International travel broadens your horizons. I know, that sounds so cliche but it does. What I learned from my South Eastern Asia vacation – Airport /Airline information:
Qatar is a very nice airline. They are based out of the Middle East, Qatar where Doha is the capital. My flights both going and return, including connections in Doha, left on time. The food caters more to the middle east where you have most dishes with rise or noodles. The dessert is basic cake. There is always a dinner roll for every meal and an additional bread such as a croissant for breakfast. They are very carb heavy. The juices are not American name brands of course so I opted for water and white wine.
What I did not like about the airline was the last leg of my return flight to Atlanta. We arrived in Doha from Bangkok. We did not have to go through passport control which I thought was odd. Upon boarding for the connection to Atlanta all who had electronics such as a camera or laptop had to go through a special scanning process. There was a single line with 3 people checking our laptops and cameras. They literally went through everything and then sealed each item back up in a separate plastic bag for each item with a seal that could not be broken until after boarding the aircraft. This line was a completely separate line from boarding the aircraft.
Once you completed the electronics scan you then had to go back on another long line that lead to a scanner of all your goods and person. The normal TSA security check line. Here you had to remove shoes and outer clothing. Your passport and boarding pass were reviewed again and marked off.
After coming through the scanner there was another spot check. They called it a random check but pretty much everyone was checked. With the check they went through all your belongings manually and swabbed them for residue reading. They then checked your boarding pass and passport for the third time. This was just insane.
After the three checks I was allowed to board the air vessel. I was just so annoyed by the whole process. In any event we took off by 8:40 and was scheduled to leave at 8:20.
Air Asia is a low budget Malaysian airline with its headquarters near Kuala Lumpur. I used them for flights from Bangkok to Phuket; Phuket to Kuala Lumpur; Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and Singapore back to Bangkok. Each of the flights left onetime. The fees were very reasonable and include one cabin piece of luggage and a personal item. There is a fee for checked bags, seat selection and any kind of food or beverage. They are a lot like the US’ Spirit and Frontier airlines.
Although the pricing is comparable to our USA airlines, the service is much better. They have a very detailed app for check-ins and add ons. You can actually check into your flight a week prior to departure. Adding checked bags and food is also a breeze with the mobile and web applications.
They also offer travel insurance for each flight that is very cheap. If you have a checked piece of luggage they offer self tagging at their airport kiosks. I mean for a budget airline they offer quite a bit for a low fee.
In regards to airports that I was exposed to, they were pretty much primitive when it came to passport/customs which lead to long wait times. This sucked because I had several flights during my two weeks away.
Here are some tips for arrivals and departures for each airport.
Doha (Hamad) International Airport [DOH] – Very nice airport. Very futuristic in style but the passport check is still old school. The shops are nice as well as the food selections. You have to connect via this airport.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport [BKK] – Basic airport. Long wait time for passport control. If you have nothing to declare, customs is a breeze. For outgoing international flights, please arrive 2+ hours early. The airport is very busy which makes the lines for passport control very congested. This airport is about 30 minutes from the center of Bangkok. This all depends on traffic.
Don Mueang International Airport [DMK] – Same as BKK – basic airport. DMK and BKK are about an 45 to an hour apart depending on traffic. Bangkok is known to have traffic like or worse than Atlanta so make sure you allot enough time if you have to travel between airports. I had to use this airport to travel to Phuket and arrive back in Bangkok from Singapore.
Phuket International Airport [HKT] – Another very basic airport. It took about 45 minutes to get to Patong. There are many lights, single lane roads and hills. The cost for transfer from the airport to Patong ranges from 400 – 800 baht depending on the company and time of day. Early morning hours raises the cost to the 800 range.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport [KUL] – is a huge airport. Prepare to walk allot to get to your ground transportation. The passport check is primitive but the shops and food are like being in a mall. The bathrooms were setup with squatty potties so I waited until I reached my hotel. Make sure you read your boarding pass because there are two main terminals, KLIA and KLIA2. There is a train that connects them if you get dropped off at the wrong terminal.
Singapore Changi Terminal 4 [SIN] – By far the best airport I have been through thus far. They just opened their terminal 4 last month. It has awesome shops and food selections. It is so futuristic in design. They have a shuttle bus that will take you to all the city hotels for 9 SGD.
Upon exit of the country the passport control is automated. You scan your passport, then barcode on your boarding pass. Next the machine does a facial recognition. A door then opens for you to pass. At the next door your two index fingers are scanned. After that, you are let through to go to the TSA check and scanners. There wasn’t a line at all. At the gate you scan your passport and face again so you can board the plane. There is only human interaction if something goes wrong. Loved it.
The ride from Chinatown to the airport is about 30 minutes as long as there is no traffic. If you decide to use Uber or Grab, the cost is about 20 SGD without traffic.
Please note Singapore has very strict rules. No import of chewing gun is allowed. You can not bring in items shaped like a gun. The possession and distribution of drugs is punishable by death. Those are the 3 rules that stood out for me.