Flying on an ATR: Vientiane to Bangkok: My first Lao Airlines Flight and my 1200th flight ever!

Booking:8/10

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I mentioned last week, that I had reached a milestone” of 1199 flights in my life. This flight was my 1200th. To be honest, this regional hop in Economy was probably not the most exciting option for my 1200th flight ever! Timing, however, dictated this event!

There are just a handful of flights between the Laos capital of Vientiane and Thailand’s capital: Bangkok. Our choice effectively came down to Bangkok Airways  (winner of best regional airline) or Lao Airlines. Having already flown ( and loved) Bangkok, I figured that I would give a new airline a go. Lao Airlines would be the 97th airline I have ever flown.

Initially, I was a little nervous about flying them. They had a major plane crash in October 2013 when an ATR plunged into the Mekong River, killing all on board. Flight ratings, however, gave Lao airlines a six out of seven rating compared with Bangkok Airways which only has a three out of seven rating. I also was comforted by the fact that I was booking my flight on an A320 not the smaller ATR.

The Lao airlines website was very straight forward to use. It offers four languages: English, Lao, Korean and Mandarin, reflecting the nationalities of inbound passengers to  Lao.  In English, fares are quoted in Lao kip, US dollars or Singapore dollars. Payment functioned quickly and an email confirmation arrived within seconds.

Because of a change of plans, we had to change our booking and discovered that Lao airlines would not charge a cent to make a date change. All it needed was two emails and our flight date was changed. I wish more airlines were as flexible! That’s when I discovered that we would now be flying on  an ATR and not a A320. Oops!

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One of the airline’s 320s from the window of our ATR

Check in: 7/10

There is no online check-in for Lao Airlines.  At the airport, we were served by an unsmiling automaton who did not succumb to my check in patter!  We did, however, get seats in the emergency exit which on the ATR is row 1! The airport was very quiet.

Security and immigration opened at 515pm. It was a very straightforward and efficient process. Little warmth from any staff, however.

Vientiane airport International terminal. Not unpleasant but the architecture feels quite Soviet

Lounge: 5/10

There is a small lounge for business class passengers. Other passengers can access it for $US10. Because the area is closed until immigration opens, it means you only would get 15 minutes until boarding. I could see no point paying.

A small duty-free and a very expensive cafe rounded out the small three gate boarding area.

WiFi is offered free in the airport. It requires registration with your name email and passport number. To log in, I had to watch a 30-second video advertising a media company.  If you were logged out, you had to watch the video again. WiFi was reasonably fast, however.

Boarding: 7/10


We boarded via a long corridor before climbing down some steps to tarmac level. From there we walked around a parked truck, avoided another reversing truck to move out along the tarmac to our ATR. Boarding onto the ATR is via the back stairs.  If you are a little less mobile, it would not be an easy process!


The cabin attendant at the top of the stairs did not check our boarding passes. Her welcome felt a little perfunctory. I did not feel any of the warmth I experience with airlines in the kingdom of Thailand or Malaysia Airlines or Singapore Airlines.

On board: 9/10

The ATR 72 is a twin-engine turboprop.   This ATR  registration number RDPL-34225 is less than three years old. It looked very fresh and clean.IMG_0899

Lao Airlines has 70 seats on the plane in a one class layout with a seat pitch of 31″ and width of 17″. There is a single lavatory at the rear of the plane.

We were provided with a moist towelette by the cabin crew. In the humid climate of south-east Asia, these are always welcomed.

Note the passenger across the aisle with bare feet. Foreigners often remove their shoes in public places oblivious to the cultural taboos about feet in Thailand and Laos.

 

Safety on Board: 5/10

Safety announcements were made in Laotian followed by English. It was very routine and not very memorable. What was memorable, was  I did not see a detailed visual check by the crew of seat belts or bags. On top of that, as we were taxi-ing, one passenger moved from his seat near the back of the plane and sat in seat 2c before moving to 2D. He put his seat belt on as we entered the runway, all under the watchful gaze of a cabin attendant.

When we encountered turbulence and the seat belt signs came on, there was an announcement to remain seated. Passengers continued to use the lavatory, however, and wandered up and down or stood in the aisle. One guy behind me stood up and read over my shoulder while he waited for the meal cart to move down the aisle so he could visit the lavatory. I found his reading of my documents (non-confidential) a bit disconcerting!

There was no additional safety briefing for the three of us seated at the emergency exit.

Takeoff

After a short taxi, we took off ten minutes early. It was a very smooth take off into a fairly cloudless sky. We enjoyed good views of Vientiane and the surrounding plain before flying over the forest and mountainous area outside the capital. Sadly, I saw lots of evidence of slash-and-burn farming. Four minutes after take off, we entered Thai airspace. Vientiane is one of a handful of countries where the Capital is less than ten miles from their national border.
Meal: 7/10

We were given a very attractive meal box, adequate for a regional flight. The croissant inside was very fresh with a delicious ham and cream cheese filling. It was served with a slice of fresh marble cake.


I asked for an orange juice and a water and got a tea and a water.

I was bemused by the slogan on the meal box reflecting Lao modesty:

Entertainment: 2/10

There are few ATRs in the world with onboard entertainment systems and Lao Airlines was no exception. There is also no onboard WiFi.  The Laos airline magazine Muanglao, February 2017 edition was provided in the seat pocket. Reading through upcoming events for February was a little amusing seeing we are now in the second half of April.

 

Thai immigration cards were distributed after the meal service which I always appreciate, as they are quite detailed to complete. Not every airline provides this service coming into Bangkok. I travel with a spare blank immigration card for this reason.

The lights were switched off at 653pm – about 35 mins before take off. This gave us a stunning view of KrungThep (Bangkok) as we descended.

Landing

We landed at 7:21pm which was fourteen minutes early. That was not bad considering how busy Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport can be. There was a bus waiting for us at our airport stand and once we were all packed on, we soon. reached the airport gate.

I then discovered that the airport gate was just fifty metres from immigration. Considering the number of times, I have walked kilometres through that airport, this was a pleasant change. Equally, pleasant was how surprisingly quiet immigration was at the airport. Bags for those who had check-in arrived, speedily. This meant we were out into the airport area not long after landing. Nice!

The Verdict

My Flight Rating:  70%  (3.5 out of 5).

About the Airline: Lao Airlines State Enterprise is part of the Laos Ministry of Public Works and Transport. It was founded in 1976 and in 2003 was re-branded to become Lao Airlines. Today the Lao Airlines fleet has eleven planes flying to twelve international destinations and six locations within the Lao PDR.

Skytrax:  Skytrax customers rate them a high 8/10.

Safety Rating: As mentioned, Airline ratings gives the carrier 6 out of 7.

Frequent Flyer Program: Champa Muang Lao. I did not enrol or earn miles.

Positives:  New plane, nice snack, early arrival, smooth flight

Negatives: Reserved staff – as an international airline, more staff interaction will help foreign visitors to feel welcomed

Would I fly them again? Yes. I still want to try their A320

 

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Comments

  1. Wow. Thanks for the review. It brings back memories. I haven’t flown an ATR since Pan Am out of Berlin.

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