Review: Bangkok Airways, Koh Samui to Bangkok

Bangkok Airways (Asia’s Boutique Airline) seems to be almost universally lauded by tourists. We flew Bangkok Airways to and from Koh Samui.

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Despite having frequent flyer partnerships with four quality airlines: (airberlin, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways and Japan Airlines), Bangkok Air does not recognise elite status benefits from any of them. As its domestic flights are generally short, and with programmes such as Etihad Airways Guest only crediting actual miles flown (and with award availability seemingly hard to come by) the frequent flyer partnerships are essentially useless. Bangkok Air also codeshare with a large number of airlines, including Qantas.

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We flew Bangkok Air from Koh Samui to Bangkok on the basis of schedule. Competitor (and Star Alliance member) Thai Airways International only operate two flights a day on the route. Samui International Airport is owned by Bangkok Airways, so it is perhaps not surprising that the operations of competitors are limited.

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The airport claims it has the look and feel of a tropical resort, and has a natural, open-air cooling system. This means the entire airport is uncomfortably humid.

Frustratingly business class is not available on most of Bangkok Air’s services, so it was necessary to fly on a one-cabin aircraft in order to maximize time on Koh Samui. Furthermore, even six months in advance only full fare tickets were available on all departures except for the passenger unfriendly 6am departure.

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We checked-in online from our resort so that we could use the queue marked for online check-in, saving valuable time. The check-in staff seemed insistent on trying to interline our baggage (well we weren’t going to be checking any) and getting us to clear Thai emigration in Samui. We politely declined (and we still have no idea how that works for a domestic flight).

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From there it was a long walk in the heat.

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The street-scape is charming (the airport calls it Samui Park Avenue).

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However we find it irritating to be trying to roll luggage over uneven cobblestones in the heat (remember: no air conditioning). At some points the pavement is narrow and you end up behind slow moving tourists taking up the whole pavement.

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The staff at the security check-point were rude, discourteous and seemingly incompetent. They made the contract staff at Sydney’s international terminal look like polite professionals.

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The Bangkok Air gates are configured as if they are a ‘lounge’:

The clean and comfortable boutique lounges are similar to business-class style lounges offered by other airlines, but the striking difference is that it is available to all passengers with no extra charge or hidden fees. Each lounge has a courtesy corner where passengers can treat themselves to a multitude of free snacks and various choices of hot or cold drinks. Passengers can also enjoy free internet access from one of several computer booths while a kid’s corner located within the lounge area will satisfy the needs of young children.

Bangkok Airways’ boutique lounge, therefore, allows all of its passengers to relax in style and comfortably while waiting to board their flight.

While most of the gates were rammed full, we found one without an imminent departure, which meant we could find a seat.

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Off to one side was an outdoor area for kids.

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There also seemed to be two departures lounges but one was closed (‘Under Construction’) and the other, a business class lounge, not helpful given the lack of business class service on our flight and lack of reciprocal partner elite status recognition on Bangkok Air.

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Boarding Bangkok Air flights at Samui is disorganised. Some flights Board Zone 2 then Zone 1, while others go the other way around. Boarding is slow as there are no airbridges and passengers are shuttled to planes in tram-like vehicles.

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There was also a long line on the tarmac.

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Despite the heat and lack of air conditioning in any aspect of the departure process, no water is served until the meal service, halfway through the flight. In those circumstances, one tiny gulp of water is hardly going to be enough. We would rather they jettisoned the in-flight meal and replaced it with a full sized bottle of water.

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Coming in to land in Bangkok, we had sudden extreme turbulence and a go-around. There was no announcement of any kind from the crew in any language whatsoever.

As is common when arriving on a narrowbody aircraft at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, despite numerous gates being open we were allocated to a bus gate and bussed to the terminal. The bus basically drove the entire length of the terminal before performing a U-turn and driving back exactly the same way, to drop passengers merely metres from where they were picked up.

We were underwhelmed by this flight on Bangkok Airways. We also can not understand why the airline doesn’t recognise the elite status of its frequent flyer partners.

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