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This is the next installment of TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen’s series on his month-long trip to Southeast Asia. Other posts include: Send in your Southeast Asia Tips, Flight Review: Lufthansa 747-400 First Class and Trip Report: Lufthansa First Class Lounge Frankfurt Terminal 2. In this post, he fills us in on the next leg of his first class award to Bangkok in the Thai Airways A380 Royal Silk cabin.
After my quick transatlantic flight in Lufthansa’s amazing 747-400 first class cabin, where each seat also has its own separate bed, I was actually trying to temper my expectations for the second and longer flight of my itinerary down to Bangkok aboard Thai Airways’ A380. As I mentioned in my previous posts, I had actually snagged a first class seat on this flight from the outset and it was the reason I had booked my award from JFK-FRA-BKK in the first place, so I was definitely looking forward to it, but I couldn’t imagine anything living up to Lufthansa.
Boarding the Pre-Flight
Having spent nearly 8 hours in the Frankfurt First Class Lounge in Terminal 2, I actually left it a bit early to get to the boarding gate and see if I could be one of the first people on the plane to snap a few shots of the first class cabin. However, the boarding area was thronged with tons of passengers waiting to board the double-decker jumbo jet and there was no dedicated first class line, just a shared one with business since both those classes take up most of the top deck of the plane (there are a few rows of economy in the way back) and there were a ton of people already waiting.
So instead, I walked around a little and boarded the flight once the line had calmed down, and most of the other first class passengers were already seated or arranging their things, but they didn’t mind me snapping a few photos anyway.
The first class cabin is at the front of the top deck of the aircraft and consists of three rows of four seats each in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration. There’s nothing that special about these seats actually – they feel like any other semi-suite, sort of like Korean Air’s old first class – and are upholstered in creamy-beige leather and fabric with a large chair section and a foot stool that doubles as the end of your bed in the full lie-flat position. The tray table is under the TV monitor and slides along a track to be closer to you in seated position during meal service.
I had called Thai Airways ahead of time for my seat assignment since United, through whom I had booked the award, couldn’t do it for me and had snagged 1K so I wouldn’t be seated next to anyone or between other rows of first class.
I had barely put my bag down when two flight attendants, a man and a woman, greeted me by name, offered to help me with it and asked me if I needed anything. I said no thank you, but took some photos, kept my laptop out and stowed my bag overhead. One thing to note is that the sides of the cabin did not have their own overhead bins, so I had to put my bags above the middle row of seats and I tried not to get it out or put it away too often over the course of the flight so as not to disturb the woman sitting in the seat above whom it was stowed. I kept a lot of my stuff at my seat since there were so many cubbies and cabinets to store things.
No sooner had I sat down than the male flight attendant was at hand to pour me a glass of 2004 Dom Perignon, while the lady attendant brought an amenity kit and a set of pajamas.
While the flight finished boarding, I played around with my seat and checked out the universal adapter and USB plugs, and the nifty purple mood light on the side of my seat by the window. I was also given the menus for the flight and picked out my meal, and by that time, we were taxiing to the runway and preparing to take off.
Flight time was going to be 10 hours and 10 minutes, so although I normally only put on pajamas right before going to sleep, I decided to change into mine and keep my clothes fresh for when I landed in Bangkok, so as soon as I could, I slipped into the front bathroom to change.
This has to be one of the biggest plane lavatories I’ve been in, with a separate seating and changing area – perfect for getting ready for bed or dressed back up again in the morning. It made changing a breeze, and no knocking knees or elbows on the sink or door.
I was given a pair of medium PJ’s, which were periwinkle-purple, but larger sizes were more of a gray. I liked the Mao collar on mine, and thought they were pretty roomy.
Back in my seat, it was time to select my meal. The menu went as follows.
Meal service started with canapes including one with mozzarella, tomato and olive; and another with a piece of bread with pate and caramelized onions.
Then there was the signature Italian white sturgeon caviar service with garnitures and Stoli if you wanted it – I stuck with Dom.
The first course consisted of several small tastes including beef fillet with herbs, potato salad with horseradish, herb crème fraiche in a tomato “cup” and marinated king prawns with smoked trout.
The main course options were:
-Roast duck breast with black chocolate cherry sauce, roesti potatoes and buttered mixed vegetables
-Pork Massaman curry with steamed Thai hom mali rice and veggies
-Beef tenderloin with tomato-olive confit, caramelized orange zest, spinach with almond flakes and parmesan polenta
-Roast tiger prawns with parsley-butter-lemon sauce over tagliolini noodle with sugar snap peas and sautéed capsicum
Naturally, I wanted to the Massaman curry pork to get into the spirit of flying to Thailand with some of its flavors, but apparently a lot of other passengers had that thought as well because by the time they took my order, they were out. I asked for the beef instead, somewhat disappointed, but in a few minutes, the flight attendant came back and said they also had a penang curry chicken option on board that I could have, so I said yes and thanked her. It was pretty tasty – savory, a little spicy, and not at all dry for airplane chicken. It was served with rice, carrots and green beans.
While not the fanciest dish or presentation – especially considering the lobster I’d just had on Lufthansa, it was still delicious and filling. Dessert was a cappuccino cream cake in raspberry sauce, which was sort of bland, but I enjoyed the selection of fresh fruit and cheeses.
There was also an Anytime Cuisine menu available that included cookies, potato chips, pralines, shrimp wonton soup, mixed salad, and yellow noodle soup with Chinese roast pork and garnish.
In addition to the champagne, the wine list included Chateau Baret Pessac Leognan white Bordeaux; and two Premier Cru Chablis – Montmains and Vaillons. On the red side of the list, there was Chateau Faurie de Couchard St. Emillion, and both a 2009 and 2010 Clos du Roi Premier Cru from Mercurey in Burgundy, which I enjoyed with my chicken. In the other direction, Thai offers Domaine Tournon Australian Shiraz.
Throughout the meal, I had been watching a movie on my 23-inch personal monitor, which was mounted about the foot stool.
After dinner, I opened up my amenity kit, which included all the usual suspects like toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask, ear plugs, comb, socks and L’Occitaine hand cream and lip balm as well as lemon verbena eau de toilette, and went to the bathroom. As I stood up, an attendant asked if she could make my bed, and when I got back, my seat was fully reclined to flat with a thin sheet-like mattress cover, a duvet, and the 2 pillows that had been on my seat resting at its head.
I pretty much fell asleep immediately after my full day of travel, and I woke up about 6 hours later as breakfast service was about midway through.
Breakfast was also a multi-course affair that included a first serving of fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, juices and smoothies. I chose yogurt and fruit.
The main course was a choice of Spanish omelette with veal fennel sausage, hash browns, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes and herbs; crepes filled with chicken and mushroom-poultry sausage with baked potatoes and sautéed mushrooms; a soft-boiled egg, or a cold cuts platter. I chose the omelette, though I wasn’t that hungry and only took a few bites. It was decent but the fillings were kind of dried out. The sausage didn’t have much flavor either, and the potatoes were greasy, so it was pretty much a wash for me.
Meal service ended speedily about 45 minutes prior to landing (I liked that they didn’t start it too early so that there was more time to sleep, especially since we were arriving at 6:20am) and I changed back into my regular clothes about 30 minutes out as we were starting our descent.
The landing was smooth despite rain and clouds, and we taxied for about 10 minutes to the gate. The first class passengers were the first ones out of the top deck through the door at the after of the cabin – crew stood in the aisle blocking business class passengers from exiting – and we were greeted by several airline representatives with golf cards. They split us all up by name and put us into the carts then drove us down the enormous terminal to a priority immigrations line (it was the one normally reserved for crew and diplomats).
One of the airline reps waited for us on the other side along with colleagues of theirs and one by one as we passed through customs, he assigned each of us an individual representative who took us to the baggage claim to get our luggage. My agent grabbed my suitcase for me and escorted me out through customs to where a hotel car was waiting for me, and even wheeled my bag out to the car for me. Compared to the lack of Lufthansa’s first class service, it was great service. I’m only sorry I’m not flying Thai first class back to the States so I can stop by their lounge at the airport for a free one-hour massage
Although the Thai first class cabin and seats themselves were not as novel or luxurious as Lufthansa’s 747-400 first class, the warm, sincere service, the tasty food and the general sense of fun and relaxation on board all made flying Thai a really delightful experience and I’d fully recommend it to others. Considering I got both Lufthansa and Thai first class for 70,000 miles and $39 – it was even more worth it!