We flew Royal Silk class on a Thai Airways International Boeing 747-400 aircraft from Sydney to Bangkok. Royal Silk is Thai’s branding for business class service.
From Sydney, Thai offer a morning departure and also an evening service. We took the latter. Currently departing Sydney four times days a week at the late evening departure time of 9:30pm, Thai’s TG472 service is scheduled to arrive in the Thai capital at 3:50am. Previously operated as a 3pm or 4pm departure from Sydney, this flight no longer conveniently connects to onward services. Indeed, it now arrives in Bangkok before Thai’s lounges are even open.
Approaching check-in at the far end of Sydney’s international terminal, we were in awe of the length of the line for economy check-in. However both Royal First and Royal Silk classes had no queue. We were surprised that the check-in agent was insistent on weighing our carry-on luggage. The agent only succeeded in irritating us, rather than succeeding in making us check our luggage. Perhaps this inefficiency explains the long check-in queues.
We used the express path at emigration (using the express pass supplied at check-in, which unlike a previous flight on Thai out of Sydney was not a flimsy colour photocopy), located a long walk from the Thai check-in desks. This queue was mercifully short and was made shorter by some passengers who hadn’t filled their departure cards out and had to step out of line. Following emigration, we went down the express lane for security as the lines for the regular queue was long.
Despite the hired goon not doing his job and guarding the entrance (you had one job!), instead being busy opening the ropes to allow a large number of economy passengers stream into the express lane), we were chased down and rudely shaken down for our express pass.
This level of rudeness from staff contracted by Sydney Airport is simply unacceptable. Security was itself a relatively painless experience (despite the long wait in line due to the aforementioned rude goon allowing a large number of economy passengers into the express lane).
We were then off to the Air New Zealand temporary lounge. While it wasn’t as crowded as on previous visits (all Air New Zealand flights were already long gone for the day), it was every bit as disappointing.
For example, the best catering available was a hot dog cart.
At 8:50pm (before our flight had even started boarding), Air New Zealand announced that the lounge was closing in ten minutes and to get out. Thai should consider contracting with a lounge of higher quality that will remain open until after the Thai flight has departed for the day.
Arriving at a crowded gate, the flight hadn’t started boarding. In fact, the flight attendants hadn’t even boarded yet (a sure sign that boarding would be delayed).
There was signage for one priority boarding lane – combining first and business class, Star Alliance Gold members and families with children under the age of five.
At one point the ground staff announced that boarding would start in twenty minutes. This seemed to cause at least half of the flight’s passengers to rush the gate. Then after the staff had managed to beat back the crowds, a passenger appeared and walked calmly through to the boarding gate, causing another surge of people. The scene was chaotic.
Not off to a good start then. Boarding was announced starting with those requiring special assistance, followed by first and business class passengers. This caused another surge of people, which was difficult to navigate. We got through relatively quickly. An Aegan Star Alliance Gold member flying in economy class behind us was still arguing that he should be allowed to board now.
We boarded the plane door 1L (the plane had two jetbridges running thankfully) and were quickly settling into our bulkhead seat on the lower deck.
Thai have a unique cabin configuration in that one side of the main deck business class cabin is a galley.
It is worth noting that the overhead lockers on the upper deck of Thai’s Boeing 747 aircraft are tiny so upper deck passengers have to put any medium or large bags in the overhead lockers downstairs.
Flight attendants distributed welcome drinks and menus. There was a special cover to the menu for the month of April due to Songkran festival (the traditional Thai New Year’s Day). Main orders for dinner were also taken prior to takeoff.
Amenity kits were distributed. They are no longer the hard case by Porsche Design. The doors were soon closed and the plane pushed back. A prehistoric projector screen is used to display the safety video in front of the bulkhead.
Before long we were climbing out of Sydney (not much air traffic at less than hour before Sydney International Airport’s curfew to hold things up).
The passengers in the exit row seat across the aisle spent most of the next half hour taking selfies.
Soon hot towels and drinks were offered. The crew were then quickly into the evening meal service.
The pre-dinner snack consisted of a beef kebab with zucchini and sundried tomato.
The appetizer was smoked salmon and seared scallop, accompanied by salad. This was tasty.
Next was our main: we had selected the pan-fried lamb loin with red wine sauce, mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. The meat was borderline inedible, not least because it was extremely chewy. In terms of awful business class mains, it is second only to our experience in Air New Zealand business class from San Francisco to Auckland.
The flight attendants than offered cheese. Like it seems all Asian airlines, when requested – only a few crackers were provided to accompany a mountain of cheese.
Our glasses remained empty through most of the meal. In particular, with our cheese we wanted water and requested it. When it did not arrive, we requested it again. Evidently the crew was waiting to distribute individual water bottles for after the meal and so were politely ignoring our requests. But we wanted a glass of water or two and we wanted it now.
To finish our meal we had the berry cheesecake with creme fraiche. We took the offered glass of port.
Thai provide a pair of Phitek noise cancelling headphones. We understand this is a similar technology that Air New Zealand use (as we trialled when we flew with them), so we left these in their plastic, preferring to use our own.
Incidentally the seat is mounted some distance from the wall. You can imagine our surprise when the thin woman sitting in the seat behind ours decided to exit her seat through this gap. She seemed to understand that this wasn’t a welcome intrusion so didn’t do it again.
In the bulkhead seats the screen comes out of the armrest. Thai don’t offer gate-to-gate entertainment in the ‘interactive’ mode in any event (and like to collect the headphones before landing) so this is no great loss.
Western options for music are all just a few options to produce one long soundtrack, rather than individual tracks. We also noticed this on an recent Etihad flight (review forthcoming) so we wonder whether there is some financial incentive in the music licensing arrangements for doing that. It is extremely frustrating as it is difficult to know what the soundtrack contains or to skip tracks, so we opted to listen to our own tablet.
It is worth noting that when on the flight data, it is necessary to go out and come back in to it in order to refresh the data.
The seats have directional lights that can be deployed (the silver things below) and a small privacy screen pulls out, although does not provide a great deal of privacy.
Tea and coffee was offered and soon the cabin settled in for the night.
The Boeing 747 is configured by Thai with angle-flat seats in business class, even in the bulkhead where there was plenty of space for them to go lie-flat. Unlike Lufthansa’s previous generation business class product, we could not find a way to manually adjust the seat into a true lie flat position. Thai provide a pillow and a blanket, but no additional padding for sleeping.
Thai have a more modern true lie flat seat (Solstys, manufactured by Sogerma for a host of airlines including Thai, Etihad and Asiana) on their newer Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 aircraft, but do not appear to have any plans to refit any of their Boeing 747 fleet with the new business class seat.
In any event we slept soundly. Indeed, soon enough the ridiculously old projector screen in front of us was deployed to play a pre-arrival video. Either we had slept through the second meal service, or the crew just skipped it on this flight given the arrival time.
As we came into the Thai capital’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the lights were switched back on and the curtains dividing the cabins were drawn back.
Arriving into Bangkok at 4am, the fast track immigration was closed (usually accessible with your Thai boarding pass, they don’t hand out premium lane passes like other airlines), but we were ushered into some ASEAN priority lane where there was no wait.
Thai should work to improve its ground service in Sydney. As it was, the lounge they elect to offer in Sydney wasn’t kept open till the flight was boarding. The delayed boarding process was ultimately chaotic too.
While Thai’s business class on these older aircraft is getting a bit dated, it is still as good a seat as (if not better than) Qantas’ original Skybed which is still plying the Sydney – Bangkok route.