Thai Airways to Bangkok: Maddeningly Inconsistent

 I had been looking forward to this flight for a while. Not just because it was the proper kick off to a long trip (a quick stop in Paris can hardly be counted as a true jumping off point), but because amongst obsessive compulsive frequent fliers, the Boeing 777’s that Thai Airways have leased from JET (9W) have a somewhat legendary status in the arena of Star Alliance (*A) award redemptions.

The reason for this is…they have suites. Sure other airlines have suites on their planes. Emirates, Singapore, Ethihad amongst others, but they are tough to get into without paying a fortune. Singapore’s A380 suites booked as R class (“A class beyond First”) cannot be booked through Star Alliance partners. Only KrisFlyer miles can be used and at usurious rates (something like 1,000,000 miles for a roundtrip…no thanks). Singapore guards their premium cabins fiercely and would sooner send seats out empty than filled with mileage redeeming freeloaders. That’s their choice, but I don’t see myself ever burning 1,000,000 miles (or roughly 6 U.S.-Europe roundtrips in First), for one flight with SQ. Nor do I plan on paying the $15,000-$20,000 these seats regularly retail for.

Emirates and Etihad have better availability, but neither are in an alliance, which makes locating award inventory with your existing miles (assuming you are not a Middle East based FF, who frequently uses these airlines) difficult.

So, as I was saying…Thai have great award availability to their *A partners and they have the suites. I know some people feel claustrophobic in seats like this and like an open cabin where they can see their fellow passengers. I cannot disagree with these people more. Hell is other people. When I am flying I would like to be as isolated as possible from the other passengers. I don’t want to talk, I don’t want you watching me sleep, I don’t want to know you exist…Thai was able to do this for me. Until I asked the stewardess what the load was in first (there were two other passengers for an occupancy of 3 out of 8), I thought that I was the only person in the cabin…perfection.

Given how wonderful the hard product is on these flights, it is all the more perplexing that Thai is unable to capitalize on the substantial assets they are working with, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

I woke up far too early. My flight was at 1:30, but I had visions of my near miss on my last trip to CDG and I arranged for the car to pick me up in Saint Germain at 9:45am. By 10:30 we were at CDG. My bags were checked through from CDG to Sydney, but due to a problem with the Thai (TG) computers, they couldn’t print my boarding pass to SYD.

The First Class lounge...seriously...this is it

With far too much time on my hands, I made for the lounge. Thai uses the general *A lounge in Terminal 1 at CDG. While I had previously been to the downstairs business portion of the lounge before Continental flights home, I had never been to the First Class section. It is without doubt, the worst “First Class” lounge I’ve ever been to. I was thinking about gathering my stuff and going down to the business section because it is much larger, has a number of TV’s showing the news and just feels a bit more relaxing. Not a single attendant was working in the first class section. There was a small table with some meager prepared food offerings sitting out, and across the way a table with liquors laid out. I was not ready to start imbibing at 11am, so I availed myself of the free wifi and tried to pass the time. There were only two other guests in the lounge. An odd looking Thai man (who would end up in suite 1K) and a French woman, dressed to the 9’s (she would end up in suite 1A). As I left the lounge, I caught the French woman lighting up a cigarette and puffing away at her chair IN the lounge. While there is a garden smoking area outside, smoking inside the lounge is absolutely not allowed. However, since none of the lounge staff bothered to do their jobs, no one was there to stop her. I have to give her credit on the audacity. The lounge smelling like smoke was not my problem, and i’m not a NARC, so I just laughed to myself and made for the gate.

Boarding, as it always is, was late. The 77W “Krabi” was sitting at the gate waiting to bring us to the other side of the world. Once the gates opened, I was the second one on the plane. Suite 2A. The biggest complaint I have about the first class suites on Thai is the nonsensical design as to the storage of carry-ons. There are NO overhead bins in first. While each suite has a private closet, which works for stowing your jacket or any hanging items, there is no place to put your bags. Luckily as we were only 3 of 8 in first, my carry on luggage rode in the suite next to me, but I don’t know where you’re expected to put your stuff when the cabin is full.

This is how flying should be

My first impression of the seat was “ok, this is going to work.” Once you enter your suite, you have your chair, then an ottoman/chair across from you that a companion can sit in for dining or to visit, or if you so choose you can just use it as a footrest (as I did). On the left side of the seat there is a storage box aft of the touch screen seat control panel and another one fore of the dining table which folds out of the side panel. As you can see in the photo, the IFE screen is very large (I didn’t measure but I would guess 20 inches or more) and had some of the sharpest definition I have ever seen on an airplane screen. The seat is very comfortable with tons of space and feels very private. When you shut the doors, you really get the feeling that you are in your own compartment.

Again, another minor gripe that highlights Thai’s inconsistent approach. While the seat was excellent, I asked the stewardess where the in-seat power plug in was. She had no idea. She got the steward who attempted to tell me the headphone jack was a power plug. I told him this was very clearly not the case. Finally, a third employee was able to locate the plug. The staff were all very nice and clearly trying hard, but if you are working on the aircraft, you should know where very basic features of the seat are in order to help out your customers.

Also, I don’t know if this is Thai’s normal staffing, but only 1 dedicated stewardess was assigned to the F cabin. As there were only 3 passengers, this made sense, but had their been 8 I don’t know how the service would have been. Now…on to the meal service

Meal Service Thai Airways TG931 CDG-BKK

Pre-Departure Beverage: Dom Perignon '02

Assorted Nuts

Canapes: Duck, Shrimp & Creme Fraiche

White Sturgeon Caviar with Garnitures

Marinated Scallops with Sauteed Marinated Prawns & Back Salmon

Mixed Salad

Sorbet Palate Cleanser (Lemon)

Shrimps with Hoisin Sauce, Steamed Thai Hom Mali Rice, Vegetables

Assorted Cheese & Fresh Fruit

Dessert

The meal service again highlighted how all over the place Thai is. Clearly they want to compete with the big boys in the super premium market like Singapore and Cathay Pacific. They serve caviar, they serve Dom, they are going for the gold. Then they phone in the rest of the meal after the caviar and I suppose hope you’ll be so drunk on Dom you don’t notice.

My notes…the canapes were good, but the “creme fraiche” was like cheese spread on top of a thin circular cut out of wonder bread. The Scallop and Prawn course was pretty good, but served far too cold. The “mixed salad” was nothing but some sad looking pieces of lettuce. The main course was awful. It would be amongst the worst dishes at even the rankest of “asian” cuisine restaurants. The shrimp were tough, the sauce has no taste the “vegetables” were again one type and the rice was actually hard. I assumed the “thai” option would be the way to go, but I guess that’s only true ex-BKK.

After dinner I finished watching “Real Steel.” As much as I wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. It was hokey, choked full of stereotypes, cliches, bad writing and was extremely predictable, but i’ve seen worse movies. I wonder if the writers were consciously channeling Rocky IV with the Russian broad in a tight white dress and the inhuman killing machine fighter. I mean the asian designer guy even says something like “whatever he sees, he kills.” I was waiting for Hugh Jackman to scream “DRAGO!”

Doors shut means time for bed

After the movie, I decided it was time for bed. Now even on comparatively “ancient” First class products, like Lufthansa’s 747-400’s that haven’t been upgraded to the new first, you still get a mattress pad, some sort of sheet over it and a nice blanket. This really helps the seat feel more like a bed and less like some public bench you’re passing out on. Given how absolutely outstanding the suites are on Thai’s 77W, it would take very, very little to complete the experience. A 50 cent mattress pad, a cheap sheet over it and a nice, warm blanket to go along with the fairly comfortable pillows that are already on offer. Again…Thai drops the ball. According to reports in the frequent flier universe, Thai “sometimes” has mattress pads and there are two versions (neither of them good) of the F blanket floating through the system.

On this flight, there was no mattress pad. The “turn down service” consisted of the Stewardess holding down the bed button until it stopped going back…she didn’t even give me a blanket. I had to go to the galley and ask for one. The blankets in use on this flight were ratty, paper thin and puke green. They are the kind of useless blankets you get (or used to at least) on domestic flights in the U.S. This is NOT the kind of product that has any place in a first class cabin on an international route. The blankets were so thin I had to ask for a second one just to keep warm. The lack of an FA call button (at least one I could find) in the suite is another draw back to the product.

Settled in to sleep

Once I was finally in bed and warm, I went through the very cool Rimowa amenity kits Thai gives out (they are like minature Rimowa suitcases), only to find that no earplugs or eye shade are included. I went back to the galley and one of the pursers handed me a separate bag with an eye shade and ear plugs. I don’t understand why, if you have eye shades on board, you would not include them in the amenity kit. This is a pretty standard thing, I think airlines hand these out to passengers in all classes on long flights. No one wants to have their sleep disturbed by cabin light. So if you know i’m going to request one (and they obviously do since they keep them on hand), why not just give them out in the first place?

Some people hate long flights. I am not one of them. Give me 11-12 hours of CDG-BKK any day over the 5.5 hour JFK-LHR flight. When you fly transatlantic, the flight is so short that you have almost no chance to get good sleep and you land the next morning tired and behind the eight ball. With a flight over 10 hours, you have ample time to watch a movie, relax during the meal service still get a full night of sleep.

I clocked out and slept fairly well. I woke up a few times during the evening to moderate turbulence and checked the airshow. I suppose it makes sense given the route, but I was surprised to see it indicated we were flying over Afghanistan at one point. Looks like no one was quick with a Stinger.

An hour outside of BKK, the cabin crew began rousing the passengers for breakfast. Normally I pass on this and sleep right through until landing, but since I had gotten about eight hours of sleep while we were hurtling from Europe towards Asia, I felt ok and decided to go with it.

Fruit Salad

Omelette, Sausage, Bacon, Mushrooms, Potatoes

I got some chili sauce for the omelette, and I have to say the breakfast was actually quite good. Unfortunately, since it was very early still in Thailand, it was pitch black out during our approach and I couldn’t see anything on the ground. After a smooth landing we made our way to the terminal. I was floored by the number of widebodies TG have at BKK. I had no idea their operation was so big.

Upon arrival F passengers are met by a Thai employee. She had our names typed up on signs. I was connecting to Sydney, but not for 12 hours, so I wanted to go to the First Class Lounge to sleep for a bit in one of the slumber rooms and have a shower before going into town. Trying to make this desire known to the woman was another experience in feeling out “Tinglish” communications, as many of Thai’s employees (even in premium cabins) have a tenuous at best grasp of the English language. I hate Americans who expect the entire world to speak their language, but as a practical matter, it is unlikely a large % of the world population is going to learn Thai. It is also unlikely that Thai FA’s will all speak a sufficient # of languages to communicate with all passengers in their native tongue. Thus it just makes sense from a practical perspective that they have a functional grasp of English as a middle ground to allow communication with the largest % of their clientele.

Anyway, she asked me “you wan’ go lown?” After the third or fourth time, I gathered she was asking if I wanted to go to the lounge. I replied in the affirmative. They piled the three of us into a purple and gold Thai golf cart and the woman took off ripping along side the motorized walkways of the terminal. She was honking at people in our way and driving rather aggressively. It was pretty funny. We had to clear another security line, after which we were handed off to another Thai agent who brought us to the lounge. I was led to a slumber room and I passed out for a few hours. FINAL NOTE: The Rimowa amenity kits are the nicest, at least aesthetically, I’ve received on a plane and the loud purple PJ’s with the Thai logo on the left breast rock. More about the Thai F lounge, BKK and the flight to Sydney next time.

ADDITIONAL CABIN PHOTOS

View of row 2 from suite 2A

TG 77W F cabin

Suite 1A before it was occupied

Seat Control panel

CDG-BKK flight path

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