This summer you can pay to get access to the SAS business lounges in Stockholm (Arlanda), Copenhagen (Kastrup) and Oslo. In the period from May 16th to September 30th you can pay 219 Kroner (about 36 USD) per person to get access to these lounges but you need to have a ticket on SAS, Widerøe or Blue1. So if you have a long wait it might be worth it – you do get access to some snack and drinks at least
I travel a bit both for pleasure and business and there are a couple of things that annoys me just a bit. It is not like I loose any sleep over these issues but they do puzzle me. First up…picture that you are landing with a plane somewhere. After the wheels touch the ground the flight attendant normally starts announcing “Welcome to [the city you are landing in], please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened…etc etc” You know the drill if you have been on a few flights. In Norway they also announce that cell phones should be remained switched off (as e.g. SAS does not allow flight mode during take off and landing) until the fasten seatbelt sign has been switched off. So what is the first sound you hear while the announcement is in progress? Of course it is the start up tune from various Nokia, SonyEricsson and other cell phones. I’m not sure it would kill people to just respect the rules and keep the phone switched off for another 60 second (it doesn’t take long to park at the gate at e.g. Stavanger airport) – is it really that important to switch on the phone to check your messages? Most of the time the passengers have to wait a bit inside the plane after it has been parked as it takes a bit of time for passengers to disembark. This means that you actually have a chance then to switch on the phone.
The next thing that puzzles me is the situation around the baggage belt. For some reason people rush to the baggage belt and most of the time they get there before their luggage. So where is the natural place to park your trolley? For most people this seems to be right next to the belt…as close as possible so that no one else can squeeze between the trolley and the belt. I’m not sure why people do this…it is not like the baggage will come any faster due to this. This wall of people and trolleys makes it almost impossible to see when the suitcases comes onto the baggage belt and when it does, you have to break through the wall of people to get it. And even if the people are about to get a 25 kg heavy and huge Samsonite suitcase right into their legs, they still don’t want to move as they want to make sure that they occupy the little space next to the belt. This has been mentioned on various travel sites and this normally sparks a debate. In the debates almost everyone agrees that this is annoying – so how can it be that 99% of the passengers coming out of the plane is squeezed into the baggage belt? I guess we will never know
Good news people – according to Norwegian newspapers, Avinor will introduce free wi-fi on Norwegian airports very soon. The rumor says that the free wi-fi will be available already in May/June 2011 on the larger airports in Norway. I was just at Geneva airport and I was happy and surprised to see that they had a free wi-fi network and hopefully the setup will be as easy on the Norwegian airports as well. But I guess time will tell
A while back I tested out the new Bangkok Airport train link (check out the first review on this page) and a few days ago I got to check it out once again. I decided to take it again as I had no luggage this time. Getting to the train station at Suvarnabhumi is easy as you just take the escalators down to the sub-level. But getting a ticket was not that easy – all the ticket machines were out of service so all people had to line up at the counter. The platform when boarding the train is not ideal – when there is lots of people on the train and lots of people on the platform waiting, the process of emptying and filling the train gets pretty messy
The train into Bangkok was pretty full and it looked like it was mainly locals without luggage taking the train so I assume people are just using it as a regular transportation method as it is so cheap (15 Baht). A few people got of at Makkasan but it seemed like most continued to Phaya Thai. In my last report I wrote about the troubles of getting of at Makkasan – this time we continued to Phaya Thai as we wanted to connect to the BTS (skytrain). Getting of a Phaya Thai took some time as there were lots of people waiting on the narrow platform and hence people exiting had to squeeze by people waiting on the outside. The link from the airport train platform and Phaya Thai BTS station is excellent – there is an elevated walkway leading directly to the BTS.
Going back to the airport was more or less the same deal – the platform was very crowded and the train was delayed due to technical problem. But we got to squeeze in eventually and we had to stand almost to the airport when most locals had gone of the train.
Conclusion this time: the link between the airport train and the Phaya Thai BTS station is a lot better than at Makkasan. But due to a very crowded train and plattform(s) it would have been a challenge if I was dragging along a huge Samsonite suitcase. The value is still great (only 15 Baht per way at the moment) but if you have a suitcase and want to go to a hotel I think a taxi is still the best option.
I have stopped by Bangkok many times over the last few years (you can check out this trip report) and we have normally used taxi to get to and from town. A taxi from Bangkok airport Suvarnabhumi to town (e.g. Sukhumvit road) does not cost that much – maybe like 400 Baht with the toll stations on the express road into the city. This is still only like 13 US Dollars so the transportation has been quite affordable if you compare it with other big cities around the world. But with skytrain, subway and a new airport added to Bangkok, I guess it was only natural to also add a airport train. On the last trips we have seen the train track (looking a lot like the skytrain I guess) reaching further and further out towards the airport and on the last trips the train has been in a test mode. But when we got to Bangkok in the end of September 2010 the airport train was finally open and it was time to test it out.
After immigration and customs we followed the train signs to get to the lower levels and there we found a new connection to the train station itself. There are two options that you can take: the express train into town or a local train stopping on each of the stations. The express train leaves the airport every 30 minutes if I’m not mistaken but we went for the local train that cost us 15 Baht…only 50 US Cents in other words! The station at the airport is all new and shiny but it did not seem like everything was working yet (e.g. the entrance gates). After taking the escalator down, we had to wait a few minutes for the train. The train itself looks like the regular skytrain (BTS) with air-con and with hard, plastic seating. The train ride was comfortable and there was only about 5 stops until we reached Makkasan after about 20 minutes. And I guess this is where the problem started! The Makkasan station seems to be a copy of the airport (at least seen inside) but only in a smaller version. When we got out it was pretty empty and naked as it was just opened and I don’t even think the escalators were working (or were there escalators at all?) – this is a bit of a let down when you are carrying a huge, 20 kg Samsonite suitcase.
When we got out of the station there were taxi available but we decided to be environmental friendly and go for the subway (MRT) instead as the information said that Makkasan was connected to the Phetchaburi MRT station. We followed the temporary signs into the darkness, humidity and heat of the Bangkok night but soon there were no more signs and a lady that saw the confusion in out eyes, pointed us in the right direction. If you have been to Bangkok you know that the city is not really made for walking with roads, pavements that are high above the street…we even had to cross a railroad track to get to the MRT station. I think the walk took 5-10 minutes but with a big suitcase and in the heat it was not really a great way to meet Bangkok. When we got into the MRT station we faced another “problem”: the security staff. They have started a some sort of security control when entering the MRT stations but it seems more of a superficial check than anything else. But still…the security guard insisted that we had to open the suitcase so that he could take a milli-second look in there. The MRT fare was only 15 Baht as we only had one stop to Sukhumvit station (at Asok) to get to our hotel. To top it of we had to carry the suitcase over Sukhumvit road and I arrived soaking wet from the exercise of carrying the suitcase up and down stairs. To be fair, I think work is underway to connect the Makkasan station with the Phetchaburi MRT station. You are also supposed to connect to the BTS (skytrain) by taking the train to the end station Phaya Thai station.
Conclusion: This only cost us 30 Baht per person (1 USD) so if you are on a budget and live near a station (and remember to put on you workout clothes) this is a great alternative. If you carry a big suitcase it might be a better idea to take the train to Makkasan and take a taxi from there but be aware that the Bangkok traffic can be pretty bad and you might get stuck for some time. If you just want to sit back and relax, take a taxi straight from the airport to your hotel. Just make sure that the driver uses the meters and get him to take the express road. Also is is useful to have 45+25 Baht available for the toll stations
I had a lovely weekend in Paris but I do have some feedback that I would like to send to Scandinavian Airlines of course. It started at Stavanger airport (SVG) – as years has gone by there are not really any check in counters anymore. You check in yourself on a machine, get your luggage tag and go to baggage drop. I’m not sure I understand the point of checking in online the day before when you still have to go through the machines. But the machines work great and I have never really had any problems with them. The problem this morning was the baggage drop of as there was only one woman behind the counter. I do have a SAS Eurobonus Gold card but I was not sure that entitles me to go in the business line at SVG – I have tried it before and I have been told to get in the regular line as the business line was only for international flights and for Lufthansa. So after 20 minutes it was finally my turn to hand in my luggage and it was just in time as the plane was boarding so I had no time to buy something to drink and eat. But I do want to compliment SAS for their service on morning flights as you do get a small breakfast and a cup of coffee. The flight from Oslo to Paris was pretty uneventful and we landed on CDG on terminal 1.
Going back home again we tried out the SAS lounge at CDG and it is a pretty sad looking lounge but better than hanging around at the gate of course. It was great to see that there was a fast track for us to get through the very long line at security – compliments to SAS for this as well. When we came to OSL we had to take out the luggage, go through customs and check it in again. We headed to the drop of point and the line was extremely long this Sunday afternoon. Luckily we could take advantage of the Gold card once again as there was a Eurobonus Gold counter and we dropped of the suitcases without waiting. But then we had to get into the security line that was equally long – why is that when there is a fast track option also at OSL? But according to the signs the fast track at OSL is only for international passengers – why? But after 10-15 minutes in line we got through security control and it was back to SVG. So all in all not a bad trip as there were some very positive things and some negative things. SAS should really get more staff in the mornings as I have experienced waiting a number of times when dropping of luggage was Stavanger airport.
The travel magazine Travel + Leisure has just published an article where they list the world’s most beautiful airports. On the list you can find airports in Beijing, Madrid, NYC, Bilbao, Denver, Seoul, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur etc. You can find the list of the 15 airports in this article. So which airport do you think is the most beautiful in the world? I have to say that my favorite is still the tiny little airport at Samui in Thailand. It is basically just a couple of large huts with straw roofing but it fits really will in as Samui is quite a small island filled with coconut palms. But it also depends where you are hanging out at an airport. Frankfurt is not one of my favorites but when I got to stay in the Lufthansa First Class terminal I changed my mind
I read in the news today that Finnair has opened a spa at the lounge at the Vantaa Airport in Helsinki. It seems like the spa is for the passengers traveling between Europe and Asia. Sounds like a great way to spend some time at an airport of course but I’m not sure that I agree that this is revolutionary news as Finnair has it on their site . There is a spa at the airport in Bangkok and I had the great pleasure of testing that when I flew Thai first class earlier this year. But maybe I will have to try out Finnair one of these days to Asia :-) Thanks to VG for the illustration of how the lounge looks.
According to a Norwegian newspaper it will soon be possible to check in at Oslo central station in downtown Oslo before you take the airport express train to Oslo airport (OSL) – if you are flying with Norwegian or SAS that is. But it does not seem like they are going to go all out on this…you will only be able to check in and then you have to bring your luggage to OSL and go to the baggage drop. In Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia you can also check in at the train station (KL Sentral) before taking the airport express train to KLIA but there you actually check in and drop your baggage which I find to be an excellent solution. But hopefully checking in at the train station in Oslo will mean shorter lines when you do get to the airport. Here is the article (only in Norwegian).
After the stay in Hong Kong and a short stop in Bangkok it is now time to go home. So this morning (October 1st) I took a taxi from Bangkok to Suvarnabhumi airport (pronounced something like su-waan-na-poom if you wonder) and it was a slow process as the remains of the typhoon Ketsena made it pour down. But I got to the airport eventually and walked over to the Royal First sign outside of the airport and a guy in Thai airways uniform helped me with my suitcase and escorted me to the First class check in area located at the one end of the terminal. Check in was fast as I was the only one there but it was a bit of a surprise when I had to pay a 700 Baht (21 USD) airport tax – I have not done that in a while at Bangkok airport – I guess it has been included in my tickets before.
From check in I was escorted to the immigration control where I got my passport stamped and through the first class security control where there were no other passengers. And right behind security was the escalator down to the lounge. I thought I was there already but this turned out to be the regular business class lounge. But as soon as I came down the escalator a small buggy car turned up from nowhere and I was asked to get on to be transported to the First Class lounge. I know the business lounge is kinda long but I still feel silly being transported in a small car when I’m still capable of walking
I was pretty much alone in the Thai First class lounge and it was of course with some anticipation that I entered the lounge – after all this lounge has been voted the best First Class lounge in the world in 2009 by Skytrax . So how would it compare to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal experience? (see previous entries on http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=457 and http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=466 . As in the business class lounge I was met by lots of staff greeting me with the traditional wai and I was led by one girl to the seating area. In this lounge you can choose to have a separate room with a few recliners and a TV or you can sit in recliners in the main seating area. The lounge looks pretty exclusive with the large chairs, the soft carpet and this use of dark wood on pillars and walls. I did ask if I could take some pictures and a guy escorted me around and proudly showed me the Skytrax award that is on display in the lounge itself. There is of course a business center where you can use a PC, a separate dining area, a smokers lounge with great ventilation etc.
The food selection was not really that impressive – all the hot food was to order and not buffet style and I had the option of spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti cabonara, wonton soup, chicken in green curry Thai style, pork in teriyaki and I think that was about it. So all in all the food selection is not spectacular if you compare it with the Emirates lounge in London or the Lufthansa First Class terminal. The drink menu is also a lot shorter in the Royal First lounge but I think that most people will find something they like as they can offer cocktails, beer, port, a couple of red wines and Moet & Chandon champagne.
Another difference from First Class Terminal in Frankfurt compared to the lounge in Bangkok is that the lounge in Bangkok is located above one of the main areas of the airport and you get the constant buzz from the rest of the airport. I think I prefer the serenity of the First Class Terminal
There are also 4-5 shower rooms at the First class lounge that seemed to be very nice and also 4-5 slumber rooms were you can catch some sleep.
One great thing about the lounge in Bangkok is that fact that you have a Royal Orchid Spa. If you have been to Thailand you know that getting a message is quite common so even at the airport they have a spa. When I first arrived I was asked if I wanted a message and I said sure of course. Initially I asked for “just” the neck and shoulder message but everyone I talked to asked me I wanted the 1 hour full body massage….so in the end I caved in and agreed on that. The spa is located just a minute walk away from the lounge and I walked over there and got a lemongrass drink and a cold cloth while I was waiting, But soon I was led into a spa room and told to get undressed and take a shower and get ready for the message. I would of course post some pictures of myself in disposable underwear but in fear of scaring away new readers I think I will avoid that Anyway, it was really, really nice to get a one hour massage at the airport while waiting for the flight.
After the massage I went back to the lounge, had some teriyaki pork lunch and enjoyed a few glasses of champagne before I was told that my flight was ready for boarding. My flight was due to leave from C6 and a lady walked with me to make sure that I went the right way (not that I had been drinking THAT much) and once I got to the gate it looked like I was the last one there….perfect timing in other words. But more about the flight in the next chapter
So what is the conclusion? Which lounge is better…the First class lounge in Bangkok or the Lufthansa First Class terminal? Well, I have to say that I think Skytrax is wrong. The Lufthansa First Class terminal is far better than the First class lounge in Bangkok. First of all the First class terminal in Frankfurt feels more exclusive as it is separate from the main terminal and you don’t get the noise from the airport as you do at the lounge in Bangkok. The food and drink selection at the Lufthansa first class terminal is far better than in the lounge in Bangkok. But I have to say that having a one hour full body massage as a part of the service at the lounge in Bangkok was very, very nice. But in the end…the Lufthansa First class terminal wins in my opinion.