Review: Thai A380 First Class — Bangkok to Paris
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Thai Airways operates a wide variety of aircraft, and while some of the airline's first-class cabins aren't up to date, the A380 offers comfortable seats and fantastic award availability. Today, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig reviews first class on Thai's A380 on a recent flight from Bangkok to Paris.
While Thai Airways no longer operates flights from the US, the airline serves a handful of cities in Europe from its Suvarnabhumi Airport hub just outside Bangkok (BKK). Unfortunately some routes are served by Thai's older 747 or 777s, but the airline's daily flights to Frankfurt, London and Paris are operated by the A380.
Thai's flagship double-decker includes 12 first-class seats, 60 business-class seats and a whopping 435 economy seats. First class is located on the upper deck, and while seats aren't terribly private, they're perfectly comfortable for the 12+ hour flight to Europe.
Booking Thai First Class
I booked my Thai A380 flight in the middle of a United round-trip award that brought me from New York to Cambodia (via Frankfurt and Seoul), on to Paris (via Bangkok) and then from Paris to Newark (via Munich).
The itinerary included four long-haul first-class flights (three on Lufthansa and one on Thai Airways) for 260,000 United MileagePlus miles plus $176 in taxes. While that's a LOT of miles to redeem for a round-trip flight, I felt like I was getting a decent value, thanks to United's generous routing rules (letting me fly to Southeast Asia via Europe) and the ability to add multiple stopovers (in Paris on the return) and open-jaws (flying into Siem Reap and out of Manila). This award was essentially a round-the-world trip, but booked at the regular round-trip rate.
I earned those 260,000 miles from a combination of flying and transferring points from Ultimate Rewards, earned with cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Ink Plus Business Card.
You can also use United MileagePlus miles to book the nonstop flight from Bangkok to Paris — that'll run you 115,000 miles plus $21 for the one-way trek. Or you can fly on to North America for a total of 130,000 miles and add a stopover along the way if you're booking the flight as part of a round-trip.
If I had paid cash, the one-way flight (including the leg from Manila to Bangkok) would have cost me roughly $3,000 in first class, which is actually fairly reasonable.
Check-In and Connecting Flight
We began the trip in Manila after a fantastic stay at Amanpulo. Since we had a connecting flight from Paris to Nice, I asked the Thai representative to check my bag all the way through (I had to provide my Air France flight details). After a few minutes of typing, he managed to do just that, though the bag didn't actually arrive in Nice — apparently it got held up in Paris and Air France ended up delivering it to our hotel later the same day.
The award included a three-hour flight from Manila to Bangkok on Thai's 777-200. The regional business-class seat wasn't comfortable at all — in fact, I find domestic first-class seats in the US to be comfier, although Thai offered quite a bit more legroom. The flight ended up departing nearly an hour late, leaving us with a pretty tight connection at BKK.
The regional flight arrived at a remote gate at BKK, but there was a van waiting to take us to the terminal.
Airport and Lounge
After the van ride, we were brought directly to a waiting buggy. A Thai representative asked if I wanted to visit the main Royal First lounge. When I said that I did, she explained that the flight would be boarding soon and the main lounge was too far from the gate — she seemed willing to take us there if I had insisted, but it was clear that she didn't think it was a good idea.
I agreed to go to a much smaller first-class lounge near the gate instead, which was located just after a security checkpoint. The lounge was tiny, but empty — unfortunately due to the delay, there was no opportunity to visit the Royal Orchid Spa for a free massage, which I had really been looking forward to. Oh well.
The lounge had a selection of snacks to choose from, though it was nowhere near as comprehensive as what's available in the main Royal First lounge.
There's also an a-la-carte menu, but we ended up having just five or so minutes in the lounge before our flight was ready to board, so I didn't get to try anything.
I did have a chance to visit the bathroom — believe it or not, it was smaller than the lavatory on Thai's A380 (as you'll see below).
The flight was already boarding when we arrived at the gate, which was a five-minute walk from the small satellite lounge (Thai didn't offer to give us a lift to the gate).
Thai's A380 First-Class Cabin
We didn't have much time in the terminal or lounge, but I was happy to be on board.
We boarded directly on the second deck, but if you happen to enter through economy, first class is right behind the forward stairs. This staircase is very rarely used, however, so I actually ended up using it to get some exercise throughout the flight.
First class is in a 1-2-1 configuration, with three rows of seats for a total of 12. First-class seats are 26.5 inches wide with up to 83 inches of pitch, which makes them quite roomy. Emirates A380 seats are just 23 inches wide, by comparison, but Lufthansa's are a whopping 31 inches wide.
If you're traveling with a friend, the center seats are ideal. And if you end up with one of those seats next to a stranger, you can raise a large partition to add some privacy. There were only three other passengers on our flight, in addition to my girlfriend — we were in seats 1E and 1F, one passenger was in 1A and the other two were in 2E and 2F. That left the rear half of the cabin completely empty, but the flight attendants didn't suggest that any passengers move back for more privacy.
There's a small "lounge" at the front of the cabin, but it's kind of a waste of space (it's opposite the area where Etihad has its Residence). I'd much rather see a second lavatory, or even a shower there.
Then, in the area Etihad uses for the Residence bedroom, there's a very large first-class lavatory.
The lavatory even includes a separate sitting area.
There's also a large lighted mirror and counter for applying makeup, etc. before you land. The lav has plenty of hand towels located throughout as well. There's a second first-class lav behind the cabin, but with only five passengers, the front lav was usually available when I needed it.
The first-class seat itself is fairly modern — it's less than four years old at this point, having launched with the A380 in late-2012.
Each seat has a pillow, blanket and a (surprisingly thin) mattress cover, which did little more than provide a clean surface to sleep on. As with many other first-class products, Thai will convert the seat into a bed for you, which includes prepping the mattress cover and blanket. I requested that the flight attendant prepare the unoccupied window seat for me so I could have a bit more privacy while I slept.
There's a wired remote at each seat, along with a pair of USB ports and a universal power outlet.
First and business-class seats extend to the full-flat position on Thai's A380, and in first class you can recline the seat fully with a single button. You can also make smaller adjustments using the controls above.
Middle seats don't have a ton of storage (there's more at the window), though you do have a small compartment below each armrest. Each seat had a bottle of Evian water at boarding.
If you're sitting next to a stranger in the middle seat, you can raise the privacy divider, which is operated by a second set of buttons on the top of the divider.
One of the highlights of flying international first class is getting comfy pajamas to wear during the flight — and take home! Thai's PJs are high-quality and pretty comfortable overall. You also get a Rimowa amenity kit, which includes a variety of goodies, such as an eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush, socks, a brush, lip balm and even perfume.
We also received Acces No1 passes, which get you through the "express" immigration line in Paris (which was still too long). I held on to my passes and managed to use them to access the premium security line for our Air France flight as well, even though we were flying economy and didn't have status.
There was a set of noise-canceling headphones waiting at each seat as well — the headphone case looks nearly identical to the one Bose uses, so I was pretty excited at first, but the headphones Thai provides are actually pretty sub-par.
After the first meal service, the flight attendants set up a bar area at the front of the cabin, with bags of chips, cookies, chocolates and water bottles, along with a small selection of magazines. It was a bit underwhelming, to be honest, but I did stop by a few times to pick up a chocolate or two.
Each seat has a 23-inch monitor, which sounds large in theory, but it's located a few feet from the seat so it doesn't appear to be quite as large as you might think. It's also nearly impossible to use the touchscreen function due to the distance, and the handheld remote wasn't terribly responsive.
As for content, there's a pretty good selection of both new releases and older films. Fortunately, more recent flicks were fairly high-resolution, so they looked good on the large display.
There's also an airshow, which I went back to frequently. Thai's entertainment system lets you go to the airshow and easily return to your video content when you're done.
This aircraft also had internet access, but the rates were insane. I can eat through 100MB in less than an hour, so I opted not to buy Wi-Fi on this flight.
Food and Beverage
Overall, Thai's catering is fine, but far from exceptional. While you may prefer to go right to sleep on a redeye such as this, I didn't want to miss out on a chance to try the main meal.
The highlight of Thai's first-class catering is the 2004 Dom Perignon Champagne served during boarding and throughout the flight. You can also choose from a selection of wines, such as a 2012 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Steingrubler (about $30 on the ground) or a 2011 Chateau Cantemerle (about $40 on the ground). There's also a selection of beer (Heineken, Chang and Singha) and spirits, including Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Then, on long-haul flights you'll receive a full caviar spread, which consists of white sturgeon caviar, egg whites and yolk, lemon, onion, sour cream and toast. Thai's meal setup also includes a warm towel, a bread basket and high-quality plates, cutlery and glassware.
The first course (technically the second course) consisted of foie gras with onion marmalade, along with a smoked salmon salad with Thai dressing.
Entree choices included chicken curry, lamb fricassee, grilled tiger prawn or fennel soup. I opted for the grilled tiger prawn, which was served with gnocchi, pumpkin and zucchini. It tasted fine, but the shrimp were a hair overcooked, as were the veggies. The pasta was a bit too bland.
I quite enjoyed the cheese course, especially since it was served with a large selection of fresh fruit.
Finally, dessert was presented as a sampler, with opera cake, a lemon fruit tart and a coconut custard.
I was a bit jealous of my girlfriend's Hindu meal, which consisted of a variety of spicy Indian dishes. She seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.
Then, about 90 minutes before landing the flight attendants served breakfast, which began with a bread basket and fresh fruit plate. I also ordered a pot of peppermint tea and a smoothie.
Main course options included French toast with ham or scrambled eggs with herbs, which according to the menu was also supposed to be served with smoked salmon. Mine didn't include the salmon, though I did receive two slices of the mushiest, fattiest bacon I've ever had, along with a scoop of soggy mushrooms. The eggs weren't great, either.
I was also underwhelmed by the service — the flight attendants were polite, but they weren't great about topping off beverages during the meal, and simple things like getting water were a bit too much work (I ended up grabbing a few Evian bottles from the bar and empty seats).
Thai's A380 Business-Class Cabin
Since many of the 60 business-class seats were empty, I decided to walk back and try out Thai's business product for a bit.
Seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration, but they're definitely not all equal. If you're traveling alone, I'd recommend the window seats where the seat itself is right up against the window. Meanwhile, if you're traveling with a friend, you'll probably be happiest with the center seats — be aware that the seat position alternates with each row, so you'll either end up with two seats close together or two fairly far apart.
The seat I tried, 26J, was located nearer to the aisle — if you're traveling alone, I'd check out Seatguru and select the other type of window seat instead.
Business-class seats also lie flat, with similar controls to what you'll find in first.
Like the window seats in the first-class cabin, business seats located at the window have an additional storage compartment, which should definitely come in handy during a long flight.
While the food and service aren't exactly industry-leading, first class is very solid on Thai's A380. And with several award seats open on most dates throughout the year, you can reliably redeem your miles for this flight. Be very careful to select the A380, though — Thai is known to swap in older 747s on other routes, and without the new plane and seat, the airline's first class doesn't have that much going for it.