This is the room where I sat for an hour, more or less stuck while waiting to figure out if I’d get out of Yangon. No passport (the agents took it from me), no refreshments and no idea how long I was going to be there or if the agents actually understood what I was doing. Not the most relaxing hour of my life, to say the least. And just getting to that point wasn’t so easy.
I did my research before the trip regarding the transit process at RGN and I was pretty sure that I didn’t need a visa. Alas, the Thai Airways check-in agent at BKK had a different view of the situation. She started flipping through my passport, looking for my visa. I knew there wasn’t one there and told her such. At that point she was pretty much ready to send me away; I was not happy. Her version of the rules said transit without visa was only valid if remaining on the same plane passing through RGN; changing planes was not valid. I protested strongly (even though I wasn’t actually 100% certain I was correct) and she walked away from the counter, carrying my passport with her. About 15 minutes later – mostly spent by me pacing back and forth in the premium check-in area trying to figure out how I was going to save the trip – she came back to the counter and started printing boarding passes. I’m not entirely sure where she went or what she saw or why she changed her mind. But she did. I won’t look that gift-horse in the mouth.
A few hours later, following what will likely be my last flight on an Airbus A300 (yes, I booked the itinerary to get that), we arrived in Yangon and it was time for the part of the transit which I expected to be more stressful. I saw the sign for transit passengers as I walked off the plane so I headed towards that door rather than to the regular immigration queue. That freaked them out quite a bit.
Pretty soon I had three agents crowded around, trying to usher me towards the regular immigration queues. I had a printout of my onward itinerary and kept pointing out the flight details, hoping they’d figure it out. After 15 or so minutes I was escorted back towards the gates, through the gate lounge and backwards through the security check-point. The agent escorted me into a room labeled “International Transit” which is, I’m pretty sure, mostly used for storage.
The agent took my itinerary printout, my passport and my inbound boarding pass and walked away, asking me to wait in the lounge. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Having someone walk away with my passport is never something I’m happy about. Sitting in this room with no facilities other than the few chairs for an hour, waiting for the agent to come back with my passport had me rather frazzled. Turns out I’m not all that good at sitting still with no distractions.
Ultimately they returned with the boarding passes and escorted me to the Royal Jade lounge (not really all that great, but better than sitting in the other room on my own) to wait for my flight.
In the end the transit wasn’t all that bad. Not without some stress along the way and Myanmar is going to remain low on my list of desired transit countries given an option, but I eventually made my way on to Singapore and beyond.
More stories from the trip here.
Adding on an extra segment from Hong Kong to Bangkok as part of our award trip to try the Singapore suites was basically free. Same points and more or less the same taxes. And when first class seats showed up on the new A380 from Thai Airways the decision to grab them was a no-brainer. I was very, very excited to see the different first class products and compare them. Plus, the stopover in Hong Kong didn’t completely suck.
Most of our time pre-flight was spent visiting Hong Kong rather than napping in Thai’s Royal First lounge in Hong Kong. Maybe that was a mistake, though I still think it was some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had, so not a horrible idea. We did shower in the lounge and enjoyed some snacks prior to the flight. There was also an option for menu service but I didn’t really look at the menu so I’m not sure how extensive the choices were. The first class side of the Thai lounge was a small step up from the business class side I’ve generally been on. More space and better booze, but not a dramatic difference like Thai has in Bangkok.
The Thai A380 First Class seat is not a suite with a sliding door, so in that regard it is a minor downgrade from Singapore Air or Emirates‘ offering. Other than that minor difference, however, I’m not so sure there is a lot to separate it. Still a ton of space – my bags still fit under the ottoman – and quite comfy. And it converts to a flat bed which I had quite a nice nap on. I would have absolutely no problem taking this seat on a long-haul trip and would expect to sleep quite well in it.
For passengers in the middle pair of eats the divider console is reasonably wide, making for a large space between the two. And there is a privacy screen which can slide up to the top of the seat edge if more separation is desired.
There is also a small lounge space just forward of the cabin, where Emirates has one of their lavs. There are a few seats – VERY firm cushions – and space to congregate and chat if desired. Not a lot of action there on the short flight we had but I can imagine it gets some use on the longer trips.
And on the other side up front is the lavatory. It is similar to the Emirates first class lav in terms of space – which is to say HUGE – but no shower and not nearly as ornate. There is a sitting area separate from the "business" section for changing, applying makeup and the like.
Also, it turns out that taking a photo of yourself in a mirror without looking completely deranged is harder than it should be.
I had initially tried to order the book-the-cook option for the flight. Turns out there were some issues with that on their website. LOTS of issues, actually, like it mostly didn’t work. Plus we were originating outside of Bangkok so the massive list of choices really was only 5 or 6. Still, we had a rather enjoyable meal on board. The food all tasted like I expected it to based on the descriptions and there were several choices of main courses to please most palettes.
I honestly wish I remember more about the meal but it was a few weeks ago now and I was already pretty much zonked by the time we got to that point in the trip.
The screen is huge. Absolutely tremendous. And they have a tail camera, available throughout the flight. I love that sort of thing.
Beyond that, the selections on the IFE are, as is oft my experience with Thai, limited and mediocre. They were better on this flight than I remember from my prior trips and better than my next flight was on an older configuration. Still, not a ton of choices. I’d be mildly bothered by that if I really cared about having a ton of movies to watch on a plane.
The A380 also included OnAir internet connectivity. Much like the prior flight on Singapore Air, however, it was not in service. I’m not sure if that was a one-off thing or if the systems generally aren’t active yet, but it was slightly disappointing to not be able to try it out.
The service was quite consistent with my other experiences on Thai, which is to say incredibly inconsistent. I know that my pre-flight service was somewhat limited because I was walking around the plane taking pictures and such. But even once I was belted in and we were flying the crew was a bit hit-or-miss. Not bad, really, in any way, but also just not really the "smooth as silk" which Thai suggests their product offers. It was nowhere near bad enough for me to suggest that others would be better to book away from the flights, but there were plenty of small inconsistencies which were unfortunate for a first class product.
The new A380s offer a significantly better hard product in first class than anything else Thai has flying today, with the possible exception of the Jet 77Ws on wet-lease, though I’m not sure even those are better. And their soft product is good enough that there’s no reason to not fly with them. Departures from Bangkok are better because of the spa, lounge and generally better ground handling, but even inbound flights to Bangkok get met by a golf cart and escorted to the premium immigration line. And there’s the little thing where award inventory on Thai is far easier to come by than many other carriers, even on the A380. In short, this isn’t the best product flying at all but it is very, very good and seems to be quite readily available in general. That makes it one of the better options out there to me.
As a small aside, the folks over at RouteHappy asked me to check out the other cabins on the plane as part of the trip, mostly because they were surprised by a rather negative review someone had for the business class cabin. I obviously didn’t get the service from coach or business class but I did get a bunch of photos of the seats.
Business class is a staggered seating option so theoretically 1-2-1 though much closer in seat size to 2-4-2. The seats didn’t look awful to me but I can see how the aisle seats would be a bit exposed to traffic in the aisles. The window seats looked a little tight and the middle pairs seem OK if you’re a couple traveling together but otherwise might be a bit too intimate.
In economy, beyond the awesome colors, the seats look pretty comfortable. Decent amount of pitch and if you can get that exit row upstairs in the back it should be quite quiet and plenty of space. Everyone gets the AVOD system so that’s a win, even if you’re in coach.
Flying up front is always a good thing. A flat bed is even better. Getting a double bed comfortable enough for two people to lay next to each other and still sleep well is simply ridiculous. Fortunately, Singapore Air offers such a setup on their A380 planes in "Suites" class and I finally got to experience it. As an added bonus the flight happened to be an inaugural of sorts – the first A380 from San Francisco to Asia (Hong Kong in this case) so we we treated to a few extra surprises as well.
Believe it or not, the Singapore SilverKris Lounge at SFO wasn’t our lounge of choice for this particular flight. It is nice enough and there is the advantage of hot food available there but this time, thanks to our first class tickets, we chose to spend the time prior to the flight in United Airlines’ GlobalFirst lounge instead. More space, similar booze and closer to the gate were the main reasons we went with the GFL. The fact that the SKL is so crowded with the larger plane that they block even their own elites from accessing it made me quite comfortable in that decision. We were one of only two parties in the GFL and quite enjoyed the time there.
In addition to the lounge time there was a bit of a party set up in honor of the inaugural flight. Singapore Air had a number of sales/marketing executives at the gate and a buffet spread set up with small sandwiches and desserts on offer. I also had the opportunity to speak with many of the execs there and talk about the plane, the route and their excitement in having the larger aircraft running the route. They did quite a nice job with that aspect of things, though obviously don’t expect that every time. It was quite entertaining when they all called my wife by name as we boarded, even though they hadn’t met her, only because of our prior conversations that evening.
Finally, as we boarded the flight we were given small gift boxes. As I settled in to my suite I opened it up to see what they were offering to commemorate the inaugural. The red and gold leather luggage tag is awesome. I’m a big fan!
Speaking of settling in to the seat, I have to say that this is probably the most personal space I’ve ever had on a plane, including Emirates‘ and Thai Airway’s A380 first class products. Simply ridiculous, really. There are extra pillows so you don’t feel too lost in the middle of the seat without an armrest close enough to lean on. It is that wide. No overhead bins, which can be a bit awkward, but my bags actually fit completely in the space under the ottoman in my suite. Really ridiculous amounts of room.
When we had finished dinner and were ready to sleep the flight attendants set our suites into bed mode. The double bed thing really is as incredible as the marketing makes it seem. The seat folds forward making the bed a bit high to climb into for sleeping but incredibly comfortable. And all those pillows, too.
One area where Singapore didn’t really splurge on their first class product is with the lavatories. Part of that is a space consideration given that they are on the lover level, not upstairs like Thai or Emirates has. It definitely reduces some of the fun which can be had. Not that they are bad, really, but just not particularly spacious or special in any way. Still all the usual amenities one would expect to find in the lav, but not incredibly special.
Overall I think that this was the nicest A380 F seat of the three I’ve now experienced. It isn’t trimmed in gold and wood veneer like the Emirates Suite but it is more spacious than what I remember from Emirates and much more subtly luxurious. Less flash, more substance.
I really don’t get the appeal of lobster covered in a cheese sauce. I love lobster and I love cheese sauce in certain circumstances but ne’er the two shall meet in my view. Alas, I was only choosing one of the two main meals we ordered and I lost on the Lobster Thermidor vote for the second meal. After tasting it I still think I’m right. The food was very, very good on board. Neither of us loved the lobster but it was exactly as advertised.
There were snacks available mid-flight in the galley and breakfast was quite good, too. I love when an airline can serve fresh eggs in-flight.
Overall the food was very, very good. Not the absolute best I’ve had on board and not quite to the same level of selection as Emirates offers, but still quite tasty and filling.
The screen is huge. It has to be given how far it is from the seat to the screen, but it is huge.
I’m also a fan of the content selection available. A good mix of new stuff (Pitch Perfect was a lot of fun) and classics available, plenty to keep me occupied throughout the flight when I wasn’t sleeping.
The plane was supposed to have the OnAir internet connectivity available, too. The hotspot was broadcasting but it wasn’t actually able to connect out to the internet. Eventually I asked the flight attendant about the situation and she profusely apologized for the service not being available. A bit disappointing as I was hoping to give it a try; I guess I’ll just have to make another trip with them one of these days.
Singapore Air is known for their service levels. My last flight with them had incredible flight attendants so I had pretty high expectations for this flight. I was not left wanting. Parts of the incredible service were a bit over-the-top. I’m not so sure that I needed four different people to escort me from the gate area to my seat, each one handing me off to another while calling me by name. At the same time, pretty much from the moment we entered the gate area until we left the plane everyone we interacted with was ridiculously good. Much like the seats it wasn’t flashy or in-your-face but subtly exquisite. I can see why they have the reputation they do.
I’ve now taken two flights on Singapore Air, one on the A345 from Newark to Singapore and this one. Both times the service was impeccable and the flight was very, very nice. As a customer on a budget who really will only ever up in those cabins on award redemptions I’m not entirely sure that they are worth going that much out of the way for – other premium cabin offerings I’ve been in are quite nice, too – but the overall experience still is rather special. Probably moreso since I know I won’t be doing it again, but still…
Well, the bad news is that United Airlines has confirmed the new earning rates for premium cabin fares on many partner airlines. In posts today on FlyerTalk and MilePoint the company offered up an explanation and a full listing of the affected fare classes (which pretty much matches the list I had produced) and also an explanation. Apparently the old rates were a mistake:
In March 2012, when we migrated to a single system, we unintentionally increased PQM and PQS earnings for some of our partners to our former OnePass levels, instead of taking them to their intended MileagePlus levels.
While these higher earning levels remained in effect for the remainder of 2012, we are now reinstating the PQM/PQS earning rates for the following carriers and fare classes to 100% as of Jan. 1, 2013:
- Air New Zealand (NZ): A, B, C, D, E, J, O, U,Y, Z
- Asiana (OZ): A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
- Croatia Airlines (OU): A, B, C, D, F, Y, Z
- Egyptair (MS): A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
- LOT (LO): A, C, D, P, Z
- Singapore (SQ): A, C, D, F, J, P, R, S, Y, Z
- South African (SA): B, C, D, H, J, K, M, Q, S, Y, Z
- TAM (JJ): A, B, C, D, F, J , Y, Z
- TAP (TP): B, C, D, J, Y, Z
- THAI (TG): A, B, C, D, F, J, P, U, Y, Z
- Turkish (TK): C, D
I’m not entirely sure I buy that it was a mistake, particularly given how often they changed things around right when the initial announcement was made for the new program. Still, in a rather unprecedented move, the company has agreed to honor previously ticketed flights at the old earning rates:
We realize that some of you booked flights on these partners prior to Jan. 1 and were expecting the higher PQM/PQS earnings. In this particular case, given the circumstances, we will honor the higher rates regardless of your travel date. There are a few complexities involved with posting miles at the higher rates, so please bear with us. Specifically, if you booked your ticket through United, we will proactively adjust amounts after their initial posting (typically within a few days of when the original flight is credited). However, if you booked through someone other than United (like another airline or travel agency), you will have to contact the MileagePlus Service Center after your miles have initially posted in order to make the adjustment.
This will actually net me a few extra miles on my upcoming Bangkok-Haneda flight on Thai Airways so I’m pretty happy about that.
What I originally thought was just a “fixing” of an obviously overly generous set of elite status earning rules from United Airlines‘ MileagePlus program on partner South African Airways appears now to be a massive change in earning rates for the new year. More than 70 different fare classes across at least 9 partners are affected by these changes. And in every case it is the premium fares – first, business, premium economy and full-fare economy – which are seeing the elite earning rates cut. When the new rules came out for MileagePlus in 2012 there was a rather generous upgrade in earning rates for premium cabins on many partners. Apparently United has decided they were being too generous and they’ve now cut back significantly.
In addition to the previously identified cuts for South African noted here the following fare classes now all earn only 100% of the miles flown towards elite qualification, down generally from 150%:
- Thai Airways: J, P, U, Y, Z, A, B, C, D,F
- Singapore Air: R, S, Y, Z, A, C, D, F, J, P
- TAP Air Portugal: B, C, D, J, Y, Z
- TAM: A, C, D, F, J , Y, Z
- LOT: A, B, C, D, P, Y, Z
- Croatia Airlines: A, B, C, D, F, Y, Z
- Air New Zealand: A, B, C, D, E, J, O, U,Y, Z (now showing only 100% again)
- EgyptAir: A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
- South African Airways: J, C, D, Z, Y, B, M, H K, S, Q
These changes came without notification from the carrier, either through traditional means or through the online communities they have employees participating in. Quite unfortunate at many levels.
Also add in:
- Avianca: C, D, J
- Asiana: A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
Booking my award flight on the non-stop Newark to Singapore flight was a huge win and opened up a ton of opportunities for me. Among them, I had to figure out how to get back home from Singapore within a relatively tight timeframe, and I was searching not too far out from my planned dates of travel, which created some interesting challenges of its own. Fortunately I managed to find several options available, one of which was a routing with Thai Airways via Bangkok and Rome, continuing on Swiss Air from there. My last experience with Thai wasn’t the greatest but I decided to give them another chance. Among other things, the BKK-FCO line was just too fun to pass up.
Getting to the airport in Singapore was reasonably easy thanks to the trains and about 40 minutes after leaving my hotel I was in the check-in lobby of the airport. I also was about 4 hours in advance of my flight – I wanted to check out the lounges – which meant that they were not actually accepting passengers for check-in. Whoopsie. The good news is that there is actually a premium check-in lounge at Singapore’s airport where business class passengers are able to have a seat and go through the process in a much more civil manner than the long queues of the economy cabin passengers. The premium check-in feeds directly into a bypass of another queue for security/immigration, making the entire process rather simple.
From there it was off to the Thai lounge. To say I was disappointed would mean that I actually had high expectations. The lounge was dark and brooding, with a few small snacks. It was quite a step down from the Singapore Air lounges in the terminal or even the British Airways and contract lounges in the same area. I’m working up a full post on the lounges but I would recommend against planning on too much time in the Thai lounge.
Boarding came about soon enough and the 777 was awaiting us for the quick flight up to Bangkok. Getting a long-haul configuration on relatively short flights is much more common in Asia than in the United States. This one had the great seats and IFE systems which make flying up front truly pleasant, though neither system is best-in-class.
The flight was only about 2 hours long but it also included a full multi-course meal service with a choice of entrees. After the snack mix and appetizer I had the prawns with rice; not bad at all.
I also love the way many foreign carriers pay attention to the small touches that make a trip more pleasant. Certainly the orchids in the lav don’t have any concrete impact on the in-flight passenger experience, but they sure go a ways towards trying to make it feel a bit more human at 35,000 feet.
A couple hours later I was on the ground in Bangkok for just long enough to grab a shower, snack and massage and then it was back in the air for the flight to Rome. I had forgotten that the flight was on a 747. I had also forgotten that I booked a seat upstairs. Remembering that as I boarded the plane was quite nice. Walking up a set of stairs upon boarding is always a fun experience.
The seats on the 747 are more or less the same as the business class seats on the rest of the Thai fleet – flat-ish at an angle. Not the best ride out there, but it beats the heck out of coach and these got me home when I needed. Plus, the hot pink and purple is a fun color scheme.
With the longer flight time to Rome there was also the opportunity for a more involved meal service, not that the short hop was particularly skimpy. I started with the foie gras and moved on to the steak. Both were quite tasty.
The cheese plate was not particularly impressive but the chocolates for dessert were. A great finish to the meal.
With that it was off to bed for several hours, waking up just as breakfast was being served.
The fruit was rather disappointing but the noodles were delicious and made for a great base to start the day with the early arrival in Rome.
I mentioned above that the IFE was not the best-in-class. It is an AVOD system with a selection of about 25 movies available. Nothing to sneer at necessarily. At the same time, however, the selection was rather poor and the classifications of the movies were questionable in many cases. "Classics" for movies should not include many works made after 1990. Shutter Island; Monsters, Inc.; Ocean’s Thirteen; Sherlock Holmes; 300; Casino Royale or the new Planet of the Apes are not classics. Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Grease and Goldfinger are. Die Hard is in a gray area, but I’d probably let it slide. Yippie kaiay.
Overall, I think the service was a solid B to B+ effort. The food was on the higher end of the spectrum while the seat and IFE were a bit lower. Ground service was great in Bangkok – I love the pre-flight massage – but not as great in Singapore. Still not the best offering in and out of SE Asia, but they’ve got a lot more award inventory on long-haul flights so there’s something to be said for that.
A little while back I wrote about the potential earning rates for United Airlines’ partner carriers when crediting to the new MileagePlus program. At the time the numbers were unofficial since the site they were published on wasn’t really in production. Since then, however, the site has gone live and the numbers are real. In most cases the rates stayed the same as pre-release though some have changed. There are definitely some where the correct data is still not available and even some where no data is available. Still, it is all we’ve got to work with. I’ve incorporated the new rates (at least the ones which exist) into the various calculators on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site. I’ve also detailed some of the more interesting bits in the numbers below.
TAM and Taca
Most surprising on the partner charts is that there are still some which are completely empty. Neither the TAM nor Taca partner pages are showing any details right now for earning rates. I’d surmise that they’re crediting based on the rates prior to the changeover but that’s really just a guess.
Aegean and Ethiopian
These two carriers had premium fares showing better than 100% EQM earnings in the pre-release pages. That is no longer the case. All fares earn, at most, 100% EQMs now.
Thai and LOT
Both Thai and LOT saw upgrades on the earning rates for EQMs on premium fares, unlike Aegean and Ethiopian. In the case of Thai the award mile earning rates on those fares also increased.
South African and ANA
Of all the programs where the numbers may or may not be correct, these two are the ones that are screaming at me that things are a mess. Here’s the chart for SAA:
That’s a whole lot of fares with 150% EQM earnings, especially in the economy category. Also, the 1 PQP against 50% PQM bit is particularly unusual, and this is the only place in the charts that I’ve seen such.
For ANA, there are two charts, one for flights covered by the Anti-trust immunity agreement and another for all other flights. For the ATI-covered flights, the EQM/PQM numbers look reasonably normal but the award miles earning rates are a bit strange. It seems highly unlikely that the economy and discount economy fares are supposed to be earning at 125%.
So the charts are updated and things are becoming more clear in terms of the partner earning rates. But there are still a bunch of open questions, bits that need answers from the company. And the answers don’t seem to be forthcoming.
Thai Airways has announced the end of their non-stop service between Thailand and the United States. The flights will be reduced from the current daily service to 5x weekly on February 1 and will shift to one-stop service via Seoul starting in May. At that time the route will also shift from the gas-guzzling Airbus A345,
the only plane flying today with the range to make the non-stop trip (Update: I forgot the 772LR can make it, but TG doesn’t have any), to a Boeing 777-200ER, which has lower fuel burn rates but also a much more limited range. This new flight schedule will only operate 4x weekly. Additionally, the change means no more premium economy product on the route as the carrier’s Boeing aircraft are not configured with that seating. The connection will also increase the travel time between Los Angeles and Bangkok by approximately 2 hours each direction.
This move doesn’t come as too much of a surprise given the trend in jet fuel prices, but it is still somewhat disappointing to see the option disappear. Then again, when I flew it last July I wasn’t particularly impressed with either the hard or soft products on board. And that was in business class. So maybe it is for the best that it is going away.
If you’ve got a ticket booked on TG 794/795 now would be a pretty good time to call the carrier and get that straightened out.
The Thai Airways lounges in Bangkok have been oft regaled. Their first class passengers, particularly, are well spoilt with hour-long massages and excellent dining options. Alas, my trip was only departing in business class so I was relegated to the lesser service. I know that the first class treatment must be nicer but the business class option was pretty darn impressive.
Check-in was handled well, with the added bonus of having seats at the check-in counters rather than having to stand while dealing with bag tags and seat assignments. I would have been happier if they tagged my bags all the way through to my final destination rather than just to Johannesburg, but that ended up not making a difference as I had to claim and drop the bags again anyways after clearing customs. And the private security and immigration facilities just for premium passengers was terrific, not in the least because I was the only one in line as I passed through.
Thai operates a bunch of lounges at Suvarnabhumi Airport covering First and Business Class passengers as well as Star Alliance Gold elite members. But they reserve access to the largest lounge for only premium cabin passengers. The services were, in my experience, nearly identical at the main lounge as in the others. Most notable was the presence of a duty free shop inside the biz lounge. And the dedicated lounge was much larger. None of the lounges were particularly crowded while I was there, but I attribute that mostly to my off-peak departure time (6pm) more than anything else. I can imagine that the *G lounges would get quite crowded at peak departure times.
All of the lounges offered up plenty of beverage options as well as various snack foods, ranging from soup to steamed buns to shumai to noodles. I’m drooling again just remembering them.
All the talk I’d previously heard about the first class departures spa and massages neglected to mention that business class passengers also get a complimentary treatment. No, it isn’t an hour long nor a full body work over, but you do get a choice of four half hour treatments. I didn’t realize this until I’d already spent an hour – and most of my preflight lounge time – sitting in the dedicated business class passenger lounge. Whoopsie. Fortunately there was just enough time for me to get my shoulder and neck massage prior to the flight. But shame on me for not doing the research I should have.
Following my massage it was time to meander out to the gate area – about 15 minutes away – and prepare for the flight itself. Thanks to the quality of the pre-flight pampering I was afforded in the lounge and the spa I wasn’t too worried about the in-flight experience.
I’ve been in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal and their dedicated First Class Lounges. I’ve been in the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class lounge. And I’ve been in any number of lounges operated by other carriers for elites and business class passengers. Putting aside the cool factor of the drive from the FCT to the airplane, I’m not sure that much out there beats the quality of the pre-flight pampering that Thai offers is pretty impressive. In the heat of the moment, relaxing following my massage with a glass of tea, I was convinced that it was the best ever. I’ve backed down from that a bit, mostly because the dining options that Lufthansa offers for the FCL/FCT are better by far than the business options that Thai has.
But I could quite reasonably argue that the Thai product is the best Business Class option I’ve experienced. Up against Virgin’s flagship Clubhouse in London‘s Heathrow I’d say that Thai does a quite respectable job. Less crowded, easier access to the spa treatments and better tasting food, if not quite the same variety. No waitress service but the open self-service bar didn’t suck.
Los Angeles to Bangkok – non-stop on Thai Airways – seemed like a good idea at the time.Yes, the flight is blocked at just over 17 hours, making it one of the longest commercial flights in operation. But I’ve flown other very long flights previously, several times in coach, and I’ve survived all of them and even enjoyed some of them. Yes, I knew going in that the seats in use on the Airbus A340-500 are not the most comfortable. Still, business class for that long a journey should be pleasant enough, right? And, yes, it meant a 14 hour travel day just to get to the point where I could start the trip. But that was worth it for the joys of making the super long flight, putting the cool line on my flight history map, right?
Boarding for the flight was conducted via one of the bus gates at LAX’s TBIT terminal. This is the first time I’ve ever had a departure from the terminal and I was rather surprised just how awful the experience was. Not nearly enough seats for the number of passengers boarding, overlapping announcements that confused pretty much everyone and nothing resembling proper amenities once you got out to the bus area. Pretty pathetic for a major international gateway. Still, I got on the bus and made the long ride out to the far stands where our aircraft was waiting, hoping things would be better once on board. After all, as I joked to a woman I was crammed against on the bus, "We’re flying business class; this is the closest we have to be to anyone for the next 18 hours."
Pre-flight included a glass of bubbly which was nice for keeping me awake and getting ready for the dinner service. And the dinner was pretty good food, though not the best I’ve had in the air by any stretch. There were a couple interesting quirks to the dinner service that made me wonder just how deep the budget cuts in catering were. The warm nuts, for example, were quite the pathetic presentation. Yes, I took this photo before eating any from the bowl.
The starter was a scallop, with a mango chutney of some sort. Not bad, but certainly a small portion and not particularly amazing either. Of course, I often find scallops to be that way when served out so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
For the main course I chose a fish. Sure, I’ve seen Airplane about a few dozen times but it still seemed like the least offensive of the options available. Plus, I was asked to make my choices for all three meals before departure (not a fan of that at all) and it seemed like a decent way to approach the menu. It was not offensive but also not particularly amazing.
Cheese course, drinks, dessert, drinks and before I knew it 2am PDT had arrived and it was definitely time to stretch out the seat and see what I was in for as far as sleeping was concerned.
The seat was, as anticipated, mediocre. I knew going in that it would not be a fully flat bed. Still, it was supposed to be flat enough at an angle that I’d be able to get some sleep. Especially combined with the fact that I’d been up for so long once I finally got on board, sleeping should be easy. And it actually was, even though the seat didn’t even seem to be flat at an angle when fully extended. I slept pretty well for 7 or 8 hours after the dinner service. The problem was that there were still about 7 hours left in the flight and the seat was pretty bad for just sitting in. There is nothing quite so disappointing in flight as waking up after a long, restful sleep and realizing that there is still the equivalent of London to New York City or more left to fly.
And so, with about 7 hours to go in the trip I wandered back to the galley to find out when the next meal was. Only 90 minutes away. This is actually my largest gripe about the service on the flight: the timing and ordering of the meals was wacky. When I’m taking a long flight and adjusting to a new time zone I try to switch my body over as early in the trip as possible, making it so that I’m as close to the local time as I can be when I land. The schedule of meals on this flight worked quite a bit against that.
Sure, a dinner just after take-off makes sense. And having it as a three-meal flight is great. But the second meal, served approximately 11-12 hours into the flight and at approximately midnight local time in Bangkok was breakfast. It was a good breakfast, but having it at that time rather than having another lunch/dinner course a couple hours earlier makes no sense to me. I had the shrimp congee option:
The third meal, served only about 4 hours later and only an hour prior to the 6:30am local time arrival of the flight was another lunch course. Again, decent food (though the shrimps were not as good on this one as in the congee) but it was the wrong meal at that time of the flight.
The A345 does offer one of my favorite bits of airplane silliness: a window in the lav. I’m not quite sure why, but I crack up every time I see it.
Ultimately the flight got me there in relative comfort and without too much trouble along the way. But the timing of the meals meant that when I landed I had been up since midnight local time. This made it rather difficult to get through the day fully coherent (or as much as I ever am). Fortunately I had some good friends around on the ground who helped drive that and kept me entertained as we toured Bangkok. But it was one of those friends, over dinner, who shared the following observation of this incredibly long flight:
I’ve taken it several times in each of the three classes of service available. I’ve had incredibly mediocre flights in business, rather pleasant flights in premium economy and surprisingly enjoyable flights down the back. It isn’t that the economy service is better than business; it just does a better job of exceeding expectations.
At the end of the day I must agree. The flight in business class was fine but it certainly didn’t live up to any of the great expectations set by tales of great in-flight experiences from the Asian airlines. Not bad, really, but not up to the expectations. Should I need to get to Bangkok again from the east coast I’ll almost certainly favor the flights via Europe or the Middle East. Roughly the same travel time and arguably better timed in-flight services. Definitely better premium seats available.