REVIEW: Bangkok Airways Economy Class Bangkok - Luang Prabang
Bangkok Airways (PG) Flight 941 - Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) to Luang Prabang (LPQ) ATR 72, Economy Class, Seat 10D
After a few short days spent exploring Vientiane, the sleepy capital city of Laos, I really was left thirsty for a bit more time in the laid back southeast Asian nation. Lo and behold - opportunity knocks! I found myself with a cheap ticket to Bangkok and a strong desire to spend that time anywhere but there. Don't get me wrong - Bangkok has its charms. It just wasn't charming me at that specific time.
I shopped around a bit for cheap tickets and it turned out I could get to Luang Prabang, the town along the Mekong River in Laos that's often called one of the most beautiful in all of Asia, for about $190 USD round trip. In addition to taking me to an interesting destination it would be on Bangkok Airways, a brand new airline for me. I'm the type of traveler who collects new airlines as enthusiastically as he collects new travel memories, so I was sold on this itinerary in no time.
Off to Laos!
As you'd expect based on the name, BKK is Bangkok Airways' hub. Consequently they have a relatively large section of check-in desks available for customers. The little bit of research I'd done prior to taking this trip led me to believe that the airline often has long lines for check-in, which turned out to be pretty true for my departure. Ropes corralled folks into what looked (from my few minutes idly watching) like a really slow moving line. Good news though! My research also indicated that if you use the online check-in option through Bangkok Airways' smartphone app or website, you can access a set of special lines they have at most airports where you simply drop off any luggage you're checking.
And would you look at that? They were right. I used the airport wifi to check-in online and walked right up to to an agent in the "Web Check-In" queues where I dropped off my luggage and was handed a boarding pass in under two minutes.
Bangkok Airways advertises themselves as "Asia's Boutique Airline" which translates into a few nice perks for those who choose to fly them. While they might look like a low cost carrier they still offer passengers one free checked bag, free meals in-flight, and also a lounge that is accessible to all passengers. The lounge is a relatively small area with free packaged snacks and drinks that passengers can relax in prior to the flight. It's a step above hanging out in the terminal but definitely a step below what you'd get from a more traditional airline's lounge.
I'm telling you this instead of showing you the lounge because I somehow managed to forget to take any photos while I was waiting for my flight to board. Bad travel blogger, I know. But you'll get over it. I can feel it.
I left the lounge and headed to my gate a few minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin. The departure lounge area looked relatively empty so I was thinking we might have a really light load on the flight today.
Over the next few minutes the seats started to fill up and eventually it became clear that this was either going to be a full flight or pretty close to full. I always hope for lightly loaded flights as generally I find the service to be better when the flight attendants aren't rushing to serve a plane full of people. Plus, an empty seat next to me is always nice. Oh well.
Boarding was announced on time but without much fanfare. We were invited to approach the gate without any boarding groups, priority boarding, etc.
Once my boarding pass was scanned I headed down a set of stairs with the rest of the passengers to a waiting bus with Bangkok Airways written across the side. No getting lost here. Once the bus was fully loaded we made our way out onto BKK's apron to our ATR-72.
The passengers on this flight seemed to skew about 70% Western tourist to 30% Thai/Lao traffic. I got stuck behind a group of handsome American brothers, which I wasn't too upset about until they became engrossed in conversation and slowed up the boarding process. A little bit of forced coughing and side eye from me and other passengers eventually caught their attention and we were all headed up the stairs into the cabin.
Bangkok Airways' ATR-72 has 70 seats in a 2-2 configuration, all in economy class.
Seats are upholstered in leather and have thin cloth coverings at the top with Bangkok AIrways advertising printed all over. The seatbelts were all neatly folded against the seatback, which is a pretty standard level of efficiency and presentation for an Asian airline.
Overall the seats were pretty run of the mill. The seatbacks felt a bit ridged and felt more vertical than I would have preferred. The seats were slimline style so any movement the person behind you made that impacted the seat were felt pretty solidly in the small of your back. Overall nothing too out of the norm though.
Leg room was average to perhaps slightly lower than you'd see on most other carriers in the region. I definitely had a bit of room between the seatback in front of me and my knees. though if the person in front reclined that would have be much reduced. My biggest issue was that by the time I had managed to get on board behind the handsome chatty Yankees, all the overhead bin space near my seat had been taken by other passengers. I didn't want to fight my way back upstream to get to the empty bins there, so I just tossed my backpack under the seat in front of me. Unfortunately the seat itself had a weird apparatus holding it to the floor which made it impossible for me to slide the bag under my seat fully. The leg of the seat took up a lot of space against the fuselage. So I had to prop my bag on it's side and put my foot next to it to keep it from creeping into my seat mate's leg room.
The seatback was pretty plain with a built in slot for the air sickness bag, plane safety card, and the in-flight magazine.
As I poked around evaluating the comfort of the seat we finished boarding and the door was closed so we could begin taxiing for takeoff. I had a "lovely" seat along the window with the wing coming out obstructing a big part of my view. Sitting so close to the wing on the ATR-72 was quite a poor choice with the obstructed view but also for the high level of noise from the engine being right outside. If you're bothered by noise, try sitting at the very front or very back where the sound is slightly less intrusive.
The engines started up as the flight attendants finished their safety demonstration and we began to slowly make our way from our remote stand past the main terminal buildings at BKK.
It started to get a bit hot as we made our way to the runway for take off so I was happy to see that this ATR-72 came equipped with individual air nozzles for each seat. The ability to control cooling airflow at your seat is a huge deal for me since I tend to be quite temperature sensitive. Many airlines have been moving away from allowing passengers to have access to individual air nozzles so props to Bangkok Airways on this!
One of the flight attendants came down the aisle and handed out packaged moist towelettes, two per passengers. I used one to freshen up immediately and saved the other for later in the flight.
Eventually the telltale sign of engines spooling filled the cabin and we were soon airborne, soaring out of the airport and over the outskirts of Bangkok and the Chao Praya river before heading east toward Laos.
After a few minutes of climbing the flight attendants received the okay from the cockpit to get up and being the in-flight service. They made their way down the aisle to drop off arrival forms for Laos as well as visa on arrival application forms for those that needed it, which included me.
One thing I thought was interesting about the arrival form is that it was sponsored by a company. I've since visited quite a few countries where government documents have advertisements or sponsorshipsprinted on them somewhere, but this was my first time encountering the phenomenon.
Sorry Beeline. No business from me on this trip!
After dropping off the forms the crew began the meal service. While Bangkok Airways' size and scale would indicate it may be more of a low-cost carrier, it's still closer to a full service airline with it's free baggage checking and a meal on board.
Today's meal was fried rice with chopped up hot dog bits, sliced fresh fruit, and a coconut pudding with mango. No meal choice at all, just the fried rice on tap today. I asked for a Coke Light when they dropped off my meal and received it with a smile. Note that the airline hands out real cutlery for passengers to use, which is increasingly rare as airlines move to disposable plastic options. The meal was also served in pretty sturdy plastic containers that I suspect are washed and reused by the airline based on how sturdy they were. No flimsy plastic and foil containers here.
After dropping off the meal the flight attendants made their way back through the cabin to offer passengers a choice of tea or coffee. I asked for tea and was provided with a tangy black tea with two slices of lime. A nice way to end the meal, even if the overall taste and flavor was rather mediocre. Hot dogs don't do well on the ground for me, let alone chopped up and served in the air.
After the meal the trays were collected, halfway through which the plane started to make its descent into Luang Prabang.
Descent actually ended up being quite bumpy and the flight attendants had to wrap up the collection of trays quickly to strap themselves into their seats. Quite a few stomach-turning drops and multiple yelps of panic from across the cabin happened before we were safely on the ground in Laos. But arrive safely we did!
Immigration moved surprisingly fast compared to trying to enter Laos in its capital city of Vientiane the year before. Luggage was waiting for me unscathed on the belt once I cleared and before I knew it I was in a car headed to my hotel for the remainder of my time in Luang Prabang - the Mekong Riverview. I don't do hotel reviews any longer but can say that I loved my time at that property and give it a huge thumbs up.
The crew on my flight consisted of one male and one female flight attendant. Both were very friendly whenver they interacted with passengers. It was a short flight so there wasn't a ton of time to interact with them other than the forms being dropped off and the meal service, but they were definitely friendlier and more engaging than your average air crew.
I also flew Bangkok Airways out of Luang Prabang, though my experience was largely the same. I don't think it merits going through with as much detail as I did above but I will throw up a few photos from that portion of the trip to give you a look at the meal service in the opposite direction as well as the a few airplane views.
Overall I really liked my flights with Bangkok Airways. The service was friendly and attentive while the cost was quite a bit lower than other full service options for flying into Luang Prabang. The only cheaper option on my dates would have been the low-cost carrier route on Air Asia. I was able to check a bag for free and meals were providing both ways at no cost, though neither was particularly anything to get excited about. Bangkok Airways offers a pretty limited network around Southeast Asia, though I wouldn't hesitate to get back on one of their planes if the the price was right. Maybe I'll take them to Dhaka in the near future?
Have you flown Bangkok Airways? Did you have a good or bad experience? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
Till then .... happy travels!