The advantages of flying domestically, the pros and cons of checking vs. carrying on your luggage, how flying has changed since I was young. Plus: a review of my flight on AirAsia between Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport and Phuket International Airport.
For the first time in a very, very, very long time, I fly domestically with no checked luggage.
I make the flight during a one month stay in Thailand, flying from the nation’s capital of Bangkok to the beach resort of Phuket.
I will be spending seven nights there, but more on that later.
The flight time from Bangkok to Phuket is approximately one hour. My flight departs from Don Mueang International Airport, which is one of the Big Mango’s two commercial airports.
I don’t need to pack much luggage because I can leave the bulk of it at my friend’s house, who lives near the airport.
But first, let’s take a look at …
The Stats …
- Aircraft: Airbus A320-200
- Flight Number: FD3025
- From: Bangkok – Don Mueang (DMK)
- To: Phuket (HKT)
- Boarding: 12.50 pm
- Departure: 1.26 pm
- Takeoff: 1.38 pm
- Cruising Altitude: 37,000 feet
- Landing: 2.45 pm
Because I live in Hong Kong, EVERY flight for me is an international flight, even if my flight is to another part of Greater China, which is defined as mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
So that means ALWAYS having to go through customs twice: at departure and arrival.
If you are not familiar with Hong Kong’s unique political status, let me explain.
Even if I fly to other cities in China, because Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” within China, flights between Hong Kong and other Chinese cities such as Shanghai or Beijing are considered to be international.
And that includes cities in Taiwan, which also falls within the Greater China categorization.
That is because Hong Kong has its own legal system, prints its own passports, issues its own visas, and maintains its own customs.
To put it simply, Hong Kong enjoys a “high level of autonomy”. For the time being, at least, it is not “just another Chinese city” and will continue to enjoy its “special status” at least through 2047.
So a flight between Hong Kong and Shanghai (or any other city in China) means going through border control twice: once on the Hong Kong side and once on the Chinese side.
So for the first time in a very, very, very long time I can fly without having to go through customs.
And there is going to be another key difference: I’m leaving the bulk of my bags at my friend’s house so I won’t have to check my bags at departure, and I won’t have to pick them up again at arrival.
Carry On vs Checked Luggage
I’ve often wondered which is less troublesome (and/or less expensive): checking in your luggage or carrying everything on board.
Sometimes the airlines make this decision for you, with some airlines charging for carry-ons, and other airlines charging for checked bags.
Assuming there is no difference in cost, I have often debated this issue in my mind, and I must say, both strategies have their advantages (and disadvantages).
If you check in your luggage, you don’t have to drag it through the terminal, take it through security checkpoints, keep track of it if you use the restroom or stop to buy something or have a snack, and then stuff it under your seat or in the overhead bin.
You can also pack things that might get you into trouble at security – such as liquids, sharp objects, and electronics devices.
I discovered this on my return flight from Phuket back to Bangkok. I had purchased some toiletries at a night market, and they all had to be disposed of before boarding my flight.
If you check your bags, you DO have to wait for them at baggage claim on arrival (that’s one of the main disadvantages in my opinion). And you DO run the risk of them going astray.
I’ve never had luggage disappear altogether. But I HAVE had problems upon arrival.
On one memorable occasion, I waited at baggage claim at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City for about 45 minutes AFTER my first bag arrived before my second bag arrived.
Everyone else had long since left. Not knowing what else to do, I just stood there helplessly until one lonely suitcase appeared at the top of the conveyor belt, stumbled down, and ambled its way toward to me – very much to my relief.
On another occasion, I got on my flight but my luggage didn’t. After waiting forever at baggage claim, I was approached by someone in a uniform and asked my name.
When I told him my name, he informed me that I had made it on my flight, but my luggage hadn’t been so lucky. It would be sent on the same flight the next day.
It took at least 36 hours before my suitcase was delivered to me at my hotel, which was a bit of an inconvenience. Since then, I have remembered to carry at least a change of underwear in my carry-on luggage.
The (Not So) Good Old Days
We all like to reminisce about the Good Old Days – especially those either suffering from extreme memory loss or those who weren’t born yet.
Let me tell you something …
Air travel was NEVER as glamourous as some people would have you think (unless, of course, it was either a very short flight (the subject of a future blog post), you were only 10 years old and it was a birthday present from your favourite aunt (the subject of the same future blog post), or you were traveling first class (the subject of another future blog post).
The difference, if there was one, was that fewer of us traveled, planes were smaller, and our expectations were much, much lower than they are now.
We were happy we didn’t have to go by Greyhound Bus.
Not only that, we looked on flying as a privilege and not a right. And, yes, in those days we DID look on it as an adventure because it WAS, in fact, an adventure.
We didn’t complain about the quality of the food – we were surprised to be served food at 20,000 feet.
Now vs. Then
So how have things changed? Let’s take a walk down Memory Lane, comparing how things are done now and how things were done when I was young. Then I will review my flight …
48 Hours Before Departure
Now: I stop procrastinating, get on line, and start researching fares and schedules. After consulting the friend whose house I’m staying at, I narrow things down.
I decide on a flight. I book it. I pay for it. I get flight insurance. And I check in (because its less than two weeks before departure).
Then: after consulting numerous printed flight schedules spread out on the kitchen table (which I’m good at because I paid attention during third grade when they taught us how to do that), I decide on which flight I want to take on which airline.
I call the airline, and I am put on hold from anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, not even knowing if any seats will be available. But at least I know the price. Dynamic pricing hadn’t been invented yet.
Then I have to make my way to an in-town ticket office to pay for and pick up my ticket …
Three Hours Before Departure
Now: I’m packing. I’m going crazy. I’m wolfing down breakfast. Fortunately, my friend lives close to the airport, and she has maids, who can flag down a taxi for me. Things could be worse.
Then: I’m already at the airport, patiently waiting in one of SEVERAL lines, all of which are VERY long and moving VERY slowly.
The concept of having only one line and dividing them at the last minute hasn’t been thought of yet. And you couldn’t pre-check in on line, because the Internet hasn’t been invented yet.
So it is like Russian roulette: getting in the wrong line can make the difference of plus or minus 30 minutes in your wait.
Two Hours Before Departure
Now: I get out of the taxi, walk into the airport terminal, walk past the check-in counter because I’ve checked in on line and head to the departure area.
The lines at security are slow-moving. A child is screaming uncontrollably, and everyone is looking nervously at it, hoping that she will not be on their flight.
Then: Just as I think I’m next, an extended family of at least 10 people shows up, and I have to go the restroom.
It takes them a RIDICULOUSLY long time to check in, whereas it take me less than five minutes when my turn finally comes.
Now: After successfully passing through security, I am greeted by a sign that – thanks to an awkward translation – provides comic relief.
The Chinese translation is even MORE ridiculous than the English translation!
Then: I’ve finally checked in and I look for a place to chill out. There are a couple of food and beverage outlets near the check-in counters. There isn’t much between that and the gate
One Hour Before Departure
Now: I wander slowly down the concourse past duty-free shops. I get on the moving sidewalk.
Airports of Thailand (AOT) has thoughtfully installed drinking fountains specially designed so that airline passengers can refill water bottles after passing through security.
Then: I’ve finally checked in, and I’m chilling out at a bar near the check in counters.
Now: I pass innumerable food and beverage outlets, both American and domestic, on my way to the gate. Should I grab something to eat before boarding my flight?
Then: There isn’t much along the concourse to divert my attention. I don’t want to eat anything before boarding because I’m expecting to be served something to eat on board.
At the Gate …
Now: I arrive at my gate and see a long line of passengers waiting in front of the gate. I sit down, waiting until the last minute to board the flight.
Then: I arrive at my gate and see a long line of passengers waiting in front of the gate. I sit down, waiting until the last minute to board the flight.
Some things never change! I’ve never understood why so many people are in such a hurry to board a plane and stuff themselves into an undersized seat.
The Flight …
We board the aircraft through a jetway and find our seats. I’m in luck! I’ve got three seats all to myself!
The seat is comfortable, but there isn’t much leg room. When the passenger in front reclines her seat, it touches my knees.
The flight crew serves meals that had been pre-ordered on line. Then they sell meals to passengers that did not order them in advance.
Finally, they sell products. Before I know it, the fasten seat belts sign is turned on and we start our descent.
Upon arrival in Phuket, we deplane via a staircase (just like the good old days) and are taken to the terminal via a shuttle.
The Arrival …
The reward for not checking any bags comes at arrival when I can walk past the other passengers as they impatiently wait for their baggage to arrive.
Because this is a domestic flight, I don’t need to fill out any forms, and I don’t have to pass through customs.
Instead, I walk past the arriving passengers waiting impatiently for their bags at luggage claim to the exit, hoping there will be a greeter holding a sign with my name printed neatly on it.
I search for my greeter, but I can’t find him. No one is holding a sign with my name on it.
Oh! There he is! He is holding a sign with the name of my hotel on it – not my name!
I walk up to him, tell him who I am, and he escorts me to a waiting limousine, which drives me to a posh resort, Phuket Marriott Resort and Spa, Nai Yang Beach, the first resort hotel on my eight-day, seven-night itinerary.
I am greeted by hotel staff in the lobby. Following pleasantries, I am whisked by golf cart to a villa, which overlooks the ocean.
I ask the driver to take a photo of me before checking out my home for the next two nights.
I walk tropical landscaping, a lawn, a view of the ocean, and direct access to the beach.
The interior space is spacious and beautifully furnished, with a king size bed, a dining area, walk-in wardrobes, and a sumptuous marble-clad bathroom with his-and-hers vanities, a walk-in shower and a large oval-shaped bathtub.
And suddenly it all seems worthwhile …
The Verdict …
I enjoyed the flight. Checking in on line, packing light, and not checking bags really did make a difference.
I loved heading straight from the airplane, through the terminal, and to the exit, where a hotel shuttle awaited me.
I was already on my way to the hotel while most of the passengers on my flight were still waiting for their bags to arrive.
Click on the following link for my first-hand review of the hotel …
Let my Phuket adventure begin!