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To kick off a two-month trip to Southeast Asia, TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino booked economy on Thai Airways’ 12-hour, nonstop flight from her home airport in Madrid (MAD) to Bangkok (BKK). Having flown internationally in coach on 15 different carriers, Lori shares how this particular long-haul measures up. (All photos are by author, unless otherwise specified.)
Booking With Cash vs. Points
Given the long journey from Madrid (MAD) to Bangkok (BKK), I was eager to fly nonstop. However, Star Alliance partner Thai Airways offers the only nonstop option for this route and I generally fly Oneworld and Sky Team carriers. Fortunately, Thai Airways was charging a reasonable €700 ($780) round-trip, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to pay cash. Unfortunately, buying the cheapest Y fare and having no Star Alliance status left me with some pretty crummy seat options, and I was stuck all the way in the back of the cabin at 51J! At least it was an aisle seat.
If I had used United MileagePlus points to book this South Asia-from-Europe route instead, each one-way would have required 55,000 for economy class and 85,000 for Royal Silk business class. Even with the 40,000 points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card’s current offer, I wouldn’t have had enough for a one-way flight in coach — in this case, paying cash was definitely the right choice.
Check-In and Boarding
Considering my lack of Star Alliance status, I didn’t have high hopes for an upgrade to Thai Airways’ Royal Silk business class, but TPG has taught me that it never hurts to ask. The check-in agent told me that my only option would be to pay €6,000 ($6,759), to which I politely declined. Better luck next time!
Boarding was largely uneventful, but since I was in the back of the plane, my zone was the first to board after Royal Silk passengers and families with children. As I was taking photos of the seats, one of the Thai Airways flight attendants came over my way, and I feared I was in for a version of TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig’s crazy experience while taking photos on an AA flight. As it turned out, the attendant merely giggled and asked in broken English if I “wanted picture with plane seats.” I laughed and told him no thanks, relieved that I wasn’t about to be kicked off the plane. Good to know that Thai Airways’ cabin crew have no problems with passengers taking photos on their aircraft before and during the flight.
The interior of the Boeing 777-200ER felt slightly dated, though I did enjoy the kitschy yellow, purple and pink color scheme of the seats — tacky and wonderful at the same time. On this aircraft, Royal Silk has 30 angle-flat, 20-inch-wide seats with 61-70 inches of pitch and 163 degrees of recline in a 2-2-2 configuration, while the economy section has 262 seats, each 18 inches wide with 34 inches of pitch and 122 degrees of recline, arranged in a less roomy 3-3-3.
Every economy seat comes with a small pillow and a thin, fleece-y blanket. Standard stuff.
Just as my partner and I got “comfy” in the less-than-spacious row 51, the couple in front of us asked if we’d mind switching with them so they could sit next to their friend who was in the window seat of our row — and we agreed.
As it turned out, our new spots were exit row seats! With legroom for days, we stretched out, feeling rather lucky. It’s important to note that the legroom at the window seats in these exit rows is slightly impeded by the lavatory doors — and yes, the lavatories are in front of the exit rows. However, I’m only 5’2″, so my legs fit perfectly, but someone taller would likely want to book the exit row aisle seat, instead.
Each economy seat has a 110-volt AC power port and a 9-inch personal TV that can be controlled either by touchscreen or an old-school remote that is stored on the inside of the right armrest.
The slim, double-prong headphone outlet accommodates the carrier’s cheap, useless headphones, which don’t manage to drown out the noise of the plane, even with the volume at max. If you hate headphones like this as much as I do, be sure to bring a plug converter — or bring along your old Walkman headphones, like I did.
The exit row TVs are supposed to come up through and around the armrest, but my partner’s kept sliding down, so he had to hold it up with his knee. This quickly became annoying, so we rigged up a high-tech system using one of my hair ties, which allowed the TV to stay upright for a few hours — that is, until my hair tie broke.
The entertainment selection was nothing to write home about, with just a few new movie releases and decent TV shows. However, between the cheap headphones, sluggish TVs, slow remotes and barely-responsive touchscreens, I was disappointed by the entertainment system as a whole.
About an hour into the flight, food and drink service began. On Thai Airways, special meal preferences (e.g., vegetarian, etc.) have to be specified when you purchase your ticket; otherwise, you’ll only have one option for each meal. On our flight, the one dinner option was ginger chicken served with a spicy pasta salad and a brownie, which I paired with a glass of Spanish red wine. The food was quite spicy. In fact, several of my fellow passengers commented loudly on how spicy it was. So if that’s not your thing, you may want to consider bringing your own food on your Thai Airways flight. Aside from the spice, which I appreciated because I often find airline food bland, I found the food pretty average for an international economy flight. It was filling rather than especially tasty.
Service on this Madrid-originating flight was entertaining, though. The Thai flight attendants spoke a little English, but no Spanish. So they had the meal poorly translated into Spanish on a napkin they showed to the plane’s mostly Spanish-speaking passengers as they brought the food carts around. Because Thai Airways flies three times a week in and out of MAD, you’d think they’d have a more sophisticated system in place, but no. As a native English speaker who’s also fluent in Spanish, I stepped in to translate for an elderly Spanish couple who didn’t understand why they couldn’t have a meal without chicken.
After meal service, the flight attendants came around and closed all the window shades. I had read about this happening on Flyertalk. Apparently, Thai Airways’ protocol is to close all the window shades for “overnight” flights, and they yell at you if you open them. I promptly fell asleep and unfortunately didn’t have time to test what would happen if I opened my shade. I felt that in general, the flight attendants were fairly indifferent, neither super friendly nor unfriendly. I did, however, appreciate their traditional Thai outfits, which got me excited to be returning to Asia. They get an A+ for fashion, which is exactly what you look for when choosing an airline, right?
When I woke up, I noticed some people around me were eating sandwiches. I got up to investigate how to get my own, following a few passengers to the back of the plane. The station at the back galley was neatly stocked with various snacks, sandwiches and beverages, but people were just pushing each other and grabbing for things in a disorganized manner. The soggy sandwich itself, layered with bland chicken, lettuce, tomato and mayo, didn’t seem worth the hassle.
About 30 minutes later, which was roughly seven hours into the 12-hour flight, the flight attendants came up and down the aisles offering sandwiches to those who didn’t get them, waking everyone up in the process. I didn’t really understand why they didn’t pass them out in the first place to save all the chaos in the back galley — it was an altogether odd experience.
I fell back asleep for a while, woke up and watched a movie. Without warning, the window shades were snapped up and breakfast was served — a warm and tasteless omelette with mushrooms, one tomato, a potato and a single sausage link, served with a small side of fruit. Meh.
For me, this was just another run-of-the-mill economy flight. The flight attendants were pleasant, but service was nothing above and beyond. The food was largely unremarkable, and the interior of this older aircraft felt a bit tired. But if Thai Airways continues to be my only option for flying nonstop from MAD to BKK, I’d certainly fly them again — not having a hectic layover in London-Heathrow (LHR), Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS) made my journey to Thailand much easier.
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