With 11 return flights each week between Sydney and Bangkok – the most of any airline on the route – Thai Airways offers business travellers flexibility in when they fly, with 'Royal Silk' business class available on every Boeing 747 service.
Passengers can also connect onwards from Bangkok to a host of destinations across Asia and Europe, but on that Sydney-Bangkok leg, the airline's business class seat can't be described as 'competitive', being neither fully flat nor offering direct aisle access.
Australian Business Traveller brings you this review following a recent Thai Airways flight aboard the upper deck of the iconic Queen of the Skies.
- Frequent flyer program: Royal Orchid Plus (ROP), Star Alliance. Thai Airways doesn't have an Australian airline partner, so you might choose to earn miles in the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program instead which can be converted into Virgin Australia Velocity points.
- Checked baggage allowance: 40kg, plus a further 10kg for ROP Silver flyers, 20kg for ROP Gold and all other Star Alliance Gold members and 30kg for ROP Platinum cardholders.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: Thai's website advises 1x7kg, 115cm cabin bag plus one small personal item such as a handbag, but we encountered no issues in carrying aboard a full-size laptop bag in addition to a 115cm bag. Being on the upper deck where overhead storage is limited, the cabin crew suggested we leave our larger (locked) bag downstairs throughout the flight and store the laptop bag upstairs.
- Priority check-in, passport control, security, boarding: Yes, although the design of the boarding gate area at Sydney Airport saw business class travellers wading through waiting economy flyers to reach the priority queue. On arrival in Bangkok, follow the 'Royal Silk' signs at passport control and present your boarding pass to use the dedicated fast track queue.
Business class passengers are directed to the recently-refurbished Air New Zealand lounge at Sydney Airport for fresh barista-made coffee (or espresso martinis), buffet fare and shower facilities before their flight…
… but a Thai Airways business class boarding pass also provides access to Sydney’s Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge under Star Alliance rules, as both Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines are members of the same global airline alliance.
We chose the SilverKris lounge and were warmly welcomed with a (self-poured) glass of Champagne.
Travellers with selected high-end American Express cards including the AMEX Platinum Card, Business Platinum Card, Explorer Card, Qantas Ultimate Card, AMEX Velocity Platinum Card and more can also visit the AMEX Lounge at Sydney Airport.
On your return home from Thailand, make sure you allow time for a visit to Thai's Royal Orchid Spa at Bangkok Airport, where all business class passengers can enjoy a complimentary 30-minute foot massage or neck and shoulder massage.
Thai Airways spreads business class across both the upper deck and the main deck aboard its Boeing 747s, with seats in a 2-2 configuration on both levels (extra space on the main deck is given over to a crew galley):
Each seat transforms into a 190cm/75inch angled-flat bed at a 170-degree recline that’s reasonable for daytime flights such as this one, but rather undesirable for overnight journeys as there’s neither direct aisle access from every seat nor a fully-flat bed: the latter now a staple of international business class, and the former becoming increasingly so.
We like that there’s a sizeable privacy divider in between each seat pair to help minimise any disturbances whether you’re resting or working…
… but we don’t like the placement of the seat’s AC power outlet, which makes no room for larger power bricks – common with Apple Macbook and Microsoft Surface devices – and even if you can plug in, the cable has to run along your seat to reach your device, rather than being accessible from the front of the seat.
We instead kept our Surface powered-up throughout the flight by connecting the USB cable to an AC iPhone charger, but which only provided adequate amperage to keep the tablet at its current battery level rather than recharging it simultaneously.
Thai provides two USB power ports of its own for added charging – suited to smartphones and other small gadgets – which proved useful given that our iPhone charger was put to other use.
When it comes to storage, your options depend on where you sit. All passengers have a literature pocket in front and a water bottle holder, plus a communal pouch for larger items like newspapers…
… and a shared, latched compartment in between each seat pair that’s suitable for amenity kits or smaller water bottles when not in use.
Perch yourself by the windows on the upper deck (the A and K seats) and you’ll also get your own seat-side lockers…
… large enough to store laptop bags and other personal items, and a great place to plonk your other gear like headphones for easy access when not in use.
Speaking of the upper deck, you can never hear “just upstairs, sir (or ma’am)” too many times at the boarding door…
… and when you do ascend the jumbo’s staircase, there’s reading material waiting for you to peruse.
Each seat also provides an adjustable reading light in addition to the usual overhead lamp, configurable lumbar support and an in-seat massager: activated by pressing the ‘M’ button on the seat control panel.
Before the main meal service begins, pre-departure drinks are offered: Veuve Clicquot Champagne in our case…
… followed by another round soon after take-off and nuts at room temperature – but which whould have ideally been warmed:
Being a nine-hour daytime flight departing Sydney at 10am local time, lunch is served onboard just before midday, with travellers choosing between Thai Samrab dining or a selection of Western dishes.
We always prefer to try the ‘local’ specialties when flying with overseas-based airlines, and were satisfied with the Thai Samrab option – comprised of deep-fried prawns with papaya and carrot salad (top left), chicken in coconut galangal soup (top right) and stir-fried kalian and steamed jasmine rice (main, centre)…
… plus a choice between chicken in green curry or beef with potato in Massaman curry (selected):
All were tasty but we most enjoyed the coconut galangal soup, which proved particularly flavourful, even at altitude.
Cheeses and fruits come next – and we were pleased to note the presence of crackers, grapes and a knife with this course, which Australian Business Traveller observed to be missing on a previous Thai Airways business class flight… although the cracker-to-cheese ratio still needs improvement:
Dessert finds a choice between a baked pumpkin custard and a lemon meringue tart with mixed berry compote (selected)...
… being a perfect portion size following the cheese course. A bite-sized chocolate concludes the meal…
… while espresso coffee is also available on request. Just note that a ‘cappuccino’ on Thai Airways is more of a chocolate-coffee drink rather than a coffee drink with chocolate powder sprinkled on top as you’d find in Aussie cafes:
Thai Airways doesn’t offer full ‘any time dining’ in business class – instead, the second meal of the flight can be ordered at any time after the main service: perfect if you’re peckish throughout the afternoon and don’t want to wait until closer to landing, but doesn't give you the flexibility to work first and take your first meal later in the flight.
The options given were a rice noodle soup with braised beef; salty fish fried rice with prawns or a Turkish bread roll with grilled herb chicken, Swiss cheese and onion relish, and having tried the Thai option earlier in the flight, we were content with the Western-style roll:
Thai’s wine list is all-French with Veuve Clicquot Brut (NV) joined by two whites from the Loire Valley and Burgundy, two reds also from Burgundy and Bordeaux, and one dessert wine from the same region – but while those we tasted were pleasing, wines don’t need to be French to have great body and finish, so some added variety would be well-received.
Whisky choices included Chivas Regal 12-year and Johnnie Walker Black Label, with Prince Hubert de Polignac XO the Cognac of choice and a range of other spirits available too.
Entertainment & Service
15-inch seatback screens deliver movies, TV shows, music and games throughout the flight, and handily show your flight number on the home page to help you complete any necessary arrivals cards…
… although our system crashed before we’d even left the runway and needed to be rebooted after take-off:
A nearby passenger had the same issue but both reboots did the trick, and while noise-cancelling headphones were provided, ours were of poor quality – delivered with a broken pin and a crackling cable – so we ditched these in favour of our own, rather than asking for a new set.
We also found it best to operate the screen via touch rather than using the in-arm remote control, which only responded to our actions when we squished each key down as hard as we possibly could.
Cabin crew on today’s flight responded promptly to drink requests and addressed passengers by name initially, reverting to a more generic “sir” and “ma’am” soon after, but served meals in a very sporadic way: our seatmate had finished their dessert before we’d received our first bite of food.
Overall, Thai Airways’ Boeing 747 business class service is a decent-enough way to fly from Sydney to Bangkok during daylight hours, but on overnight journeys where sleep takes priority, the same can’t be said.
Thailand’s national carrier is the only airline not to offer fully-flat beds in business class on this route, with competitors Qantas and Emirates providing these as standard, along with direct aisle access from every business class seat, plus free inflight Internet and an onboard bar and lounge area in the case of Emirates.
We hope that when Thai Airways eventually retires its Boeing 747s from Sydney, they’ll be replaced by a jet with a more competitive and up-to-date business class seat – at the very least, one that extends completely flat.