the unairconditioned bus ride, a cold towel was offered rather than the usual hot version and menus were also passed out.
10:15 came and went with both 1L and 2L still open. Looked like they were having some issues reconciling some cargo because all passengers had boarded at that point and there was a throng of paper work being passed back and forth between the flight deck and the dispatchers. Finally at 10:30 we pushed back and given how far we were parked from the main terminal it was a very short taxi to the active runway. Except there were something like 7 planes ahead of us, including several TG planes, a Finnair A350 and an Emirates A380.
As we waited our turn the captain came on to the tannoy with a warm welcome speech apologizing for the delay and forecasting an on time arrival at KTM despite the delay. In the meantime the lovely crew came by to ask for my lunch order. On offer today was a western option of prawns with squid ink pasta, a Thai option of fried chicken and rice and an Indian/South Asian option of fish in a coconut fenugreek gravy with naan. She also let me know that if I was hungry I could get as many entrees as I wanted because the flight was double catered for some reason. Went with the prawns after which the crew were asked to be seated for take off.
The seatbelt sign was kept on for a bit after departure due to some high altitude turbulence but as soon as it was extinguished the crew sprung into action. They closed all window shades and dimmed the cabin lights which made for a very cozy atmosphere in the empty cabin, it looked and felt like a red eye despite being midday. No carts were used on today’s flight, and my post departure drink of a Tanqueray and soda was duly delivered by hand along with some toasted almonds. Unlike US airlines the nuts weren’t warmed but seconds and thirds were offered. The crew left the can of Perrier on my console and constantly changed out empty cans for new ones without asking and also refreshed my glass after every 2 or so refills of my gins and soda.
Tables were then set and appetizers doled out. I have to say that while the leg from Singapore was rather underwhelming by TG’s admittedly high catering standards, this meal was top notch. The meal was catered out of BKK which probably helped but this appetizer was absolutely delicious. The crab meat salad with smoked salmon was a nicely balanced dish but the piece-de-resistance was the wing bean salad; it was an explosion of Thai flavors and kept well in the galley. Wine pairings were offered and the Chardonnay was crisp and clean, just the way I like it. The bread basket made multiple rounds and I admit that while I almost never eat garlic bread on the ground, its a guilty pleasure of mine in the air and Thai’s is amongst my favorite – its not fancy by any means but is the perfect comfort food. Next up was the generous serving of prawns which were nicely done and served on top of a perfectly al dente squid ink linguine. A pepper shaker was brought around which added a touch of class and a nice zing to the meal. The meal service up till this point was perfectly paced and done on an individual basis, empty plates never sitting too long on the table and the next course served promptly. After my main was cleared fruits and cheeses were offered along with some dessert wine and aperitifs – skipped the Port but had a shot of Drambuie which complemented the fruits and cheese well. To end off a great meal a mango crembrulee and some assorted Thai desserts were served. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but both tasted good. More wine was topped off along with a pass of a nice wooden box filled with a nice choice of breakfast, black, herbal, green and Asian teas. A mug of green tea in hand, I finished out the movie I was watching (Aladdin if you must know, don’t judge) and took a nice nap which took me to about t-minus 1 hour before scheduled arrival.
As soon as I woke and freshened up in the lav one of the lovely crew was by my side with an offer of the Chardonnay I had been drinking or another gin soda. Nice that they remembered what I was drinking, and I decided on a last pre arrival gin cocktail. She brought the drink back with some nuts which I couldn’t stomach after such a big meal but she insisted. We made some small talk until it was obvious we had started our initial descent into Kathmandu after which she excused herself to prepare the cabin for landing. The captain made his pre-landing announcement at around 12:05 local time and it seemed as though we were indeed headed for an on time landing. He mentioned “partly cloudy skies” in KTM but that ended up being a bit of an understatement.
As the plane dipped down I looked out the window and all I could see was a vast sheet of white. Having done this flight and approach more times than I care to remember I don’t recall having such dense cloud cover ever, nor did I remember the array of turns and ups and downs we were doing within the clouds. It was a bit unsettling since I had absolutely no situational awareness at this point, just looking out the window to white, white and more white. It felt like we were doing figure 8’s, with the throttles revving up and down every now and again. Finally the double ping came on which indicated final approach and for the crew to be seated for landing. Down and down we went, white and white it remained. Suddenly I hear the distinct sound of TOGA from our two GE engines.
Go around. My first in KTM.
Knowing how challenging the approach is and what the topography is like around me, it was mildly concerning but also knew this was a totally normal procedure. Go back up, circle a bit more and down we go again. As we descend further, sheets and sheets of rain start streaming past the window, visibility getting worse and worse – I could barely see our engines and wing. As I started the video, we spool up again.
Go around, attempt two aborted.
At this point people are starting to stir a bit, we were due in at 12:25 and its now closer to 13:00 and not a word from the flight deck. As we go back up and start our figure 8’s again, the captain comes on the tannoy to reassure the passengers, but does say that weather conditions aren’t ideal, and that we’d wait about 10-15 minutes for a storm to pass through the airport and make our 3rd attempt to land. Then the caveat: if this attempt isn’t successful we’re either diverting to Calcutta and wait it out or just call it a day and head back to Bangkok – it’ll depend what ops at Suvarnabhumi decide on. On the one hand, great, another day in Thailand! On the other…what a pain in the ass.
After close to 20 minutes there’s the double ping and off we go trying our third attempt at landing in Kathmandu. Familiar scenes as more torrential rain streaks through my window, more cloud cover and then some spooling up and down of the engines but we continue this approach. Finally we break free of the clouds, rain still lashing on the plane and I see we’re actually already quite low and close to the airport. We continue the approach and the pilot slams…and I mean, slams the 777 onto the runway at KTM, full reverse and we’re being welcomed to Tribhuvan International Airport, one hour behind schedule after all our attempted landings and circling. I notice we are the only aircraft at the international apron, despite being peak rush hour. Hmm.
After a 1 or 2 minute taxi we dock at gate 1 and we’re off a few minutes later after really nice good byes from the crew. I thanked them profusely for their service and they return the favor and tell me they work TG 319/320 frequently and hope to see me on the return service at some point.
Hordes of Thai Airways ground staff were waiting at the bottom of the air stairs (no contact gates at KTM) with TG branded umbrellas to get us to the terminal without getting soaked and I walked into a deserted terminal. Turns out many flights turned back or diverted to India and Bangladesh. Silk Air from Singapore had been circling just behind us and landed as I made it to immigration, Korean Air landed soon after them but Malaysia Airlines decided to divert to Dhaka and Turkish Airlines went to Lucknow in India. Air Arabia, Jet Airways, Biman Bangladesh, Air India, SpiceJet, FlyDubai and IndiGo all turned back. So there’s that, I don’t know how to feel about it.
Priority tags worked a charm and my two (wet) bags were amongst the first on the belt and I was out of the airport within 15 minutes of touching down. Not bad…not bad at all!
Check in: n/a – airside transit
Lounge: 8/10 – cozy, relaxing
Boarding: 10/10 – personalized, easy
Food: 9/10 – excellent and varied
Seat: 6/10 – creaky and starting to show its age
Crew: 9.5/10 – hard working, had that “TG charm”
IFE: 7/10- same as the first leg; not the best, not the worst
Arrival: 10/10 – nothing to complain about
Overall: 59.5/70 – 85%.
The seat and to a lesser extent the IFE were the letdowns on an otherwise great Thai Airways flight. I find TG’s catering to be amongst the best in Asia (miles ahead of SQ whose meals I find boring and bland) and while the Singapore Girls have the polish and finesse they lack the warmth and personality of an on-point TG crew.