Thai Airways began in 1960 as a joint between a domestic carrier and Europe’s SAS. They started by serving neighbouring destinations and commenced their first long distance flight in 1970; flying to Australia. Europe followed a year later and in 1980 Thai began flying to North America. In 1977 the Government acquired the entire airline. In 1988 Thailand’s international and domestic airlines were merged and in 1991 the airline was partially privatised and listed on Bangkok’s Stock Exchange. Thai was a founding member of Star Alliance in 1997. In 2005 the airline revised is image but retained its much loved and iconic purple logo. The airlines emblem is not an orchid which most believe it to be, but in fact an image of an airflow pattern. The GFC upset Thai’s balance sheet and they recorded their first ever loss in 2008; withdrawing from several routes including their 17 hour service to New York. Thai has invested in domestic low cost rival Nok Air and is in a joint venture with cheap and nasty Tiger Airways.
Thai’s flight crew are perhaps the most beautifully attired flight attendants in the sky today. The women have a chic western uniform for the ground, but once they step on board they slip into an exotic silk traditional Thai costume reminiscent of a temple danger. The women are graceful and petite while male flight crew are dressed in light purple. Other than providing something nice to look at during a long flight, they’re also very polite and respectful. However Premium passengers do notice crew are a little too invisible when it comes to drinks top-ups and delivering creature comforts. Thai’s airliners are also the nicest smelling aircraft and after long flights still smell like jasmine rice and tropical petals. They’ve won hygiene awards.
Thai operates a good network in Thailand, especially for tourists, however low cost rivals and Bangkok Airways are systematically nibbling at their pie. On international routes Thai offers far more than just linking Thailand with the world, it’s often the best airline to cross the globe in. For example Australia to Scandinavia they have the best connections and also their connections to many Indian and Chinese cities often make them the best choice. Los Angles to India; Thai often have the best service. However Thai’s network is suffering from intense competition especially from prestigious Middle Eastern carriers who are poaching passengers by competing on Thai’s routes such as Emirates; Bangkok to Sydney and Etihad; Bangkok to Brisbane.
A Thai Airways experience is quite a pleasant one and the airline is definitely better than many competitors who are pricier. Premium passengers can pick up bargains which occur often, while tourists bound for Thailand can start their holiday the moment they get on-board. Fares are very competitive, service is good, food great and baggage allowance tends to be generous. Thai is worth paying extra for, but oddly enough they are so competitive you usually do not need to. Penny pinchers should resist the temptation to fly a cheaper airline as the small savings are usually not worth it. Thai is great way to start a trip.
Because the world is so familiar with Thai cuisine, it finds itself onto the airline’s menu; however because they don’t want to upset Westerns averse to too much spice, much of the flavour is not there. For those who enjoy a bit of spice, they may find it bland while others will like it. Premium passengers will enjoy beautifully presented creations served on distinctive tableware while Economy passengers will enjoy a full tray with several tasty selections. US and European travellers not accustomed to free meals often comment how generous Thai Economy cuisine is. Thai bread rolls are pretty plastic and the Heinz Chilli sachets lack bite for those who want to be bitten!
Newer aircraft have a modern individual in-flight entertainment system while older aircraft, which the airline has many of, have the single large or dropdown screens showing a single movie. The entertainment offering is not exactly exciting but does the trick of filling in time. The airline focuses on English, and many languages are not provided for. Their magazine is full of advertisements and nice pictures but not much to read, especially for non English speakers.
Ground service on Thai is above average but it varies considerably from airport to airport and your class of travel. Premium passengers are pampered like Royalty from the second they arrive at the airport in Bangkok. Economy travellers will experience pretty standard ground services and queues can be long and the process slow on occasion. Baggage handling is normally standard. Thai baggage handler’s vigilance is comparable to the US but they are better at transferring luggage than their UK counterparts.
Bangkok’s beautiful new airport provides lavish facilities for Royal First Class and Royal Silk (Business) Class passengers, so arrive early to enjoy pre-flight snacking and an exquisite massage. The onboard comforts are amongst the nicest of the legacy airlines. The colour scheme is distinct, exotic and seating is comfortable, spacious and cuisine suburb. US premium passengers who fly Thai for the first time realise how terrible their own airlines have sunk to in comparison. First Class passengers won’t want the flight to finish and need to watch out for their waistlines. On board dining is restaurant standard.
Economy passengers experience a pleasant trip. Aircraft interiors are unmistakably Thai and very warm and friendly. Some of the old fashioned niceties of travel have been preserved on Thai, such as the warmed towel to start with and constant offerings of water. Seats are standard, meals nice, baggage allowance good but some aircraft are older looking and showing their age. Thai’s Premium Economy is excellent and resembles Business Class of many competitors, like Jetstar or Delta. Bigger build passengers will definitely appreciate/need the extra space..
As part of Star Alliance, a Royal Orchid Plus membership is useful the world over on numerous partner airlines and travel industry affiliates. Even for non-Thais, membership is good. The scheme is one of the better ones, but like all loyalty programmes considerable travel is required before benefits materialise.
Thai Airways is fighting hard to keep its market share. Unfettered competition is taking its toll on the balance sheet and the airline has responded by involving itself in down market rivals as well as improving its premium products. At the same time the airline’s management has stepped outside the law and participated in a global price fixing scam which has been uncovered. Managers who are prepared to do this show they may be prepared to take other dishonest measures. Thai’s management have also taken many bad decisions over the years and been slow to react to problems. The way they withdrew from New Zealand and then returned, twice, is indicative of an unclear strategy.
The airline operates a mixed fleet with planes of varying age which seem to be well maintained. Some of their pilots are unable to make snap decisions which can be critical, but the airline has operated recently without making it into the world’s limelight for any wrong reasons. They have had accidents, but none recent.
A very nice airline at a good price with a flavour and flare all its own.
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