Airline review: Nok Air Bombardier Q400 economy class, Ranong to Bangkok, Thailand

THE PLANE

A Canada-built Bombardier Q400 twin-prop, also called a Dash 8, one of six in the Nok Air fleet. Nok means bird in Thai so the nose of every Nok Air plane is painted yellow to look like a beak.

THE ROUTE

Ranong in southern Thailand to Bangkok's  Don Mueang International Airport, the city's low-cost airline hub. 

LOYALTY SCHEME

Nok Fan Club, free to join with four levels: Sky, Star, Smile and Smile Plus. Despite Thai Airways being Nok Air's major shareholder, there are no reciprocal frequent flyer benefits.

CLASS

This is an all-economy flight.

DURATION

One hour and 25 minutes; the cabin door closes 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

GOING GREEN

Carbon offsets are not available on Nok Air flights. Ranong's departure lounge has a water fountain for pre-filling your own reusable bottle.

FREQUENCY

Nok Air has multiple direct flights daily between Bangkok and Ranong.

CHECKING IN

Advance check-in for domestic flights is available through the website or Nok Air app between one and 24 hours before departure. Checking in online the night before my flight makes for a seamless bag-drop at Ranong's small airport.

LOUNGE ACCESS

Ranong airport has no lounges. On a return flight from Bangkok's Don Mueang airport, you can access the Miracle Lounge for $24 for a two-hour pass or $37 for three hours, or the Coral Executive Lounge for $47 for three hours, both in Terminal 2 Domestic.

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THE SEAT

I'm in seat 38D. The cabin seats are in a 2-2 configuration so there are no middle seats, only windows and aisles or, as the Nok Air website puts it, seats for "enjoying the beauty of the Earth" and for "[moving] freely to the toilet". I get a great view of southern Thailand's forested mountains from my right-side window seat just after takeoff; those on the left side get birds' eye views of Myanmar's tropical Myeik Archipelago. The seats are a decent 43 centimetres (17 inches) wide with a pitch of 73 centimetres (29 inches) and free online seat selection for all three ticket types makes you forget this is a budget airline.

BAGGAGE

The carry-on allowance is seven kilograms for all ticket types, but the checked baggage allowance varies: zero for Nok Lite and 20 kilograms for both Nok X-tra and Nok MAX.

COMFORT

The grey vinyl seats might all be economy, but I notice a subtle hierarchy during boarding: the first three rows have yellow headrests (passengers in these Nok Premium seats get priority check-in, boarding and baggage, and free tea and coffee on board), while the rest have purple headrests (these are standard "Nok Happy seats"). Apparently the Q400 has a vibration-suppression system that cancels out engine and propeller blade noise, but I didn't notice this being a quieter flight than usual.

ENTERTAINMENT

There's no seat-back screen and no inflight entertainment, not even on the Nok Air app, unless you count the live safety demo before takeoff or the JIBjib inflight magazine, which is mostly in Thai.

SERVICE

The flight attendants are young, friendly and welcoming, and look cheerful in their canary-yellow dresses.

FOOD

There's no inflight meal service on this short flight. There is, however, complimentary water, served after takeoff in 86 tiny Nok Air-branded water bottles, one for every passenger on this full flight, which seems woefully old-fashioned in this global era of plastic awareness.

ONE MORE THING

On arrival in Bangkok, there's a free shuttle bus for the hour-long transit to Bangkok's main airport, Suvarnabhumi International, for passengers with onward international flights.

VERDICT

With smiling service, cute birdy livery and more destinations in Thailand than any other airline, as well as a handful of regional international destinations, Nok Air ticks all the budget airline boxes.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

Four

Louise Southerden was a guest of Expedition Engineering. See expeditionengineering.com

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