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Introduction
Air New Zealand Economy Class, Wellington to Auckland
Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge, Auckland
Thai Airways Business Class, Auckland to Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Domestic), Bangkok
Thai Airways Business Class, Bangkok to Phuket
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, Phuket


Thai Airways 225
Bangkok (BKK) to Phuket (HKT)
Tuesday 9 July
Weather on departure: Rain
Depart: 10:40pm (Delayed – Actual departure: 11:59pm)
Arrive: 11:59pm (Delayed – Actual arrival: 01:02am +1)
Duration: 1hr 20min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 14B (Business “Royal Silk” Class)

After more than a one-hour delay to our scheduled flight (which we spent mostly in the Thai Airways Royal Silk Domestic lounge in Bangkok) our flight finally started boarding about 11:15pm.

After our boarding passes had been scanned and passport checked by the gate agents, we had a short walk down the stairs to a waiting bus to take us to the plane.

It was raining at the time, but from my brief look around it did not appear that there were any planes nor air bridges anywhere nearby connected to the domestic terminal, making me think that many of the domestic flights from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport use busses to ferry passengers to the aircraft.

Tranfer bus from the gate to our aircraft
Tranfer bus from the gate to our aircraft

It was a few minutes ride on the transfer bus before we arrived at our plane, which had the stairs already connected for the short (hurried) walk in the rain to the covered stairs up to the aircraft for boarding.

Boarding stairs to our awaiting plane
Boarding stairs to our awaiting plane

Once we entered the aircraft, we were greeted by one of the flight attendants who checked our boarding passes, then welcomed and directed us to our seat.
He also helped to assist us with putting our cabin baggage into the overhead lockers, which once again, was another example of great service by Thai. One of the best things about flying in business class is the ample availability of overhead bins – with almost a separate bin for each pair of seats, this flight was no exception, with only some bins at the end of the cabin reserved for the flight crew.

The A330-300 servicing our flight is in a domestic configuration with quite a large business class cabin. There are 42 seats spread across 3 rows in a 2-2-2 seating layout.

Business Class (Royal Silk) cabin - Domestic
Business Class (Royal Silk) cabin – Domestic

Interestingly each of the seat pairs throughout the cabin appear to alternate between different shades of purple; with some seats being a darker and more vibrant purple, and other seat pairs being a lighter ‘faded’ purple colour.

Personally I thought the darker purple colour looks far nicer and more modern and should be fitted throughout the cabin; the other seats give an appearance that the plane is older, and although they are to a degree, the seat upholstery definitely does not do anything to improve on that impression!

Seat 14A on TG 225 (A330-300)
Seat 14A on TG 225 (A330-300)

On the seat was a comfort pillow, which was much appreciated after the limited amount of sleep over the course of the day.

The legroom was quite decent – not as much as in long haul business class, but enough for someone to easily squeeze past to get to the window seat if needed.

View from Seat 14B on TG 225 (A330-300)
View from Seat 14B on TG 225 (A330-300)
Seat legroom
Seat legroom

Other views from the seat:

Boarding took some time, as several transfer busses were required to get all the passengers from the gate to the aircraft. Despite this, the majority of the business class cabin remained empty, with just a handful of passengers scattered throughout.

While we were waiting, one of the flight attendants went through the cabin offering hot towels to each of the passengers, followed by another one of the crew offering a pre-departure drink.

Pre-Departure orange juice.. not quite the same odd colour as in the lounge, but tasted similar!
Pre-Departure orange juice.. not quite the same odd colour as in the lounge, but tasted similar!

Just before midnight, boarding had completed, and we began our pushback onto the runway.
There was effectively no queue for takeoff (probably due to the late departure of the flight) and soon we were in the air.

There was a minor amount of turbulence on climb out, but I expected this due to the weather. Once we reached cruising altitude the captain turned off the fasten seatbelt sign and the light supper meal service began.

No alcohol was served on the flight, but the meal provided was reasonably substantial for such a short flight (approx. one hour).

The meal was delivered on a tray and consisted of an appetiser/side dish of pasta with vegetables in a mayonnaise-type sauce, which was served on top of a purple lettuce leaf; a main of seared, lightly seasoned scallops, and a dessert that looked like quite traditional Thai cuisine, which I think was sticky rice balls in coconut milk/cream.

Supper
Supper

One of the cabin crew passed through the cabin to offer tea and coffee shortly after the supper trays were delivered.

Although I wasn’t all that hungry (after all, we had practically been eating all throughout our journey to Thailand), I did try the pasta side dish and the scallops were quite nice. I did try the dessert but as I am not a huge fan of coconut, I left most of it.

The staff were very attentive and pretty much as soon as I finished the meal one of the crew asked me if they could take my tray away, which was great.

There is not much in the form of entertainment onboard for this domestic flight, as the duration of the flight is only one hour. At the left and right rows to the front of the cabin are small LCD screens, and there is a projection screen in front of the middle bulkhead row.
All of the screens displayed the flight tracking and route information throughout the entire journey.

Business Class (Royal Silk) cabin and entertainment
Business Class (Royal Silk) cabin and entertainment

As I was feeling quite tired, for the reminder of the flight I set the seat into recline mode and took a nap. With a 20-inch seat width, 49″ pitch and 138-degree recline, it was quite comfortable.
It wasn’t long until the captain made the announcement that we had begun decent, and one of the flight crew came on over the PA to return our seats to the upright position and put our seat belts on for landing.

The descent and landing into Phuket was smooth, and we touched down at the airport just before 1am. There was a short taxi off the runway and the plane came to a stop alongside some other planes, away from the terminal building.

Once we disembarked off the aircraft, some transfer busses were waiting for us, and we boarded these for the short shuttle to the main terminal building.

At baggage claim, we had to wait for about 5-10 minutes until baggage started coming out onto the carousel, but it gave a good amount of time to have a look around at some of the tourist information stands and various brochures available for Phuket.

One of the tourist information stands and brochures at Phuket International Airport
One of the tourist information stands and brochures at Phuket International Airport

Once the baggage did start to come through, our baggage was one of the first out, perhaps due to our priority tags – It was great to be able to grab our bags and leave the airport quickly as we still had an hour to get to our hotel!

Welcome to Phuket!
Welcome to Phuket!

Overall the flight was uneventful, short and similar to our previous flight with Thai: very well covered especially on the service front.
Although I do not think that there is anything spectacular about Business Class on Thai, it was nice to have a light meal and refreshments, and the extra recline is good for a light nap and would also be beneficial for those that are taller and need the legroom. I don’t think that it would be worth paying for on such a short trip, but as complimentary upgrade or as part of an award fare, it is a nice comfort to have.

It was great to finally be in warm (but humid!) Thailand for our relaxing stopover before the remainder of our long journey to Europe.. Time for 10 days of massages and relaxation!

Introduction
Air New Zealand Economy Class, Wellington to Auckland
Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge, Auckland
Thai Airways Business Class, Auckland to Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Domestic), Bangkok
Thai Airways Business Class, Bangkok to Phuket
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, Phuket


Once we had passed back through security and were back airside, we decided to make our way to Thai’s Royal Silk Lounge in the Domestic Terminal which is located on Concourse A. [map]

Passing some of the gate seating on the way to the lounge
Passing some of the gate seating on the way to the lounge

Finding it was relatively easy as there are signs throughout, and we had already gotten a fair idea of the terminal as we were hunting for the exit in order to get our local Thai sim cards.

Just follow the signs..
Just follow the signs..

Along the way we passed a small stand which had a lady in it promoting a free discount card for tourists, called the ‘Privilege card‘, in exchange for some general information (Name, address, e-mail, some basic travel questions, etc). This particular card covered Phuket, so we decided to get one in case it came in handy while we were there. The card mostly features discounts of around 20-25% at certain restaurants (which actually appear to be more ‘European style’ as opposed to Thai – I guess possibly useful if you want a change from Thai food ;)), as well as some attractions and services.

The lounge was just a short walk further, past some shops. There is only one domestic lounge, and it is located on the second floor, near gate A1.

Signs to the Thai Royal Silk Lounge (Domestic), Bangkok
Signs to the Thai Royal Silk Lounge (Domestic), Bangkok
Thai Royal Silk Domestic Lounge entrance
Thai Royal Silk Domestic Lounge entrance

Something very Thai is the pot of fresh orchids sitting just outside the lounge entrance, which serves to brighten up the place and also add a bit of colour (I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the fact that they’re purple (Thai Airways ‘colour’) is also a nice touch).

Entrance to the Reception
Entrance to the Reception

Introduction
Air New Zealand Economy Class, Wellington to Auckland
Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge, Auckland
Thai Airways Business Class, Auckland to Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Domestic), Bangkok
Thai Airways Business Class, Bangkok to Phuket
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, Phuket


Thai Airways 492
Auckland (AKL) to Bangkok (BKK)
Tuesday 9 July
Weather on departure: Fine / Sunny
Depart: 1:10pm
Arrive: 8:25pm
Duration: 12hrs 15min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Seat: 12J (Business “Royal Silk” Class)

By the time we had reached the gate we were departing from (gate 6), boarding had already commenced. A dedicated line for business class passengers and frequent flyers meant that we were through the gate quickly and onto the air bridge to board the plane.

On the airbridge about to board Thai Airways TG492 bound for Bangkok
On the airbridge about to board Thai Airways TG492 bound for Bangkok

Upon entering the aircraft, we were greeted by no less than 3 of the flight crew, with a bow and a welcoming “sawatdee kraup” (hello in Thai). One of the flight attendants checked our boarding passes, before we were ushered into the Royal Silk section of the cabin and shown to our seats.

Thai has had some changes to the aircraft servicing this route between Auckland and Bangkok, but currently they are using a Boeing 777-200ER. Business class on Thai with this particular plane consists of 30 almost flat (angled) seats spread across 5 rows in a 2-2-2 configuration.
We took our seats in 12J and 12K, which are window seats at the front (second row) of the cabin on the right side. On each of our seats was a blanket, pillow and an amenity kit snuggly tucked into the armrest.

Seat 12J on TG 492 (777-200ER)
Seat 12J on TG 492 (777-200ER)

Introduction
Air New Zealand Economy Class, Wellington to Auckland
Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge, Auckland
Thai Airways Business Class, Auckland to Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Domestic), Bangkok
Thai Airways Business Class, Bangkok to Phuket
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, Phuket


After arriving into the Domestic Terminal of Auckland International Airport (AKL) at about 9:30am, we had a good couple of hours before our flight to Bangkok at 12:40pm.

For those unfamiliar with AKL airport, the Domestic and International terminals are separate from each other, however it is easy to get between the terminals: A transfer bus operates between each of the terminals and runs every 15 minutes; the bus operates between 5am – 10:30pm daily.
Alternatively, for those that prefer the exercise, there is a clear sign posted walking path between the terminals which will take you approx. 10min.

Map of Auckland International Airport, showing the two terminals and walkway between them
Map of Auckland International Airport, showing the two terminals and walkway between them

Being a beautiful sunny day in Auckland, and as we were only carrying our cabin luggage (as all our other bags were checked through to Phuket) we thought that we would walk to the other terminal and get some fresh air (there won’t be any shortage of recycled cabin air on this trip! ;)).

Just outside the Domestic Terminal at Auckland International Airport (close to where the transfer bus pickup area is)
Just outside the Domestic Terminal at Auckland International Airport (close to where the transfer bus pickup area is)

Green painted lines and plenty of signage mark the walkway path between the International and Domestic Terminal. Baggage carts are also able to be used for those carrying lots of baggage.

AKLint_Walkway1

AKLint_Walkway2

Shortly after arriving at the International Terminal, we decided to stop and fill in our departure cards, to be handed in at customs before security check and entering airside.

Inside the International Terminal at Auckland International Airport (Ground Floor Departures and Check-in counters)
Inside the International Terminal at Auckland International Airport (Ground Floor Departures and Check-in counters)

I always enjoy flying through Auckland International Airport as it is very efficient, easy to get where you need to go and find things.
As the main hub for travellers in and out of New Zealand, it isn’t too big either, and you don’t spend a small age walking to your gate.. which is always good especially if you’re running late!

It doesn’t surprise me that it has been rated best Airport in Australia-Pacific almost half a dozen times by Skytrax.

Upstairs in the International Terminal - Duty Free shopping throughout, departure boards and airport-provided help desks on hand for traveller assistance
Upstairs in the International Terminal – Duty Free shopping throughout, departure boards and airport-provided help desks on hand for traveller assistance
Sentinel dwarf statue designed and created by Weta Workshop promoting the Hobbit in the shopping and dining area
Sentinel dwarf statue designed and created by Weta Workshop promoting the Hobbit in the shopping and dining area
Entrance to customs, security check and departure gates
Entrance to customs, security check and departure gates

Customs was relatively quick, possibly due to our flight being after the early morning rush, as well as customs officers encouraging NZ and Australian passport holders to use the automated Smartgate system. It wasn’t long until we were through security and airside.

Airside at Auckland International Airport
Airside at Auckland International Airport

The lighted column behind the seating in the above photo had various ‘sea creatures’ projected through the turquoise coloured lighting simulating water, which I thought was interesting and gave a bit of ‘life’ to something usually quite ordinary – Also a hit with the kids!

It was only a short walk to the Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge (located on level 2) [Map], which is just past the major duty free shops (JR Duty Free / DFS Galleria).

Sign detailing the various lounges and  airlines using them
Sign detailing the various lounges and airlines using them
Entrance to the Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge
Entrance to the Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge

After our boarding passes had been scanned and checked over by the lounge staff, we were welcomed into the lounge.

A few days ago, Air New Zealand and the Star Alliance released a media statement and conceptual pictures of the new Star Alliance Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Concept Image of new Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal (Opening Fall 2013) - Lounge Seating and Cafe area
Concept Image of new Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal (Opening Fall 2013) – Lounge Seating and Cafe area

The new lounge is going to be located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) and “will offer guests … a truly unique and glamourous lounge experience.”

Air New Zealand, who is a Star Alliance member airline, was selected in 2012 to lead the project to design, as well as manage the new lounge at LAX, part of a USD $1.7b refurbishment of the terminal commissioned by Los Angeles Worldwide Airports.
The internationally acclaimed architectural firm Gensler has been employed to design the lounge, and locally designed and sourced materials has been used to manufacture the furniture where possible.

Lounge Seating and self-serve open bar area [Concept Image]
Lounge Seating and self-serve open bar area [Concept Image]

The new lounge is expected to be completed in July 2013, and is set to open later this year in (Northern Hemisphere) Fall 2013 and will replace the existing Star Alliance Lounge as well as the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge in Terminal 2 (this will close when AirNZ move operations to the TBIT terminal next year).
Air New Zealand will move and commence operations from the Tom Bradley International Terminal along with many of the other Star Alliance member carriers which already operate from this terminal including:

  • Air New Zealand (early-mid 2014)
  • ANA – All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • The new lounge will offer the following facilities:

  • First Class: 42 Seats
  • Business Class: 387 Seats
  • Outdoor terrace and bar
  • A wide range of seating options
  • Fast, free and unlimited Wi-Fi internet access
  • Wireless printing and local telephone calls are available on request
  • Variety of complimentary hot and cold food and beverages
  • A wide range of Californian wines
  • Complimentary bar
  • Showers and restroom facilities
  • Flight information displays
  • Fully accessible to disabled travellers
  • Luggage storage area
  • Media room with international news and sports channels
  • No smoking lounge
  • The new lounge will be able to be accessed from the terminal on Level 6, either via. elevator or escalator from the main atrium area. It is located airside after security and is only accessible by guests departing from this terminal on a Star Alliance operated flight with premium status (Star Alliance Gold or higher).

    New Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal, Level 6 (Opening Summer 2013) - Entrance [Concept Image]
    New Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal, Level 6 (Opening Summer 2013) – Entrance [Concept Image]

    The direct flight from Wellington to Gisborne on NZ 2232 is serviced by a tiny Hawker Beechcraft 1900D, which seats a grand total of 19 passengers. As this trip was only an overnighter, I was only taking cabin luggage and using the Air NZ Fast Bag service, (which is available to Gold Elite, Gold and Koru members) instead of checking my bags in. Boarding only took about a minute, and I dropped my bag off next to the plane (usually there is a fast bag trolley, but it seemed not to be used that day) after being greeted by the first officer before climbing onboard. Looking around, it was surprising to find that most of the seats on the flight were full, as I took my seat in 3A for the 1:05 hour flight.

    Typical for these smaller aircraft, there are no refreshments provided (there is no flight attendant crew), and no door separating the pilots from the main cabin area. It was quite interesting to watch what the pilots were doing from the close proximity of my seat and see the small view they have from the cockpit.

    View of the cockpit - NZ 2232 (WLG - GIS)
    View of the cockpit – NZ 2232 (WLG – GIS)

    It wasn’t long before we arrived into Gisborne Airport on a warm and slightly-cloudy day with an uneventful landing. As with a lot of the regional airports, it is very small, but still bigger than Whakatane, which is the smallest airport I have visited so far.

    Finally arrived in Gisborne!
    Finally arrived in Gisborne!

    Shortly after disembarking from the plane, one of the ground crew unloaded my fast bag and brought it over to me. Nice, quick and easy!

    Gisborne Airport
    Gisborne Airport
    It may be small, but it does have a cafe.. (No Koru lounge though)
    It may be small, but it does have a cafe.. (No Koru lounge though!)

    I proceeded to Hertz to pick up my rental car (a Mazda 3, which I was very happy about) and was on my way, stopping briefly in Gisborne for some supplies for the journey.

    Gisborne City - You know it's a reasonably small place if it has a clock tower sitting in the middle of it.. :)
    Gisborne City – You know it’s a reasonably small place if it has a clock tower sitting in the middle of it.. 🙂

    Just outside Gisborne, I came across a very picturesque beach nestled along some hills next to the highway. Of course I just had to stop and take some photos at the conveniently placed picnic/rest area at the side of the road.

    View from Makorori Beach rest area (Gisborne side)
    View from Makorori Beach rest area (Gisborne side)

    A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Gisborne, on the East Coast of the North Island in New Zealand for a work trip.

    I have never actually been to this area of the country before, so was actually a little excited – Gisborne is one of the cities that sees the light of the new day in the World (it used to be the first city but Samoa moved across the International Dateline in 2011).

    To get to Gisborne, I had a direct flight at 8:25am in the morning on NZ 2232. I figured leaving home at about 7am would give me a good hour or so in the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge for breakfast – After all, best to start the day off well 🙂

    Wellington probably is my favourite Koru lounge on the Air NZ domestic network – It is reasonably sized, has plenty of seating, tables and areas for travellers to relax and work, an ample food selection, including hot/cold foods and fresh fruit, plenty of New Zealand wine and beer to drink, along with various spirits and mixers.

    There is also a business centre, with desktops and printers available for use, a mobile phone charging station, bookable meeting room/quiet rooms, newspapers and magazines, and showers for you to freshen up before your flight.

    I had some difficulty checking in at the ‘self check-in’ kiosks in the departure terminal, so proceeded to the Koru Lounge to check in there with my E-Pass. Upon entering the lounge, I scanned my ePass on the entry kiosks and was welcomed in my the concierge.

    As I was travelling on a turboprop (propeller) aircraft to Gisborne, I was entitled to use the ‘Fast Bag‘ service, which allows frequent travellers (Gold Elite, Gold and Koru members) to drop off their bags at the aircraft just before boarding and pick them up right after landing, rather than having to wait for the bags to be unloaded and carted to the ‘baggage pickup area’ at the destination airport. In order to use the service each bag must weigh less than 15kg, and there is a maximum of 2 bags per passenger. As AirNZ has been quite strict with baggage limits (7kg) lately, particularly on their jet aircraft, I do find the fast bag service quite useful when available.
    Air New Zealand has just changed the identification tags for fast bag, as previously there used to be a special blue tag obtainable from the lounge. However they have now recently changed this for a blue luggage ‘loop’ used with the provided luggage tags. I am not quite sure what inspired this change, but when I entered the lounge the concierge removed my old style tag and replaced it with the new one, which was nice.

    Entrance to the Wellington AirNZ Koru Lounge
    Entrance to the Wellington AirNZ Koru Lounge

    Escalator leading up to the Wellington Koru Lounge
    Escalator leading up to the Wellington Koru Lounge

    At the entrance to the lounge
    Entrance to the Lounge

    Update (20th May): Christchurch International Airport Limited (CIAL) announced a change today that tourists will be allowed to sleep overnight in the airport terminal, provided they prove they are catching an early flight.
    I am glad that CIAL have decided to change their decision somewhat and reach a more reasonable compromise, but I will be interested to see what constitutes a ‘early’ flight – I think it would be better if they would allow travellers to sleep overnight provided they prove they leave the following day, and perhaps have a dedicated sleeping area in the terminal (for security reasons and to prevent the complaint of flight staff ‘tripping’ over bodies sprawled everywhere. This is a positive step though, and am sure this will be welcomed by travellers and visitors alike.

    Just read this article on Stuff this morning, which I thought quite frankly was, ridiculous.

    Tourists awaiting connecting flights wait in a smokers' shelter at Christchurch Airport after being kicked out of the international terminal. (Photo Copyright by John Kirk-Anderson)
    Tourists awaiting connecting flights wait in a smokers’ shelter at Christchurch Airport after being kicked out of the international terminal. (Photo Copyright by John Kirk-Anderson)

    There are thousands of airports around the World that allow travellers to sleep overnight in the terminal for free.

    'Snooze chairs' in Singapore's Changi Airport
    ‘Snooze chairs’ in Singapore’s Changi Airport

    Some of them are really ‘first class’ experiences such as Singapore’s Changi International Airport which provides services such as free wifi and internet stations, snooze chairs, a swimming pool and jacuzzi, 24-hour massage and spa facilities, free movies and live music, and even a 4-storey slide. One traveller even reported that they went to sleep for 12 hours and even woke up with a blanket around them!
    Others are not as pleasant, such as Frankfurt’s Hahn Airport which is crowded and has barely any places to sleep (be prepared to sleep on the floor – which is quite dusty and dirty). On the plus side, they have a cafe open until midnight!

    The point is, many airports allow travellers to sleep overnight and use their facilities (or lack thereof) – I personally believe that if an airport is an ‘International’ airport, it should allow a service for travellers to sleep. Particularly coming up to this time of year, Christchurch will be getting colder coming into the Winter months, and with tourists now having to sleep in bus shelters outside, this will contribute to a poor experience in NZ (whether at the beginning or end of their journey), a bad look for Christchurch, and could be potentially harmful for NZ tourism (after all, this is not very Kiwi-like, and we are more likely to tell people about bad experiences than good ones).