Flying First Class on Thai Airways A380


These days, Thai Airways only has a First Class-cabin on board their soon-to-be-retired Boeing 747’s and their fleet of 6 (Airbus) A380’s. When it comes to my personal preferences, I’d pick any class on the 747 ahead of any A380 for my flying needs. 


My first meeting with a B747 jumbo-jet was back in the second half of the 80’s flying Pan Am’s "Clipper Mandarin” (that’s the aircafts name in my memory at least) from Oslo to Miami. Since then, there has been a lot of flights on B747 all around the world, and on many airlines. 

Perhaps the most special B747-flight was from somewhere in Europe (Frankfurt?) to Montreal on Air Canada’s last B747 jumbo jet. I may have remembered all the facts wrong here, but according to my memory, it was a combined cargo- and passenger version of the B747 that flight. Additionally, I recall it being the last flight of the Captain as well, his so-called retirement flight.  At arrival Montreal, the aircraft was to be retired as well as the Captain. Before arriving at Montreal, somewhere above the Saint Lawrence River, we met a couple of fighter planes from Canadian Airforce that escorted us down to Montreal. 


But, to get back on track for this bLOG-post, it’s all about my first A380 experience. For the first time in my life, I got a chance to fly A380 this last August. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, so this flight would naturally be a dream-come-true for me. And just to make it even more special for me, the flight would also be flown in Thai Airways’ First Class cabin. 


The destination of my A380-experience would be a place which I think is fast becoming my absolutely most favourite city in the whole world: Hong Kong. To know more about why I think Hong Kong is such an amazing place, please check back for a later episode here at my travel bLOG. 


Flight: TG600 BKK-HKG (Bangkok - Hong Kong)

Aircraft: HS-TUC Chaiya / ไชยา

Chosen seat: 1K 


There is a moment when you start walking towards the entrance of the First Class check-in, when the staff at the entrance can be read like a book: «are you sure you are going here»? It happened the last time I flew Thai Airways First Class, and I got that very same feeling again.

As soon as I got to show them the app-booking, I was quickly escorted inside the exclusive check-in area and offered a seat in a comfortable leather chair. An ice-cold bottle of water was so cold I could hardly drink it. Too improve the leverl of service, this plastic bottle could have easily been replaced by a proper glass and someone actually serving it, I thought to myself. 



While the staff checked in my baggage and did all the arrangements, I sat there for a few minutes sipping water too cold for my throat while desperately trying to warm the bottle-contents with my hands. 


As soon as check in was done, a staff member came to take my carry-on, and escorted my through a private diplomatic security screening. On the other side, there was an electric cart ready to take me to the First Class lounge. 


Once inside the First Class lounge, you will be asked wether you want to spend your pre-flight time in the “ ommon- area” of the first class lounge or whether you prefer a private lounge all to yourself. Drinks are quickly offered, as well as a wide choice of delicious breakfast dishes (it was an early morning flight). Being the shrimp-lover I am, I off course chose the shrimp wontons and the creamy forest mushroom soup with REAL mushrooms you could taste! Both dishes were actually really delicious! In the private lounge there were two comfortable chairs, a sofa, a desktop computer and work station and a gigantic 3D TV. 



For the first time in my life, I’ve now also seen a restroom featuring a sofa for lounging.



Well ahead of boarding-time I was asked if I preferred walking to my gate, which on that day was unusually far away, or if I would prefer an electric cart to drive me. There was a but though: if I walked by myself, I wouldn’t need to pass through secruity, but if I got driven, I would have to pass through a security check-point again (because the cart don’t do stairs that well). I went for the second option even though I would have to pass through another security check-point, with promises that I would be given free priority ahead of any possible queue. 


Without trying to be a snob, but in my private little suite I was really relaxed and pampered by the staff. I surfed the Internet, uploaded pictures, read some newspapers online, had some champagne, and watched news on TV. If travelling is as relaxing as this, then travelling would be so much more awesome.

 

While boarding of business- and economy class passengers was nearing completion, a member of the lounge-staff came to my suite and asked me if I was ready to be driven to the gate. The transfer from lounge to aircraft was effortless, despite the additional security. The cart driver courteously carried my carry-on all the way to my seat on board the aircraft. 


Once at my seat, there was numerous flight attendants, as well as the cabin Chief Purser, there to present themselves and welcome me personally on board their A380 aircraft. Genuine Thai hospitality was much more evident and clearer this time when compared to my previous first class flight. Each time someone came to serve me something at my seat, or had something to offer, the use of my name and title was always used. "Welcome on board TG600 to Hong Kong, Captain Storli”, "Would you like some Dom Perignon 2006, Captain Storli?”.



Dom Perignon - I had so many glasses I nearly lost count, but I’m pretty sure I was close to emptying most of the bottle myself: both prior to take off and during the entire flight. Champagne glass with logo to the side…. I started taking a photo and within seconds a steward came by and twisted the glass so that the logo was facing me! I fully accept that people make mistakes when they are also clear enough to admit that they made a mistake. It’s like politicians, I don’t like them because they are never admitting their mistakes - they don’t bother to show remorse, regret and simple humbleness. This steward did a mistake yes, but the way he handled it and the way he corrected it was bordering to «charming» and extremely professional. 


For my in-flight dining, I had pre-ordered the lobster, after being contacted by Thai Airways through e-mail. Sadly, it wasn’t the best lobster I have tasted - a lobster Thermidor that probably died drowning in a cheesy sauce. From my own experiences, this is a common problem when ordering lobster Thermidor anywehere in Thailand. During my life-time, I have had my fair share of ill prepared lobsters. Actually, there is one special place in Bangkok that lives up to the best standards equal to even Crystal Cruises: Centara Grand’s Red Sky rooftop restaurant at Central World. They serve a lobster the way it SHOULD be served - I think I may need to invite the catering management and chefs of Thai Airways to Centara Grand some day so that they can taste themselves, and perhaps also learn how to not destroy a lobster. Additionally, the actual amount of lobster-meat on my sky-meal was also a long way from my pre-flight expectations. 



One thing I really missed on this particular flight, was the delicious and refreshing Thai ice tea I got on most of the business class flights of Thai Airways last year. 


First Class on Thai Airways is located in the forward-most part of the upper deck of their A380. In front of that, next to the staircase there was a small sitting area with sofas on starboard side, and a large bathroom and changing room to the port side of the same stairs. The sitting area was .. to be honest, slightly disappointing and simple. The sofa was not comfortable at all, and the feel of the sitting area was not “inviting”. By not utilising the area optimal, I personally think it’s such a waste of (revenue-making) space. 


Seats in the First Class cabin are placed in a 1-2-1 configuration, and each seat have generous space - but then again, I’m not a big person in either length or size. There are lots of neat storage spaces around each seat, good quality headphones, and a very large TV screen. A strong minus had to be noted on the TV-screen brightness, because it was really hard to see due to brightness of the cabin. I certainly also missed the in-seat massage function found in the seat on the older space-like business class seats of some of their B777 aircrafts. Seat could however  be laid nearly flat - though, there was no way I would spend the short flight to Hong Kong sleeping! 



In seat 1K, I got two windows all for myself, but because of thick walls and «glass» in both ends of the window-frame, I wasn’t able to keep an eye on any of the four engines for the captain. 



Being my first A380-flight, I quickly noticed, how high above the ground I was… I was actually looking down on a taxing B777-200 just passing us before we turned out on the active runway. This aircraft is very big! 



Complimentary WiFi for First Class guests (or passengers) was a minimal 20MB only: kind of felt like being offered a 128 MB flash drive when you could get 64 Gb at same price. It should have been a bigger package - for example, I think 100MB would be a much more generous offering, also because its speed was not THAT great. It took ages loading even the lightest of webpages or online newspapers. 



When the Captain announced we would have to circle Hong Kong a couple of times before landing, I was very happy. I was in absolutely no rush to end this flight.   

2017 08 21 BKK-HKG-IMG 2469



As soon as gate was reached, First Class is let out first. As soon as debarking the aircraft, you are all on your own having to fight your way to immigration and customs like all other passengers. Thankfully, knowing this in advance, I had arranged otherwise. A cart picked me up and took me to the extremely efficient immigration. Not announced anywhere on signage or in travel documents, but First Class passengers can actually use the Dimplomatic lane in immirgation. 

An increadibly short 20 minutes after arriving at the gate, I was already seated comfortably in my pre-arranged Mercedes Benz S500 limousine ready to go to town. 



A380 vs B747-400


So, between the 747 and A380, and after this maiden flight: which aircraft is better? As mentioned above, I would choose a smartly configured and well-kept 747 ahead of any A380. I just can’t put a finger on the “why” here, because the A380 definately have a quieter cabin, bigger windows and are the newest of the two. To me there can only be one “queen of the sky” and that is still the B747 for me. I’m however sure that within time, as the B747 becomes something of the past, my opinions might change. 


And how is the future of the A380? As far as I can see, it hasn’t become the big success as predicted (apart from Emirates which are aiming at owning the largest fleet of A380 in the world). Cost per seat is not the main problem of the A380, it's the maintenance costs that are killing the new super-jumbos. As far as I have been told, there is four times more maintenance work that has to be done on a 10-year old A380, than on a 20 year-old B747.


Another fact is that there is apperently now more B787 Dreamliners in active duty, than there are B747 left in the skies. 


Flight: TG601 HKG-HKG (Hong Kong - Bangkok)

Aircraft: HS-TUB Mancha Khiri / มัญจาคิรี

Chosen seat: 1K 

Captain: Supaphan

Remarkable air hostess: Khun Tek


The night before my return flight to Bangkok, I checked my booking in the SAS Star Alliance app and noticed that my flight was scheduled to leave at 18:45 instead of what I surely thought was just after 1 PM. Puzzeled at first, I thought there must be an error somewhere. I quickly understood that the expected typhoon could have something to do with the change of departure time. After a short moment, an e-mail ticked in from Thai Airways explaining that the flight had to be rescheduled due to tropical storm HATO. 


Throughout the day, I had seen signs everywhere around Hong Kong showing the current category of the tropical storm. In the morning, the numbers were low, but during the afternoon and early evening it climbed up towards the top. By late evening, BBC confirmed that the approaching HATO was aiming directly at Hong Kong with the highest category of the scale. HATO would presumably make landfall in or very near Hong Kong sometime around lunch time the following day, with expected winds up to 160 km/hour. 


I was actaully extatic because I have never in my life been on land in the path of such a powerful tropical storm. I’ve sailed through some pretty strong tropical storms on many oceans, but never had I experienced one whilst on land. 


I’ll tell you a lot more about my encounter with HATO in another future bLOG entry here.  


Some time in the afternoon, as HATO was quickly weakening, my limo-driver arrived to take me back to the airport. For my whole visit in Hong Kong this time, all my limousine requirements was delivered by Blacklane. Those experiences are also a good story for another future bLOG-entry.  


The completely surreal drive back to the airport was something I had not experienced before in my life. First of all, it was not only raining cats and dogs, but more like raining rhinos and buffalos. Roads were also closed by barriers or police, roads were severely flooded, and roads were obstructed by fallen trees or branches. I really lost the count on how many times my driver apologised for having to stop, and get out in the driving rain to clear the roads ahead. Without soundning like a total a55 (pardon my French), I actually felt really bad at times, and wanted to go out helping him, but I wasn’t dressed for such activities, and after all, it was his job too.  


Hong Kong airport had no porter service this day, no escort and no fast track for (Thai) First Class passengers. I got a destinct feeling that you do get a whole lot more service travelling First Class out of Bangkok than out of Hong Kong - despite there being no difference in the price. Even the pre-flight complimentary massage for First Class passengers is of a much lower grade on the return flight: it’s done by a massage chair! Somehow that leaves me with the feeling where I recommend you flying to Hong Kong in First Class, but return to Bangkok in business class.


Despite the lack of such services and benefits in Hong Kong, the airport was nearly abandoned this afternoon. It was so much more surreal walking into the empty airport, than the drive to the airport. I was told all flights in and out had been cancelled, and that the airport had ceased normal operation for the duration of the tropical storm. 


Walking around the check-in area, security, immigration and customs was so out of this world. I had never seen any major airport anywehere in the world, so close to “empty”. It was almost like an apocalyptic experience. In the rear-view mirror, I really regret not stopping and taking time to take a few photos of all the deserted areas. 


While most shops were closed when I arrived, they started opening again late afternoon as flights started coming in and leaving again. I had a quick walk-around in some electronics- and gadget shops (after all, I’m a man and a self-proclaimed gadget-geek). Because there is no sales-tax or VAT in Hong Kong, prices are much more reasonable here when compared to prices in for example Norway. Be aware though, I found that the prices in the shops at the airport are generally slightly higher than downtown Hong Kong. 


The Thai Airways Business Class and First Class lounges are located side by side, separated only by a wall. The food is actually pretty much the same in both lounges: the difference is that its served buffet-style in Business and served a-la carte at your table by staff in First Class area. I opted for the Cesar salad with Norwegian smoked salmon and a set of several dim-sum’s. 



In the menu each of the available dishes are separated by a “or”. Don’t worry, you really don’t need to make any selections and you may get all that you want on that menu. The selection of alcohol is far greater in FC as opposed to BC. Lounge chairs in First Class lounge are also more comfortable, and there is also one massage chair available for FC. 




The rest of the interior of the lounge is open and spacious, clean and modern but for me, its really missing that "mpf" which makes my heart beat faster thinking about Thailand and Thai Airways. I would have loved to leave the lounge with a distinct feeling of having already met Thai hospitslity at it's finest - even before boarding my flight.


Lounge staff were really polite, but certainly doesn't like to be included in any photos - they will run head over heal as soon as you flick out a camera and assumes the position. The staff always used title and surname at each contact with guests - leaving a sense of personal touch. There is however still some polishing to be done when serving - again, the Thai logo should ALWAYS face a guest! How increadibly hard can this simple thing be - it's all about taking pride and brand recognition! 


Personally, like in Bangkok, I could have wanted a slight bit more privacy in the FC lounge, a better fit between chairs and tables AND not having to ASK for a conversionplug to charge a phone. Its not that it's hard to ask for something but from luxury cruiseships, I was thought to anticipate a guest request, and do the things for them preferrably BEFORE they even thought about asking. That is how great customer care should be done. Like on luxury cruiseships and on five star luxury hotels, airlines like Thai Airways have a long way to go today to get closer to a finely tuned product, services and a experiences. 


Dear Thai Airways - I do love you with the full force of my heart, and I love you more than the skies you fly, BUT, you still have quite a way to go when it comes to details and attention to those details.


Like on arrival, from lounge to gate you are completely on your own, but if and when you make it to the gate, you have a completely segregated and convenient boarding right to the upper deck of the A380.


2017 08 23 Hong Kong-Bangkok-IMG 2700-vsmall


The return flight to Bangkok would be so much better because of one person: air hostess "(tok)Tek”. From the time of boarding, she was the only one stepping forward to present herself prior to departure. Unlike on the flight from Bangkok, where the entire staff came to intrduce themselves, it was only Tek who stepped forward to present herself on the return flight. During the flight, she proved herself to be extremely hospitable and genuinely friendly.

2017 08 23 Hong Kong-Bangkok-IMG 2763-vsmall


Within this small observation of differences, lies the achilles heel of Thai Airways. It doesn’t take long time for anyone to go online and see that there are quite a few reviews of Thai and their services, that points out the exact same problem. The service-consistency level is incoherent throughout the fleet and on all destinations. Getting a perfect flight in accordance with expectations is sometimes really hard to come by.  




Tek however saved this flight - she was way and beyond call of duty. I only had a short conversation with the Chief Purser of the flight, as she came by to apologize for the delayed departure from Hong Kong. She never introduced herself, therefore, I have no (nick-) name to refer to. 



The aircrafts WiFi was not available on this flight to Bangkok, and inflight entertainment system was not turned on before being asked for it to be turned on. This time, with the cabin considerably darker, the TV-screen still lacked  brilliance. Even economy class screens are better than this, way better. As far as I could see, there was no adjustment controls either for the screen's brightness like in economy class. The size of the screen is however good, but what happened to crisp and supersharp HD-quality. The image quality still looks like one of those early to mid 90's deep back-projection screens.


We were only a total of four guests in first class this evening, a fairly light load. I was wondering what the normal average in FC would be?



A canapé was first served without the white table cloth. However, it was really delicious. Further dish was smoked salmon gravlax, served with mushrooms. It was again a consistency issue here also: it was not according to the in-flight menu. The following appetiser was really first class quality: scallops with some kind of green “stuff” (for a lack of a better word), and the white cloth had now arrived pushing up the level of appearance considerably. Dinner was again a pre-ordered lobster Thermidor. Despite the almost 7-hour delay, they still managed to provide my meal. Would it be better than on the flight to Hong Kong? Yes, it was in fact slightly better, but by minor margins only. I found the lobster to be a bit on the dry side, less cheesy sauce and more lobster. But, where was the best part of the lobster, the meat of the claw?



Lobster Thermidor is a French dish consisting of a creamy mixture of cooked lobster meat, egg yolks, and brandy (often cognac), stuffed into a lobster shell. It can also be served with an oven-browned cheese crust, typically Gruyère. The sauce must contain mustard (typically powdered mustard). Due to expensive ingredients and extensive preparation involved, Lobster Thermidor is usually considered a recipe primarily for special occasions.


I still insisit on having to take the Catering Management of Thai Airways up to Centara Grand’s Red Sky roof-top restaurant for some perfectly prepared and served lobster. Lobster should be - at least according to me, be served with a creamy risotto and not some cheap and tasteless mashed potatoes. Lobster is a delight that doesnt need a lot of ingredients when prepared right, but it needs to be done by someone who knows how to do it. Serving a lobster in a less than perfect way, is such a waste of valuable resources. 


This time, on my return flight to Bangkok and unlike on my flight to Hong Kong, I was also served a dessert in the form of a delightful fresh fruit platter.


The Sky Chat: i sthis a feature that is ever used, despite on board class? What is its proposed purpose, and what is it meant to do? I have only chatted once on a B777-flight to Oslo, but even though I always logg on, nobody seems to know, understand or ever use it. I would be very interested in hearing if anyone else has any thoughts about this entertainment feature, or have used it. 





On this return flight to Bangkok, I wanted to do something I didn’t do the other way: take a walk through this entire aircraft - both decks. The load on this evening flight back to Bangkok was light - perhaps the tropical storm had something to do with that. Thai Airways flies the A380 on the Hong Kong-route only certain months of the year, but it would be interesting to learn more about the average loads on this route. On my walk-around, I must say, the aircraft is gigantic. To walk all the way to the back of the aircraft, then one deck down and all the way back to the front end - its a good walk! 



Once in Bangkok, the arrival service is again greater than what was offered in Hong Kong. A buggy picked me up at the gate, escorted me to the priority immigration and then escorted me to the baggagae claim. At the baggage claim, a baggage handler took care of my bags and carried them out to my waiting limousine-transfer. 

With that, a round trip first class flight had been completed. Next time, I’ll work on my video skills and present my experience as a youtube-film instead. I certainly got a lot of competition on youtube to deal with. 


You have any comments to share? 





© CaptainsVoyage.com : 2005 - 2017