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April 16, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Bangkok to L.A.

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Bonjour from Paris! I know, I know ... How the heck did I get from Bangkok to France? Simple! I took a couple of long flights. The first flight took me back home to Los Angeles where I attended a few travel conferences, appeared on ABC News and almost got bowled over by Britney Spears as she ran from the paparazzi. Wow! Being at home is almost as exciting as being on the road! After all of that excitement, I hopped on an Air France flight to Paris for a momentous event. In case you haven't had your fill of Asia, join Mike Manna as he takes us on an accelerated tour of Tokyo. Or, join our newest writer Aubrey Lampkin for a quick visit to Vietnam.

I left off last week from Chiang Mai, Thailand. From there, I flew 47 minutes back to Bangkok on a packed 747-400. This time, I saw a much nicer side of the Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The international section is so much better than the domestic area. Beyond the first round of security are a whole slew of restaurants, fast food eateries, shops and more shops. There are over 90 stores, many of which are high-end designer boutiques including Bally, Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel, Coach, Dior, Fendi, Ferragamo, Hugo Boss ... But my biggest gripe with the airport is that passengers aren't allowed to bring water on to the plane. It's so stupid it makes me want to scream. Understandably, passengers can't bring liquids through the first round of security (to get to the terminal with the shops), but then you have to go through a second, more rigorous round of security, to get to the actual gate. They don't allow liquids through there either and each passenger's carry-on is searched by hand. The liquids ban is a joke in itself but what is even more ridiculous is that passengers can NOT buy water or any other liquid at the gate. Waiting around 45 minutes to board the plane, I felt like I was in prison -- why don't they have vending machines with drinks?

By the grace of God, I got upgraded to THAI Airways' Royal Silk class (business class) at the very last minute; 7pm for the 7:30pm flight. This was not an easy one to finagle and it's too long a story to get into but everyone told me it wasn't going to happen because the flight was oversold. That made it all the more special when I got the upgrade page: "Mr. Jet, please come to the counter to get your new seat assignment." Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! What was crazy is that while economy was still boarding, I kept seeing a guy hovering over me like a hawk. It turned out he was staking out the only empty business class seat, which was next to me. When they shut the plane door, he asked if someone was sitting there. "Not to my knowledge," I replied. "Great!" he said ... then plopped down beside me! Under my breath, I muttered, "Whoa, brother! You're going to get into some serious trouble when they catch you!" Turns out, he's a frequent flier and dislikes flying economy on long-haul flights more than I do. He said that the agents had promised him an upgrade but then said there were no available seats. When he saw an open seat, he felt entitled to it. Talk about ballsy. Flight attendants usually catch these people every time and within minutes ... but this guy got lucky. Real lucky. I don't recommend this approach at all. They normally not only embarrass you but I've heard stories where at the end of the flight, the sneaky passenger is hit with a huge bill for the full fare of the trip. In this case, it would have been around $8,000.

As my cool but sneaky seatmate would attest: It sure is nice to be sitting in a phat business class seat on a 13-hour, 35-minute flight. Thai Airways Royal Silk class seats have 60 inches of pitch and a 170-degree recline. The configuration up here in the A340-500 series plane is 2x2x2. The seats are also in a shell so they don't invade the space of the person behind you when you recline and all the seats have state-of-the-art entertainment systems. They include a large format touch-control screen with a wide selection of films (30 movies, 110 albums of music, 31 games). They also have power outlets for laptop computers (115VAC). But surprisingly, the headsets were cheap, not the noise-canceling headphones you'd expect.

Before takeoff, the flight attendants (FAs) passed out water, juice and champagne along with amenity kits and a menu. Immediately afterwards, they handed out newspapers/magazines, steaming hot towels and drinks. At that time, the FAs took orders for dinner. There were three meal services (here's a scan of the menu and drink choices). The food was good but I only tasted two out of the three as I was out cold for a good five hours of the flight. But I do know that the flight attendants, wearing their colorful uniforms, were amazing and worked their tails off -- including thoroughly cleaning the bathrooms every few hours. They worked so hard that when we arrived, they looked completely exhausted. Can you blame them?

When we pulled up to the gate at LAX, the captain asked everybody to take their seats for a few minutes as they needed to tend to some business. Everyone was a little reluctant until they saw two LAPD officers board the plane and walk towards the back. Moments later, off they came with two prisoners in handcuffs and four plain-clothes officers who were escorting the convicts. I've flown with prisoners on my flight before and they almost always sit in the last row of coach, which I think they did this time too. I would hate to be sitting in the seat in front of them, wondering if they were going to snap and choke me with their handcuffs while I was out cold. The good news is that that didn't happen. As we were disembarking, my seatmate said, "now that was an easy flight!" He was right. Thai's business class and my 'round-the-world trip was like a dream.

We arrived just before 7pm local time at Los Angeles' Tom Bradley International Airport, which is not a good time to land. Flights from all over the globe had just beat us in so the place was an absolute zoo. The immigration officers did a great job moving the lines at passport control. A line 60 people deep took less than 10 minutes. But my bag (I did a lot of shopping this time), took 45 minutes to come out and the three lines for customs were literally wrapped around the packed carousels. An American guy behind me said what a disgrace it was. "We are supposed to be one of the best countries in the world and they can't even get this right," he said. He went on to say that you would never find this in Asia or Europe. He was right. This really was a disgrace and I was not only ticked off but embarrassed that this is the way America welcomes home her citizens and even worse, welcomes her visitors. No wonder our international arrival numbers are so far down. It took over 40 minutes to go through customs making it the second longest customs line I have ever encountered the longest was at DFW. There wasn't even a separate line for the crew! So they all had to wait like everyone else. If I were one of them, I would've snapped. Why they couldn't add an officer to each line to read the forms is beyond me. I saw plenty of officers walking around rudely telling people to get off their cell phones.

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Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Thai Airways


Suvarnabhumi International Airport


Airport Restaurants


Airport Shops


Thai Airways Royal Silk Class


Chiang Mai Airport


Seat Recline




Drink Menu








Thai Airways Breakfast


Thai FA

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