Normally I hate it when passengers clap on landing, as to me it suggests those people had doubts we would ever get to our destination safely. But on Thai Airways flight TG1881 on 29 July, I didn't mind so much.
That was because it was the first commercial flight ever to touch down at Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi airport, which after years of delays is finally due to open in the coming months. Given that it took so long to get to this stage - the new airport project was first mooted around four decades ago - clapping seemed entirely appropriate on the occasion. (Only the first time, mind you. When the television people asked everyone in the last cabin to clap again so they could record it, it lost its charm).
On board the nearly full Boeing 747-400 were top Thai Airways execs along with plenty of dignitaries including the country's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and members of the general public lucky enough to get a seat (I suspect most were mainly interested in the goody bag the airline gave out which included a t-shirt and obligatory "first commercial flight" certificate).
Journalists like me were in the cheap seats at the back, but I'm used to travelling economy class and seat 62K wasn't so bad on this flight. Not only was it an historic event that I was a part of, the flight only lasted around 15 minutes as it originated from Bangkok's existing Don Muang airport, which the new airport will replace.
It was the shortest 747-400 flight I have ever been on but it could have been much shorter. At seven minutes into it the captain pointed out that Suvarnabhumi was visible from the left side of the aircraft, although we did not fly in directly and instead made a couple of scenic flyovers. Rumour had it that was so we could touch down at 08:09, as nine is an auspicious number for Thais.
Into the terminal building, through a sea of welcoming Thai Airways and airport personnel, and on with a two hour tour of the airport, before pinning down Thai's new president for an interview. That done, several more senior-executive interviews followed and as a result a few of us missed the return flight back to Don Muang. The alternative was a bus to a taxi stand 10 minutes away, as taxi facilities have yet to be sorted out from the terminal directly.
Clearly there are plenty of teething problems that need to be sorted out before the targeted 28 September opening of the new airport. It may also have been just me but I couldn't find a gent's toilet anywhere - and for the sake of all male travellers I hope that is just because the signs have yet to go up.
It is not a bad looking airport, however, and once it is finally opened and the inevitable early problems sorted out it will be a welcome change over Don Muang, which claims to be the oldest international airport still in operation - and which certainly looks it in many parts. While I appreciate historical places as much as the next guy, I would much rather have departed from Suvarnabhumi for my return to Singapore, as the taxi ride to Don Muang took longer than I care to remember - nearly as long, in fact, as it takes to fly between Bangkok and Singapore.
There may be a big change coming soon to the airport scene in Bangkok, but other things such as the city's notoriously bad traffic situation will remain the same.