CHECK-IN As is usual during the mid-morning period at Hong Kong’s downtown check-in, there were very few people about and my visit to counter 17 to check in for flight TG601 took less than two minutes. The Airport Express train was its usual smooth 24-minute ride, and I was through immigration and airside at HKIA just 35 minutes after starting the process in Hong Kong’s city centre – there are few city/airport link-ups I can think of that are more efficient or easy to navigate.
LOUNGE The Royal Orchid Lounge is located up the escalator near Gate 40, occupying a triangular area overlooking the main concourse. There are plenty of brightly coloured seats – though I personally found them slightly uncomfortable with no back support – and an “indoor” sealed-off room for those wanting a reprieve from the frequent flight announcements (a separated first class area is off to the side).
The F&B offerings were perfectly adequate, though nothing to shout about. My first look at the hot foods (around 11am) revealed a number of empty dishes, but an eagle-eyed staff member followed me back to my seat and explained that this was the breakfast menu, which was about to be changed to a lunch spread. Ten minutes later that was ready, and it proved to be a much more appetising selection of Chinese and Thai fare.
Other facilities included two massage chairs, which were well used during the entire time I was in the lounge, and a comprehensive selection of newspapers and magazines. There were nine computer consoles near the entrance, and three gaming consoles (Wii and Xbox) secreted up a side corridor, all remained empty – the lounge’s wifi password was given at the entrance and everyone seemed to be using that as it offered very good bandwidth speed.
BOARDING My plane was parked at Gate 60, a short walk from the lounge (this is a regular – and very convenient – arrangement between the airline and HKIA, whereby Thai’s aircraft are directed to gates within five minutes’ walk of the lounge whenever possible). There was no queue at the gate for business/first class and I was soon on board, where I was offered juice or champagne, a hot towel and a blanket.
The plane drew back from the gate on schedule at exactly 1325, but we did not leave the ground until 1347 after a lot of taxiing.
THE SEAT I had seat 19K, which was actually next to the window – the Royal Silk window seats are staggered so that those in odd-numbered rows are beside the window while even-numbered ones are next to the aisle. The seat capsules are boxy affairs, with expanses of mauve plastic that are showing a few scratches, dirt marks and fraying rubber moulding – though in fairness nothing rattled or squeaked during the flight.
Two large storage compartments below the window would have held my entire carry-on bag’s contents – but one of them kept popping open and took three or four attempts to close each time (due to a hair-trigger catch), which I found quite irritating.
However, the seat was well padded and comfortable, with a full set of electronic adjustments – including one-touch “relax”, “bed” and “upright” buttons – that worked very fast. I was easily able to find a position that suited me, with excellent lumbar support.
A power socket is situated at shin level, there is a head-level reading light with three levels of brightness, and two USB ports are just below the large TV monitor. IFE is comprehensive, with hundreds of movies, TV shows and games, etc available. The noise-cancelling headphones that were handed out were comfortable and worked well.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE There are 60 business class seats, all on the upper deck, comprising 15 rows (1-2-1) with the last three rows separated by a bulkhead and the bar area. Rows 15-20 are probably the best option, to be as far away as possible from the galley, toilets and bar. If you want a window seat, choose one in an odd-numbered row for a bit more privacy.
THE FLIGHT This is a short flight so the flight attendants quickly gave out menus, brought round the drinks tray, took orders and served lunch. The choice of two champagnes, two reds and two white wines included a Veuve Cliquot Brut Yellow Label, a Pouilly-Fumé Leon Vatan 2013 sauvignon blanc and a Cote de Beaune Villages 2013 – I chose the latter, which proved to be a very pleasant pinot noir.
The first course of lunch was simmered pork loin with a Thai sauce, which lacked flavour; however, my main course choice of roast chicken breast in a mustard sauce with gratin dauphinois, roasted carrots and broccoli was excellent, the sauce a good complement to the tender meat (other mains included beef stroganoff, sautéed basa fish in black bean chilli sauce and pork curry pa-naeng). The mango mousse cake dessert was also good – overall I rate Thai’s F&B offerings highly.
I spent the remaining flight time working on my laptop – the table tray is large and very sturdy; conveniently, it swings forward towards the footwell to allow you to exit your seat into the aisle without having to move your computer (or food tray).
ARRIVAL We began our descent at 3pm local time, touched down at 1523 and were at the gate at 1530, 25 minutes behind schedule. I had arranged a limo transfer to my hotel so I was met by an airport staff member at the gate, who escorted me on the long walk to immigration, ushered me through the Premium channel, and after a 10-minute wait for my checked bag showed me to my car. By 1600 I was heading downtown – a 30-60 minute drive depending on traffic.
VERDICT While the hardware is comprehensive and does all it needs to do, it is already showing some signs of wear. However, this is still a solid product that excels in terms of service quality – something for which the Thais are rightly renowned.
TESTED BY Jeremy Tredinnick
JOURNEY TIME 2 hours 40 minutes
AIRCRAFT TYPE A380-800
SEAT PITCH 188cm/74in
SEAT WIDTH 51cm/20in
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek return business class flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok in February start at HK$5,919 (US$759) including taxes and surcharges.