And finally, we get to the final part of this, a mere two months after I took the flight.
Getting to the airport couldn't have been easier having used a car booked by the hotel and there was none of the traffic congestion of the inbound journey, I'd allowed an hour, but it took about 25 minutes. It was more expensive than a taxi, but I had some spare baht.
The Thai Royal First ground experience is supposed to be superlative, but like the inbound, I expect that it is only superlative if you do precisely what Thai want you to. There was no porter waiting when I arrived and none appeared whilst I was smoking, but I have always preferred to handle my own baggage. Check-in was fine, you sit down and everything is taken care of, you get a nice cold towel and a bottle of water as you do it. The dedicated security and immigration control are a boon and these are certainly to be commended.
However, it is then that the problems start. You are taken to the Royal First lounge by golf cart, as per inbound, there's no concept of "do you want this". I'm not yet so old and frail that I feel I need this and it sort of rankles. However, I didn't really want to go to the lounge, I wanted to buy a few last trinkets - so on arrival, I went off to the shops which was clearly not understood by my escort.
Having bought some duty free and more souvenirs for people, I did make my way back to the Royal First Lounge. Now if you read Flyertalk, this is one of the ne plus ultra of lounges, a place of contentment where the time will fly and every whim will be catered for, comparable with The Private Room at Changi, or the First Class Terminal at Frankfurt. I've got bad news for you, my experience in there was distinctly poor, I would even say awful, after about an hour, I left for the SilverKris lounge which was more to my taste.
So, what's the story, Morning Glory? Why was this so bad?
Well, they were surprised to see me, probably because I didn't have an escort. I was taken to a chair having been told "No rooms". There are about a dozen private rooms/alcoves, two were in use. There was no tour of the lounge, no offer of a visit to the spa, no offer of food, just "You want drink?". I got a water. A short exploration revealed a welcome smoking room, an empty dining area and a small unpleasant looking self-service buffet of items wrapped heavily in clingfilm. I took a pastry, it was of a 7-11 quality. The staff were rarely to be seen except for a gaggle watching some new flat screen TV's being put up. Trying to get an refill of your drink took effort, the bar was untended and the staff uninterested or unwilling, I suspect language skills may have been an issue. As I said, I decanted to another lounge.
If you are going to provide a full-service, waited on hand and foot lounge, then you need to do this. If you aren't, a high quality self-service set up like the SQ First lounge is perfectly acceptable. This lounge on my visit provided neither of these. I appreciate this may have been a bad day, I appreciate I may have had high expectations, but this was very poor.
Luckily, on board was a different kettle of fish, this was one of the best flights I have ever taken. The Airbus 340-600 seats aren't as comfortable as the new suites in the 747-400, but they will do nicely for a day flight. The crew were welcoming and charming and the usual haul of goodies commenced. As usual, I eschewed the nuts, but had a couple of glasses of the Dom.
The amuse was quite nice, but not special. The caviar service was splendid, then a salmon starter with salmon caviar, followed by a chicken dish with noodles, fruit and cheese and then some sublime little pastries. I had by this time moved to sparkling water and had milk tea rather than milk tea. Service was excellent.
After a lovely lunch, I decided to try and doze, so I had the bed made up and proceeded to spend a few hours either dozing or just resting with a film on the iPad. There were ample offers of drinks and snacks, I had some more water but didn't partake of the snacks.
Second service was surprisingly substantial, a forgettable starter, a delicious lobster bisque, some very nice pork with rice and greens and some more exquisite pastries. Due to the late hour and the need to get going at LHR, I indulged in a couple of cups of black coffee which was decent for airline coffee. Landing was roughly on time and mercifully there was no queue at immigration and priority bags worked meaning I was outside and having a smoke within about 30 minutes of landing.
With a day flight, I didn't get that much sleep, but it was enough to stop me falling asleep on the way back home. HEX to Paddington, taxi across to Euston, Vermin to International and then a taxi home.
Would I fly Thai again. Well, at that price, yes, but I would be wary about the ground services and do it my way in future. Back to Phuket? Certainly, but maybe a smaller resort. Back to Bangkok, with pleasure - hopefully this autumn, subject to getting a new job.