As a pretty regular Lao Airlines customer on their cheap flights from Vientiane to Bangkok, I was quite surprised when I found out they had grounded their fleet (of two) Boeing 737’s and were now using the Sukhoi Superjet.
This Russian-built airliner, which an insider told me was leased, has a very short but rather dubious history.
While on a round of show flights, to sell the 100-seater to prospective passengers one crashed into a mountain in Indonesia killing all aboard which included media, airline and government officials.
This was the day before it was to travel to Vientiane, as the fledgling Lao Central Airlines had ordered the inexpensive airplane to anchor its growing fleet.
But the price was right for a flight and they had even changed to the departure time to 8:15 pm, so I was able to leave my apartment about 6:35, make to the airport in plenty of time to put Olive (my motorbike) in long-term parking, buy a ticket, check-in, go through customs and immigration and have a coffee and check my email, all before boarding.
When it was time to board I noticed the Sukhoi was smaller than the 737 but certainly was a lot newer. In fact had that new car…er….. new plane smell. The seats and interior were all decked out in green. It was a nice looking plane and as we boarded were greeted by two Russian flight attendants along with a Lao one. It was rather strange.
As soon as I saw the guy I instantly thought KGB, although that agency doesn’t exist anymore and the cold war was over. He was quite tall as was the woman, and they dwarfed the Lao flight attendants.
They were friendly enough but not in a gentle Lao kind of way that I was used to.
After sitting down I made a point of reading the safety card in the seat back pocket I noticed the plane had exits at the front and rear but none on the wings, where I was seated.
Breakfast was soon served and it wasn’t very good. Some kind of sweet and sour shrimp that tasted burned and was very spicy. It included a vegetable that looked like it had been cooked for days with rice and some fruit that was also starting to brown. The coffee that I had with was quite horrible but I didn’t fret too much as for the price and length of the flight it was good to have anything at all. On the Boeing flights however, it was actually a tasty meal and the coffee was great.
The flight was fairly smooth except for one point where our little jet was buffeted by turbulence, which I surmised to be caused by the lack of size of the plane.
Most of the flight was smooth except for one point when we seemed to have a fairly rapid descent a long time before our approach to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.
It could have been my trepidation on being on a plane with a questionable safety record too so I wasn’t too worried.
As we prepared to land I asked a Lao flight attendant for a pen so I could fill out the immigration forms ahead of time, having always experienced such long delays after landing in SVB airport in Bangkok.
She thought about it for a second, looked towards the front of the plane then looked back down at me and said nonchalantly, “No, we don’t have any.” And then she walked away. I was a little gob-smacked and tried to think of a way of blaming the Russians. Vodka, the fall of communism, or were they told to be rude to Canadians because of their lack of dominance in ice hockey.
No worries I thought, hoping it wouldn’t delay me too much in the airport.
I thought of the previous Lao Central flight crew and their friendly Chief Purser named Niew, who always remembered my name and was quick to help with any request, as were her charges.
We landed uneventfully taxied toward the terminal though another difference from the 737 flights was that we were parked on the tarmac and not at one the terminal gangways that are attached to the airport. So we would have to deplane and jump on a bus that would take us to the terminal.
I noticed while on the bus, their was no place for the Sukhoi mapped out like all the other jets. No line for the A330 airbus or the Boeing 767 or 737. Maybe that’s why we were not allowed to go directly into the terminal. Or maybe it was just too early. We seemed to have gotten there in about 35 minutes, which was nice but very surprising.
And those lineups at customs were gone, and a customs worker who I tried to borrow a pen from insisted on filling out the immigration form for me and told me which areas I should not bother filling in. Wow!
I was in Bangkok city in no time after that fast flight and lack of customs lineup.
Even though the flight may have been fast and furious, maybe instead of rushing (Russian?) to build an airline overnight, Lao Central should build their brand slowly and safely. And more friendly!
12 Apr 2013 13:01 (skydiver000)
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