Monday, October 29, 2012

Cambodia April 2012 - Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge BKK (Or How I Stayed For 20 Minutes)

***This post is part 13 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I really have apologize for this post in advance. Without a doubt, it will be the worst (and possibly shortest) review of the Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge ever written. And honestly, I have to take credit for much of the blame.

I was already quite aware of the Royal First Class Lounge's sterling reputation. We've all read about the amazing accolades, and the numerous glowing reviews from around the blogosphere. My expectations, understandably, were set pretty high. In fact, part of the reason why I even bothered booking such a roundabout way of getting home from Cambodia (REP-BKK-HKG-ICN-LAX-SFO) was to experience the first class ground service offered by Thai Airways.

There were two daily departures from Bangkok to Hong Kong on Thai Airways with their Royal First Class service. Unfortunately, I chose the earlier one. With an 8:00 am departure, I had to make sure I got to Suvarnabhumi Airport at least a couple of hours in advance to get the full lounge experience. I left the Aloft Bangkok at approximately 4:30 am via taxi (make sure you request the meter, or they will try to overcharge you with a flat rate), and with hardly any cars on the road at that time, I arrived at the airport in just over half an hour.

The Thai Airways Royal First Class private check-in area was located at the far left side of the departures hall. There were no other guests when I arrived, and I was invited to take seat in the waiting area while they took my documents and checked-in for me. I was also offered a cold towel and a delicious drink.

During check-in, I inquired about making a reservation for the one-hour full body massage. However, the agent told me to ask about it once I arrived at the lounge. Moments later, I was personally walked through the private first class security checkpoint, which literally took about two minutes. Immediately after security, I was led to a small cart and attendant, who drove me through the Royal Orchid Lounge and dropped me off at the entrance to the Royal First Class Lounge. I was welcomed by a number of very friendly agents, and quickly lead inside.

To be honest, all of this felt like overkill to me, which is probably exactly what they are aiming for. It was nice to be whisked from one stop to another and not have to worry about a single thing... but for the typical economy passenger like myself, it was almost embarrassing to be coddled in that way. I'm not sure I could ever get used to this!

But just when I thought things were going swimmingly for my first experience at the Royal First Class Lounge, I was quickly brought back down to earth. While the agent was showing me around, I asked about being assigned a private area. For those who don't know, the Royal First Class Lounge has six private areas, much like a small living room, complete with your own television and seating. Unfortunately, her response was they were all full. I then inquired about making an appointment for the full-body massage. She told me she would go check.

After finding a seat in the open area of the lounge, an attendant came by and asked if I would like anything to drink. Being so early in the morning, I didn't feel like imbibing in alcohol, so I went with orange juice. Moments later, the female agent returned with an apologetic look on her face. She went on to inform me that the full-body massage appointments were completely booked up, and that I could still go with the half-hour shoulder and neck massage offered to business class passengers.

Needless to say, I was really disappointed - and frankly a little surprised. By that time, it wasn't even 6:00 am yet and everything was already booked up? Perhaps only airline and miles-hoarding enthusiasts can commiserate, but experiencing everything that the Royal First Class Lounge had to offer was the main reason I was even in Bangkok in the first place (having already visited Bangkok many times before)! Feeling depressed, but reminding myself that these were clearly "first world problems" that shouldn't be affecting me this much, I decided to go with the half-hour massage.

Knowing that I had a full meal ahead on the flight to Hong Kong, I decided to order the Pad Thai dish and refrain from eating anything else on the extensive menu. It was quite delicious and perfect for an early morning snack.

As my appointment time for the massage came and went, there was no sign of any attendant to lead me to the Royal Orchid Spa. I wasn't exactly sure what the protocol was, so I continued waiting for a bit. With my mind still in a funk about the whole situation, I played on my phone for a bit and decided that I really just needed to get out of there and walk around the airport. So without bothering to explore the rest of the lounge, I packed up my stuff and headed to the front desk, where I told the agent to go ahead and cancel my massage appointment. She looked surprised, and asked if there was anything else I needed. I thanked her and said no, and went on my way.

With about an hour and a half to spare until departure, I perused some of the shops in the concourse, and ended up walking to my gate early and snapping pictures of the beautiful 747-400. I found a seat by the window and just gazed out at the hustle and bustle on the tarmac. Perhaps an economy experience at the airport is what suits me best anyway :)

Sure, this was not at all how I envisioned my time at the Royal First Class Lounge would turn out, but stuff like this happens every day, and you just gotta move on and hope for better luck next time. If I learned anything from this experience, it was to get to Suvarnabhumi Airport as early as possible! Apparently arriving at the lounge two hours ahead of time wasn't enough, so perhaps three or even four hours would be good? You might even want to try calling Thai Airways a day ahead to set up the massage appointment just to be safe. Maybe one day I will finally get to experience the best that the Royal First Class Lounge has to offer!

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