Off-Duty Pilots Delay Flight for Two Hours Over First Class Seat Assignments

Oct 20, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

This past week on a flight from Zurich, Switzerland, to Bangkok, Thailand, two off-duty Thai Airways pilots allegedly delayed the plane for two hours over a seating dispute. A complaint filed by passengers who were “downgraded” from first class to business class claims that the two off-duty pilots were requesting first class seating even though the cabin was full.

It appears that the pilots in command of the flight to Bangkok would not depart Zurich until their fellow off-duty employees were given seats in first class. After being delayed for around two hours, two first class passengers agreed to downgrade to business class to accommodate the pilots. The flight departed Zurich at 3:30pm local time, nearly two and a half hours after the scheduled departure time and arriving roughly an hour and a half behind schedule.

ZURICH AIRPORT, ZURICH, -, SWITZERLAND - 2018/01/25: Thai airways Boeing 777-300ER aircraft departing Zurich for Bangkok. (Photo by C. V. Grinsven/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ZURICH AIRPORT, ZURICH, -, SWITZERLAND — 2018/01/25: Thai Airways Boeing 777-300ER aircraft departing Zurich for Bangkok. (Photo by C. V. Grinsven/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

On the surface, this looks like a blatant power-trip on the part of the pilots both on and off-duty. Additionally, it doesn’t make Thai Airways look that customer-centric even if their first class product is one of the top products in the world. However, that’s only on the surface. There is much more to the story than the complaint made by the passengers alleges.

Thai Airways operates a Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 747-400 on its flights between Zurich and Bangkok. Though the Boeing 777-300ER is equipped with a first class cabin, Thai Airways does not sell first class tickets on its Zurich/Bangkok flights. This means that business class passengers can select seats in the first class cabin on a first come-first serve basis. This is similar to what American Airlines would do on domestic flights with the Boeing 777 configured with two premium cabins.

On this particular flight, all nine first class seats were selected by business class passengers. It is definitely somewhat of an upgrade in that passengers that select first class seats have access to the much larger and much more private seat. However, the service both in the air and on the ground is the same as the passenger is still booked in business class.

The off-duty pilots also appear to be contractually obligated to receive seats in the first three rows (first class) of the aircraft. Many airlines have agreements allowing pilots and other crew members access to upgraded seating on repositioning flights, however, the first class cabin was already full. Essentially, the on-duty pilots believed that it was acceptable to outright delay the flight for two hours to get their fellow pilots their contractually obligated seats.

After keeping the flight on the ground for a little more than two hours, two “first class” passengers agreed to downgrade to business class, relocating to a standard business class seat compared to one of Thai Airways’s first class open-door suites.

Thai Airways Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

To clarify, the two downgraded passengers agreed to move back to standard business class seats to allow the off-duty pilots to sit in first class seats. While this isn’t a huge deal, the pilots delaying an international flight for more than two hours is a big deal. Bangkok is a major hub for Thai Airways which means a delay could lead to missed connections. Nonetheless, Thai Airways’ president took responsibility and issued the following statement: I express sorrow and apologize to all passengers affected by the unprofessional action that caused the delay. And I apologize to the passengers who were directly affected by the seat change. I take responsibility …”

H/T: Travel+Leisure

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.