I kicked off my 2019 air travel experience with Thai Airways in Royal First Class aboard their 747s from Sydney to Bangkok to Tokyo Haneda. This allowed me to experience both types of 747 first class products that Thai Airways has on offer. One is the newer “suite” style first class with only 9 seats in the nose, and the other is a slightly more “retro” early 2000s open cocoon style with 10 seats in the nose. While the suites style was nice and more private, I personally enjoyed the older more retro seats as it gave a more true 747 nose experience including the classic drop down movie screen with projector, and the seat itself was just fine, minus the privacy.
Thai Airways Royal First Class over all is solid. Comfortable hard product with refined friendly service, decent food, good amenities and an excellent ground experience (one of the best airport ground experiences Ive had to date). It is nothing mind blowing or exceptional but it is as first class would and should be. I think the only thing I thought was not so great was that there is no distinction for priority boarding and it is an awkward run to the gate for anyone in First, Business or elite status.
I think for me what stood out the most was really the ground experience. Upon arrival in Bangkok airport staff await first class passengers at the jetbridge, leads them to a buggie and separates out those who are connecting, transiting or final destination Bangkok. You whisk through the airport in your buggie, its great and also a tad awkward. The lounge agents immediately greeted me by name as I arrived and were very accommodating to my chaotic schedule during my 8 hour layover (more on that). Departing Bangkok, there is a dedicated Royal First check-in area, you are then escorted through priority security and immigration, head down escalators to the Royal Orchid business lounge where you are handed off to another buggie driver to whisk you past the business class lounge to the first class lounge where the agents gladly welcomed me back. I believe they will also escort you to the gate at boarding but I chose to leave a bit early to shop.
Once again all menus will be at the end of the post.
Background and Flight info
I needed to get to Tokyo from Sydney for a roundabout way to get back to the US, and when looking at flights between the two cities on 1/1, the two nonstops in economy one-way were insane, ANA was $4000USD, Qantas was $1600USD, meanwhile Thai was $2200 for First class with an 8.5 hour layover in Bangkok. I went with Thai, to experience another first class, but also to do so in the nose of a 747 which is one of two favorite parts of any aircraft to be in, the other being the 747 upper deck. I also managed to snag a reservation at Gaggan for my layover (more on that in another post). I also do not believe this was a mistake fare or an on sale fare, just a very competitive fare.
Airline: Thai Airways
Flights: TG 476 / TG 682
Aircraft: 747-400 HS-TGB/ HS-TGX
Flight time: 10:30AM-15:05 around 8.5 hrs/ 23:30-06:45 around 5 hrs.
Distance: 4,675/ 2,855 miles
Check in at Sydney International was easy. Headed to the first class line, got checked in and received boarding passes for both my flights including lounge invite. Proceeded through Priority lane security and immigration and was airside in minutes.
Thai Airways and Business Class passengers are allowed to use two lounges, both run by Star Alliance partners. One is Air New Zealand’s lounge and the other is Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris lounge. Upon reading many forums and reviews, I went with Singapore’s lounge as there is a special First Class zone behind closed doors offering buffet, a la carte dining, showers and private seating, and very few people. I ordered some orange juice, coffee, satay and Laksa while enjoying tarmac views. I headed to the gate a few minutes early hoping to get a nice view of the 747, unfortunately it was an odd corner gate so not so great.
So commenced the hectic and unorganized boarding process in which every passenger, premium or not were confused. I stood in line where I was told to, the general premium line, but multiple business and first passengers who came closer to boarding time proceeded to cut thinking there was another special dedicated line. After kids and special assistance boarded, general premium boarded. Once aboard though it was as Thai markets itself, smooth as silk.
While I was not exactly escorted to my seat, I was greeted with warm smiles. At the seat was the Porsche amenity kit (inbound BKK), noise cancelling headphones, slippers, an orchid, and small nut snack. The seat itself is quite nicely finished. Wood paneling and finished with white paneling and the ottoman is a brown borderline burgundy ish color while the seat is a striped purple, with yellow and white pillows. There are no sliding doors though but they are nonetheless quite private. One of the coolest features of Thai 747s is the massive galley that spans an entire cabin length on the right side of the plane between doors R1 and R2, it creates an odd layout for business class passengers (smack on the otherside in a 2×2 layout with windows on one side only, but man is it cool.
All three main first class cabin crew then came by to introduce themselves, including the purser. They all knew me by name already, and knew I had pre-ordered a Lobster Thermidor. The purser informed me of the flying time. Another crew, sadly I forget her name but she was excellent, came by with my pajamas, menu and hot towel, and the third crew member came to offer me a beverage. Thai serves Dom Perignon Champagne aboard. I was still hungover from NYE but I cannot say no to Dom. The Dom arrived and another flight attendant came by to take my post-departure beverage order and to see if I wanted the caviar to start, the answer was of course yes.
The seat has traditional button seat controls as well as a touch screen pad, two main storage compartments with chargers, room under the ottoman that is used as storage for turn down service items, and entertainment console as well as a very tiny and thin closet that can barely fit a jacket.
Soon the best part of flying a 747 in the nose arrived, taxi and takeoff. There is nothing quite like sitting at the curvature of the nose and seeing the runway and taxi lines form and knowing you are in front of both the nose gear and pilots. On our climb I got a spectacular view of Sydney Harbour, a perfect way to bid farewell to the mots unforgettable NYE of my life.
We were then airborne and my beverage, one of Thai’s signature drink Violet Bliss (very sweet), arrived with macadamia nuts and h’orderves of Scallop, prawn and duck. Followed by bread basket, baked whole garlic (never seen this on a plane), and butter. Followed by caviar service. Note: the toast with caviar doesnt come with, they come by later and have you take however many you want. Purser then came by with a shot of vodka. And so began caviar heaven, Thai’s onboard caviar is not as good as Emirates, but still good.
Oddly, once I finished caviar, they not only cleared the caviar service but also all the bread and delicious garlic, and bread was never to be seen again. Then came a delicious spicy beef soup, followed by my Lobster Thermidor which I thought was just ok, have never tried the world-famous Singapore Airlines one yet, so I have nothing to compare. Then I was offered fruit and cheese followed by a Thai pumpkin custard tart with Chamomile tea. I also ordered a glass of white, tried the first one and didnt like it and proceeded with the next one, both French dry wines, the second one was better. The Thai food aboard was delicious, and I’d certainly hope so if you are to be the flag carrier of Thailand. Once all was cleared, they came back with bottled water.
After the meal, I got up to change into my comfortable, silk i think?, pajamas. I think the crew were busy with other passengers so werent able to proactively offer to make my bed, but they did eventually come over to offer and do that. The bedding itself was fine, nothing overly comfortable but better than nothing and the blanket was soft and cozy. I slept pretty well and woke up once to have a Tamarind Tea (another TG signature) and hydrate, before going back to bed. I then woke up before landing. Right before arrival all three main First Class cabin crew came by each seat to thank each passenger for choosing to fly Thai, I thought this was a nice gesture.
I chose only to have some fruits for pre-arrival as I wanted to save room for Gaggan. Soon, we were on descent into Bangkok. NOTE: Thai Airways does not offer premium passengers fast track or premium lane passes, however, at BKK you can totally use the Premium Lane with your first or business class boarding pass even though the main billboard right outside dont say so, the immigration counters inside do.
Bangkok Arrival, Transit and Departure.
While boarding was a mix of all premium and elite status passengers, deplaning was more orderly. I hate sounding elitist when I complain about these things but honestly when you redeem or buy for a premium experience, part of it is the exclusivity and ease of travel. Since there are no barriers between first and business and they open all curtains during takeoff and landing, the crew stood in as a blockade, something most US carriers dont bother doing. Upon deplaning, all first passengers, there were 8 of us, were escorted by airport staff. Three groups of us, one group was entering Bangkok, another was connecting immediately or on domestic Thailand flights and I was alone in international transit. I asked my greeter if I had time to use the spa and explained I also had a dinner to make, since we arrived early and First passengers get a complimentary 1-hour spa treatment of their choice. He phoned and they said should be fine. I was then whisked on the buggie through the airport to the first class lounge.
I was greeted by name and with welcoming smiles. I explained my layover itinerary, dinner at 5:30PM in downtown at Gaggan, no checked bags and ready to go. They said I had time for a spa. So I was walked to the spa and so began my Thai massage, non-oil. It was nice and relaxing and all too short…though not the best massage I’ve had. There are a variety of hour-long massages first class passengers can choose from and other additional services for a fee; business class passengers can enjoy a free 30 minute session. The massage rooms were massive with huge rain showers too. The lounge agents allowed me to leave my suitcase in the lounge as I entered Bangkok to go have dinner, this was very nice of them and made the commute to and from dinner easy and the security back into the airport smooth.
After an incredible meal at Gaggan, the taxi dropped me off at Royal First/ Royal Orchid check-in at departure door 1. I already had my boarding pass so I just showed it to a staff member who proceeded to escort me to the priority security and immigration lane. We headed down escalators to the Royal Orchid Lounge as he signaled to a buggie operator. I hopped on and was whisked passed the business class lounge (awkward but neat) and to the First Class lounge again. I was welcomed back with smiles and greeted by name and asked how my dinner was.
I was then walked to a “private room” in the lounge. Royal First lounge has an open seating area, nap rooms, shower facilities, a simple buffet, a la carte dining and beverage service, and “private rooms”. The rooms are semi-enclosed with living room style configuration including a work desk with computer and large plasma TV. To get wifi you scan you boarding pass at a kiosk and print off your code. I ordered some Pad-Thai, water, and mixed fruit juice and was also given a glass of Violet Bliss signature drink. The toilets in this lounge are massive, in the mens area, is is not an open style bathroom, instead its individual bathrooms each with toilet and sink. I also took a shower to freshen up. After hydrating and snacking, I decided to go shop around the airport for a bit before departure, the lounge agents even said it was too early to head out.
I arrived at the gate a bit early, and boarding was not on time. Once again, it was a bit of a chaotic and confusing boarding process with all sorts of passengers flooding to the front to board first. But once again, once aboard the plane, it was silky smooth.
Once again, was greeted by smiling crew in their signature Thai welcome. Walked to my seat and soon the first class flight attendants each came by. Purser came by to inform flight time, and confirm my pre-ordered Royal Thai Banquet meal #1 which was of a grape and duck red curry (soo good). I told her I’d like to just enjoy the main course and go right to bed as it was a short 5 hour red eye to Tokyo. Another flight attendant came by to offer beverage, and of course I went with Dom. Finally the last one came by to offer me the PJs and hot towel, this time I was not offered a menu as I had pre-ordered and already indicated I wanted to just have that main course. As boarding continued, while the first class cabin was still empty I snapped some cabin shots, seeing this the purser offered to shut the front storage door and remaining open overhead bins shut so I could have a full picture as she said the front panel had a nice painting of Bangkok’s historic temples and palaces, this was very nice of her.
At my seat was the noise cancelling headphones, Rimowa amenity kit, orchid, and a white chocolate dessert. The color scheme is much the same as the new seats. One cool feature of this older seat is that the ottoman can move forward and back for optimal sleeping, resting and lounging positions. The seat also has two storage compartments, except only one non-USB outlet, and the tiny 10.5inch TV (which back in the day was a massive improvement), is stowed in the side and you push it out of its compartment. Like I said, one of the coolest parts besides being at the front of the nose and plane was the retro manual drop-down movie screen and projector which was only used for the safety video, but I was all in for this. While a few minutes behind on the departure, with a shorter than blocked flying time we were due into Tokyo right on time.
Soon we were taxing and airborne. Right after takeoff, my tray table was set and I was brought another delicious soup, this time it was cabbage wrapped meatball soup. Followed by my main course, Pre-order Thai meal seat, grape and duck red curry, egg pancake, rice, roast beef papaya salad and sweet potato leaf, so good, the red curry was incredible, would highly recommend ordering this. They then brought fruit and dessert, I only chose to go with the fruits. I had wanted to purchase an airplane model and pay half in cash and half in card to get rid of my Thai Baht but then TG doesnt allow this, SQ allowed this on my flight recently, so I forewent the model.
On this flight, to save time, I chose not to change into my PJs, and as the crew was busy with the meal service with the rest of the cabin (full house in First), I also forewent the turn down service and just reclined my seat into the slightly angled bed and fell asleep. I woke up halfway to find bottled water had been set at my side, then went back to sleep again. I woke up just as the sun began to rise and before we began a descent into Haneda. The open cabin of the nose of the 747 in this retro layout made for a spectacular sunrise as it pierced the multiple windows across the cabin as everyone else was still sound asleep. Everyone pretty much slept right to the end so I dont think anyone had the pre-arrival snack.
It was beautiful clear blue sky day in Tokyo and I was on the side with a panoramic view of Mt. Fuji as we approached Haneda. What a magical arrival on a classic jet. Soon it was time to bid the mighty 747 a farewell. At this 6:45AM arrival, there were not other passengers at immigration as many flights had already arrived earlier. It was a quick and easy process, per the usual in Japan, and soon I was on my way in Tokyo for another 8 hour layover.
Like I said earlier, Thai Airways offers a solid and refined First Class experience. Are the seats crazy over the top like Singapore or Emirates? No. But the service is genuine, friendly and warm. The Thai food is delicious. Comfortable hard product. Ground experience is truly to be treated as Royalty, an experience neither Emirates nor Singapore Airlines offers. Free hour-long full body massage at the lounge?! Cannot beat that. Good quality amenities. Cannot hurt that they serve Dom and Caviar. And apparently very competitive prices for both full fare and mileage redemptions. The only couple of downsides would be the disorganized boarding process, odd bread service, and ok wine list besides the Dom.
If you find yourself needing to get from a Point A to Point B and it will fly over Thailand, consider looking up first class fares to see what Thai is charging for a flight with a layover in Bangkok. The other carrier that charged similarly was Garuda Indonesia. Otherwise I have read its a decent redemption with UA Mileage. Thai Royal First class is a good experience that I wouldnt hesitate to do again, and for sure only order Thai food.