Monday, September 1, 2014

CoachFlyer: THAI retires the Airbus A300 - Part I.

It would be a day for me to remember, as it was my last flight on an Airbus A300 operated by Thai Airways International (TG/THA) (THAI), or probably by any carrier, as the type has now been phased out from most of the major airlines. It was just a few days before the national carrier retired the type on July 31st.
Airbus A300B4-622R HS-TAZ Srisubhan departs from rainy Khon Kaen as TG045 for her return leg to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi in July 2014. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

I have flown dozens of times on THAI's venerable widebody twin-jet, mostly between Bangkok/Suvarnabhumi (BKK/VTBS) and Khon Kaen (KKC/VTUK), but to some other cities as well. The short link connecting the northeastern transport hub and the capital is merely a 40-minute flight covering a direct distance of just 377 kilometers (234 miles), the shortest on the flag carrier's network. It being one of the last A300 routes is a testament to the aircraft's capability as a high-capacity, short-to-medium-range airliner, which is what garnered so much popularity in Asia for trunk regional routes.
HS-TAZ's economy class cabin. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Boarding for flight TG044 started at hazy Suvarnabhumi's Gate B3 at 1015 (TST), 30 minutes before departure time, starting with handicapped passengers, followed by Royal Orchid Plus Gold and Star Alliance Gold holders. General boarding commenced five minutes later. I found my seat at 49A, just behind the L3 door. THAI configured their A300-600s with 46 Royal Silk Class, the airline's business class product (BusinessFlyer TG041: KKC – BKK on Thai Airways International's Airbus A300.) and 201 economy seats.
Flying over Nakhon Ratchasima province. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Doors were closed at 1041, however, heavy rain started pouring soon after, and coupled with runway congestion, we were told our departure would be delayed by 15 minutes. It was not until 1107 that we were finally pushed back, 22 minutes behind schedule. We crossed the airport to the west side, making our way to the threshold of Runway 19R. We lifted off at 1125. After banking to the left towards east then heading north, the seat belt lights were turned off seven minutes after takeoff.
THAI's snack box and inside the front seat pocket. Sawasdee is their in-flight magazine. Duty free is not offered on domestic flights. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Our aircraft for today was A300B4-622R HS-TAZ Srisubhan, THAI's ultimate A300, which was only delivered on November 30th, 1998, not too old and actually newer than their first batch of eight A330-300s. It was piloted by Captains 'khun' Pornchai and 'khun' Wattana. Soon after we had reached 3,050 meters (10,000 feet), the flight attendants quickly walked to the galleys to prepare for in-flight service. We were served a snack box, which THAI does on all domestic flights, followed by rounds of hot tea, coffee, orange juice, and water.
The screen and R3 door. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Only 10 minutes later around 1145, the cabin crew started collecting trash, and as they were busy with that, HS-TAZ started its descent. We were past Nakhon Ratchasima. As we lowered our altitude, the farmlands of Isan, or the Thai northeast started to appear below us. At 1155, the seat belt lights were turned on, and with the gears down at 1202, we touched down on Khon Kaen's Runway 03 at 1208. Total flight time was 43 minutes. We taxied and came to a stop at Gate 1 at 1214, 34 minutes behind the published time.
HS-TAZ's toilet. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Khon Kaen has become a much busier airport, in parallel with the city's growth. It had only three daily THAI round-trips between Bangkok only four years ago, but now accommodates two THAI flights to Suvarnabhumi as well from Don Mueang (DMK/VTBD), Bangkok's older airport, are three Thai Smile Airways (WE/THD) round-trips, four Thai AirAsia (FD/AIQ) flights, and two Nok Air (DD/NOK) services. It is also linked with Chiang Mai (CNX/VTCC) by Kannithi Aviation (d.b.a. Kan Air) (K8/KND), while Lao Central Airlines (LF/LKA) runs seasonal international charters to and from Luang Prabang (LPQ/VLLB).
Final approach into Khon Kaen, passing over the fields and villages of Isan. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Although I spent some time to take photos from the adjacent parking lot, which offers an unobstructed view of the apron, I later traveled to the now bustling city to shop some things and get business done before my return flight to Suvarnabhumi in the evening. Downtown Khon Kaen is about a 15-minute taxi ride from the airport, costing around 200 THB.
Khon Kaen Airport now sees up to 12 round-trips per day. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

I arrived back at the airport around 1830, and after checking in, went outside to the parking lot again, to wait for the A300 to come in. At 1920, the aircraft thundered down the runway with its thrust reversers deployed to good effect. It was A300B4-600R HS-TAX Thepsatri, THAI's third-from-the-last A300, which was delivered to the airline back on December 10th, 1998. THAI's last five A300s were all delivered near the end of 1998, making them roughly 15.5 years old at the time of retirement.

Airbus A300B4-622R HS-TAX Thepsatri arrives at drizzling Khon Kaen as TG046 from Suvarnabhmi in July 2014. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Priority boarding started for TG047, service back to Suvarnabhumi, at 1938, followed by general boarding four minutes later. Knowing it would be my last had me filled with deep emotions; it was not like any other A300 flight I had taken in the past. I boarded and this time my seat was 36A, near the left Pratt & Whitney PW4158 engine. Doors were closed at 1955, and we were pushed back at 1959, a minute ahead of schedule. However, we had to hold short of the runway to wait for a Nok Air Boeing 737 and a Thai AirAsia Airbus A320 to come in, both arriving in from Don Mueang.
The cheerful flight attendants on TG047. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

At 2011, we took off from Runway 03, and as we climbed we banked to the left heading south, with the city lights of Khon Kaen clearly visible. Only six minutes later, the seat belt signs were turned off and again as always, the crew started the in-flight service immediately. Snack boxes were handed out, followed by rounds of hot and cold beverages. At 2023, Captains khun Bhudhibhuntu and khun Poonlap made their announcement welcoming passengers and that the aircraft was cruising at 11,580 meters (38,000 feet) at 800 kph (500 mph).
Food carts on board. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

I had a chance to chat with the cabin crew, who told me that for some this would be the last flight too. "It's a classic aircraft," said khun Patiphat, adding "She has worked so hard for so many years. She's like our teacher, as for all of us she was our first aircraft to fly." As they reminisced of some fond memories, the aircraft started its descent at 2029. Soon after at 2037 the seat belt lights were turned on and I returned to my seat. It was a rather bumpy descent.
Its classic dispensers. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

As we flew over Nakhon Nayok and Samut Prakan provinces and its extensive rice fields, we gradually lowered our altitude. Flaps were down at 2046, followed by the gears a minute later, and we quietly touched down on Runway 19R at Suvarnabhumi at 2050. Our total time in the air was a mere 39 minutes. We taxied to Gate B1, where we came to a stop at 2103. It would probably be my last landing on an A300.
Final approach into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

I learned that this became the last flight for Thepsatri, as this aircraft was retired after this leg. After most passengers had disembarked, I took a few moments to glance at the classic cabin, to spend some time and say my one last thanks to the airplane that carried me so many times. She was certainly a workhorse for THAI and for the so many passengers it carried over the years, including myself.
Captains khun Bhudhibhuntu and khun Poonlap of TG047. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

I stepped slowly outside, and after I was in the terminal, I went to the windows to gaze at the A300 once last time. Khop khun maak, and chok dii na khrap! Farewell THAI A300. The final day of A300 operations came just a few days later on July 31st.

Continues to CoachFlyer: THAI retires the Airbus A300 - Part II.


  1. Thank you for flying THAI krub, Khun Ryosuke.
    It was our pleasure to have you on board with us.

    Patiphat S.
    your cabin crew

  2. Khop khun maak khrap. Will miss the AB6. Seems like a buyer is yet to be found.
    Hope to see you on another THAI flight in the not-too-distant future!