Sky Family: Thai Airways' A350 in Business Class From Bangkok to Frankfurt
[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="86" ground-experience="8" cabin-seat="20" amens-ife="12" food-bev="22" service="24" pros="Five-star ground experience, memorable food and a delightful crew." cons="Uncomfortable over-ear headphones and stingy Wi-Fi allotments." /]
Throughout this summer as TPG's Reviews Intern, I've gotten the opportunity to fly some airlines that I never thought I'd get a chance to experience, let alone in a premium cabin. After some pretty incredible flights with Etihad and Garuda Indonesia, next up to bat was Thailand's award-winning flag carrier.
Thai Airways has a reputation for some of the friendliest service in the industry, but is also known for flying some severely outdated hard products on board its various aircraft. As luck would have it, though, an unplanned aircraft swap landed me on the most modern addition to its fleet: the Airbus A350 for my flight between Bangkok and Frankfurt.
After flying with the airline, I can confidently say this: If my flight was any indication of where the airline headed, the future is looking wonderfully bright for Thai.
Here at TPG, one of our go-to methods to for booking award redemptions on Star Alliance carriers is through Avianca's LifeMiles portal. Not only is the program a transfer partner of American Express, making it easy to top off your mileage balance, but their rates usually offer the best value per mile. When booking flights on United, for example, you can typically find LifeMiles awards for fewer miles than United is charging to fly its own metal.
While searching itineraries to position me from Southeast Asia to Europe, I noticed that LifeMiles had great availability on Thai Airways departing Jakarta, Indonesia (CGK), and connecting through Bangkok, Thailand (BKK), to a slew of European gateways including Frankfurt (FRA), Vienna (VIE), Zurich (ZRH), Amsterdam (AMS) and Oslo (OSL).
Since prices were a standard 78,000 miles across the board, I had the freedom to choose which port of arrival would work best with my onward plans, so I settled on the Frankfurt, Germany, itinerary for its early-morning arrival and easy onward connections within the Continent. The 5,500-mile jaunt between Bangkok and Europe was to be operated by Thai's 777-300ER, which isn't the most modern plane in the airline's fleet but was definitely a review we could use.
(Confused on how I ended up on an A350? Keep reading!)
We redeemed 78,000 LifeMiles (worth $1,326) for the one-way business-class ticket routing Jakarta-Bangkok-Frankfurt. This still is no small amount of miles, but the cash value for this business-class itinerary was hovering in the low $2,000s, meaning we redeemed these miles at an average value of 2.6 cents each, well above TPG's projected value of 1.7 cents.
Once booked, I was able to log onto Thai's website and view my reservation. Many airline websites don't allow you to manage reservations booked through other carriers, so I was impressed to see that not only could I select my seat, I could even select my meal up to 24 hours before departure. I made use of the seat-selection tool but decided to skip the meal selection and decide once on board.
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My 22-hour travel day from Indonesia to Europe began with an early-afternoon flight from Jakarta on one of Thai's aging Airbus A330's. It was only a three-hour flight, and although the product was dated, it was enjoyable nonetheless.
We lucked out with stunning views over Indonesia's Thousand Island archipelago on the climb out from Jakarta.
I touched down in Bangkok just before 4pm, though my onward departure to Frankfurt wasn't scheduled until 11:45pm that evening. I usually don't mind long layovers, but this one I was actually ecstatic about: As a business-class passenger, I'd have the opportunity to pass the hours in Thai's business-class lounge and even indulge in a complimentary massage at the award-winning spa.
While I could've stayed airside for my international connection, I decided to clear immigration and exit into Thailand in order to experience the full check-in process from the Bangkok departures hall.
It was only midafternoon at this point, but the Suvarnabhumi Airport's massive departures hall was bustling with passengers.
At the far east end of the hall, in Row A, was the designated check-in area for Thai's Royal Silk business-class passengers.
An interesting quirk about Thai is that their staff consistently refers to customers as their "guests" rather than "passengers" -- a subtle shift in mindset that drives the airline's hospitality model, beginning on the ground. Each check-in desk featured a pair of leather stools -- something I'd never seen at an airport before -- making the entire process feel extra personalized and relaxed.
While my immediate itinerary was booked as Jakarta-Bangkok-Frankfurt, I happened to mention to the agent that I had an onward flight from Frankfurt to Milan, Italy (MXP), booked on a separate ticket with Lufthansa. Not only did she offer to check me in for that flight, she also insisted on retagging my bag through Milan, saving me the hassle of claiming and rechecking it in Frankfurt. This was no small favor: It involved tracking down my bag midtransit, which at this point was in the customs holding room of Bangkok Airport. She assured me it'd be no problem and gave me her word that she'd get it done.
Both Royal Silk and Royal First passengers have access to a private security and immigration checkpoint just steps beyond the check-in counters. I was the only person in line, so I was cleared and airside just a few minutes later.
Even more conveniently, the private terminal entrance is nearly adjacent to Thai's Royal Silk business-class lounge. This Terminal D lounge is their largest location at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The lounge was quite impressive. It was laid out along one very long walkway connecting the entrances on either side.
There was plenty of seating available, mostly consisting of comfortable leather armchairs and small coffee tables.
The food spread was pretty solid, with a good variety of Asian specialities such as green curry, chicken satay skewers, and even a special chef station serving egg noodle soup with roast pork.
There weren't many international foods offered, although those looking for milder options had cold deli sandwiches and fruit to choose from.
There were a few beverage options as well, including a selection of juices, a coffee machine and a full-service bar.
After a few hours of relaxing in the lounge, I walked over to the Royal Orchid Spa, directly across the hall. All Royal Silk passengers are entitled to a free 30-minute massage, while Royal First passengers can enjoy massages of up to one hour.
The spa operates on a strictly walk-in basis, which can be somewhat frustrating if you have a short layover in Bangkok and want to guarantee a spot.
I checked in at the front desk, where I was told there were about five people waiting ahead of me. The hostess estimated it would take about 40 minutes, but she requested I return within 30 minutes just in case I could be seen earlier.
While guests have the option to wait in the business-class lounge across the hall, I decided to just hang out in the spa's own waiting room.
They even offered light bites and refreshments while we waited.
I'm glad I ended up waiting nearby, as a few no-shows sped up the line and I was seen about 20 minutes after first arriving.
There were four massage treatments to choose from. I went with the 30-minute neck-and-shoulder massage, and it was absolutely phenomenal. After the treatment, I was brought back to the spa's lounge area and invited to enjoy a selection of chilled tea beverages before heading out. The entire experience rivaled what you'd expect to find at a luxury hotel -- a delightful and relaxing prelude to my long overnight journey to Europe.
Finally, around 10:30pm, it was time to head to my gate, which was about a five-minute walk away in Concourse C.
Like at many airports in Asia, boarding passes were scanned upon entering the gate area rather than when boarding the aircraft.
We were then kept in a secure waiting area for about 15 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin.
It was at this point that I glanced out the window and, to my surprise, saw an A350 attached to our jet bridge. I initially figured it was the flight before ours, possibly departing a bit behind schedule, and that our 777 would be tugged into the gate once they were clear.
The gate agents announced that boarding would commence in about 10 minutes, yet there was still no 777 in sight. I approached the podium to inquire, at which point the agent confirmed that there had indeed been an equipment swap.
"All seats remain unchanged, unless you were previously notified by our staff," she added.
As much as I love the 777, I was absolutely stoked to be flying this modern new jet. Even better yet: this A350 featured a refreshed version of the business-class seat I had originally been booked to fly, giving us a chance to review a cabin we had yet to cover.
Boarding finally began around 11pm, starting with Royal Silk passengers and Star Alliance Gold.
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The ornate cabin was outfitted with Thai's signature purple accents and orchid branding throughout. The 32 Royal Silk pods were laid out in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration -- coincidentally, featuring the same exact seats that I had flown on Garuda Indonesia the day prior.
Along the windows, the seats alternate between window-facing A seats and aisle-facing B seats. Thai's A350 business cabin spans from row 11 to 19, but skips 13, so if you're traveling alone you'll want to try your best to either get the "A" or "K" seat in rows 12, 15, 17 and 19. The next best options for solo travelers would be the not-as-private window seats -- "B" or "J" in rows 11, 14, 16 and 18.
In the center section you'll find honeymoon pairs "E" and "F" in rows 11, 14, 16 and 18 and single aisle seats "D" and "G" in rows 12, 15, 17 and 19.
Despite booking only a few days in advance, I was luckily able to snag 15A, one of the private window seats about midway through the cabin. I was very lucky that my seat assignment hadn't been affected during the equipment change.
The seat itself feel quite wide. Though the cushion measured 21 inches across, the seat had ample shoulder room and felt very spacious.
Just beside the seat cushion was a small storage compartment perfect for storing loose items.
The seat controls were along the edge of the table to the right, along with a modern inflight-entertainment touchscreen remote by Panasonic.
Above the table was a standard literature holder and small adjustable reading light.
Similar to Garuda's seats, the tray table was stored flush with the seatback and could be swiveled out into position with ease.
It measured 11.5 inches long and 18.5 inches wide.
The tray table could be slid forward toward the footwell, which provided me the flexibility to get up and use the restroom or access the overhead bins during a meal service.
Powerwise, each seat offered a single 110V universal outlet, which was about knee-level adjacent to the small storage compartment.
The headphone jack featured a three-prong plug, so unless you brought the proper adapter, it wasn't possible to use your own.
The 15.5-inch touchscreen IFE was sharp and modern, even boasting two additional USB ports for charging smaller devices.
The seats reclined into a lie-flat bed 73 inches long and 21 inches wide.
I appreciated that the ottoman wasn't fully enclosed along the fuselage wall, which added quite a bit more room for my legs when in lie-flat mode.
Under the footwell was a small storage area, which I used to store my shoes and slippers throughout the flight.
The cabin really came to life after takeoff, once the A350's incredible LED mood lighting was in full swing.
There was one dedicated business-class lavatory at the front of the aircraft, adjacent to the flight deck, as well as two additional locations in the galley area between business and economy. They were all kept in pristine condition throughout the flight.
They were all roughly equal in size, but the business-class bathroom was stocked with a handful of premium amenities, including body lotion and fragrance by Institut Karité.
Thai's A350 doesn't offer a premium economy class, instead boasting 289 standard economy seats in a spacious 3-3-3 configuration. These seats have a pitch of 32 inches and measure 18 inches wide -- quite a comfortable setup for long-haul journeys.
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Upon boarding, there was a plush pillow, blanket, mattress pad and amenity kit waiting on each seat.
The amenity kits were by Mandarina Duck, a high-end Italian luggage brand.
Each was stocked with a comb, dental set, mouthwash, and Institut Karité lotion and lip balm. It's one of the few times I've seen a premium amenity kit without an eye mask or earplugs -- I don't typically use either on a flight, but if these are a necessity for you, make sure to pack your own.
A pair of white slippers were also provided to each Royal Silk passenger. These are always greatly appreciated -- much easier to slip these on for a quick trip to the bathroom or galley.
The noise-canceling headphones were from the brand AKG, and came in a hard-cover case.
It's great to see Thai partnering with such a high-end headphone brand, but I didn't love this particular set. The sound quality was great, but they weren't very comfortable to wear.
The pillow and blanket were both soft and plush, plenty comfortable for the long-haul overnight flight.
I'd never been on a flight with provided mattress pads, so this was an exciting amenity to experience.
It definitely made a notable difference when it came time to sleep. The seat felt more like a familiar bed at home, since you aren't lying directly on the seat fabric.
The Panasonic EX3 IFE system provided plenty of content to keep passengers entertained throughout the flight.
Media content included the usual movies and TV shows, in addition to live TV, music, and games.
The movie selection featured 107 titles ranging from Hollywood hits to foreign films, but none seemed to be too recent.
It also offered 81 TV show titles, each with multiple episodes, and some even with entire seasons.
My absolute favorite feature was the high-definition tail camera. I was mesmerized watching our majestic A350 grace the skies above Eastern Europe prior to our early morning arrival.
Although it wasn't advertised up front, all business-class customers receive a small complimentary Wi-Fi session on board. I only discovered this amenity when I asked the flight attendant for instructions on how to connect to the network, at which point she offered a step-by-step tutorial and handed me a complimentary 20 MB voucher valued at $6.99.
After selecting my plan at checkout, I was prompted to enter a voucher number, which erased my balance due.
The small session was enough for some light messaging, but unsurprisingly the 20 MB were exhausted fairly quickly. I still had a few things to wrap up before calling it a night, so I ended up purchasing an additional 100 MB plan for $19.99.
In general, the Wi-Fi was very reliable. A quality report returned a download speed of 30.9 Mbps and an upload speed of 1.61 Mbps.
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Upon boarding, the flight attendant made rounds through the aisles introducing herself to passengers and offering predeparture beverages. I opted for a glass of the Veuve Clicquot Brut, a Champagne that typically retails for roughly $50 per bottle.
She then invited me to take a look at the menu and begin browsing the dining options. She added her personal recommendation, the airline's carefully crafted menu of dishes that proudly exhibit Thailand's culinary heritage.
Shortly after takeoff, the dinner service began with a choice of drink and warmed nuts, paired with a hot towel. I tried one of Thai's signature beverages, Violet Bliss, actually a lime-based drink infused with a butterfly pea flower, giving it a deep purple color. It was delicious and refreshing.
The light starter was followed by the appetizer, Ibérico ham stuffed with coriander cheese, a mozzarella pearl, and a spicy Thai prawn with lemongrass and mint. It was definitely on the lighter side, but the taste was excellent -- the ingredients were fresh and flavorful. It was also accompanied by a warm bread roll.
At this point, I ordered a glass of the Millebuis Bourgogne pinot noir to accompany the remainder of the meal. Pinots are my preferred wine on flights because they're typically on the lighter side. This one was excellent.
There were four choices for the main course: two choices off of the Samrab Thai taste-of-Thailand menu, and two international dishes. The Samrab Thai was served with prawn and pork belly soup, marinated pork, stir-fried cabbage, fish sauce, and steamed jasmine rice, and came with either beef curry with bird's eye chili or deep-fried snapper with sweet-and-sour chili sauce. The other two choices were garlic duck confit served with caramelized pumpkin, buttered needle beans and Parmesan cheese; or roast pork filet served in pesto brown sauce served with spinach ravioli, Parmesan cheese and cauliflower.
I went for the beef curry entrée. It was hands down one of the best meals I've had on a plane. The flavors were extraordinary.
Between dinner and dessert was a small fruit-and-cheese course. This was a pleasant surprise, as on most airlines, fruit and cheese is included simply as a dessert rather than a prelude to the dessert course itself. The flight attendant inquired if I'd like a glass of port to go with it, but I politely declined in favor of another glass of pinot.
Finally, there were two desserts offered to close off the meal: banana delight with purple ma prao kaew, or lemon meringue tart.
I went with the banana delight, another Thai specialty. It somewhat resembled a pudding, which I'm typically not a huge fan of, but this one was sweet and delicious.
Tea and coffee were brought around after dessert, so I ordered a cup of coffee.
Once the meal service was officially concluded, the purser came through the aisles handing out Ferrero Rocher chocolates and wishing everyone a good night's rest.
Nearly eight full hours later, the prearrival breakfast service began roughly two hours before touchdown. I started the meal with a hot cup of coffee and orange juice, which were accompanied by another hot towel.
There were no separate courses for breakfast, so we were simply directed to select one of four choices on the menu, all served with fresh fruits, bircher muesli, and assortment of warm breads: boiled rice soup with marinated chicken meatballs and herb served with a Siam omelet; Parmesan omelet with sautéed potatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and cherry tomato; cold-cut platter of sliced ham, salami and cheese; or continental breakfast with oven-fresh breakfast roll, croissant and pastries.
I went for the Asian selection, the boiled rice soup with chicken meatballs. The soup was great, and although I typically stay away from eggs on planes, the Siam omelet was pretty decent as well. The fruit was incredibly fresh, and both the muesli and pastries were delicious.
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I've had the opportunity to fly some pretty amazing carriers this summer, and more often than not, the aspect that consistently leaves me the most blown away has been the quality of onboard service.
This flight was no exception, and in fact, ranks among the best I've experienced, in terms of service. The main difference I noticed with Thai was the warm, family-like atmosphere that their incredible flight attendants bring on board. It felt as if I were being welcomed into someone’s home rather than aboard an airplane -- once again, a nod to their "guest" rather than "passenger" service mentality.
The crew took the utmost care in ensuring each guest had everything they needed from takeoff to touchdown, and every request was met with an immediate and enthusiastic response. The flight attendants delivered an exceptionally personalized service -- while some passengers preferred an expedited meal before heading to sleep, others (like myself) enjoyed a relaxed and indulgent service.
I didn't sleep much on the flight, which meant I had plenty of time to get to know the cabin crew. The flight attendant serving my section, Ana, was among the best I've ever seen. Throughout the flight, she shared some of her favorite memories from her 30-plus year tenure at Thai, from working the 17-hour long-haul to New York to frequent overnight layovers in Hong Kong with two of her best friends. She'd dedicated entire her career to the airline, and was still visibly proud to be representing the Thai brand and heritage. I have no doubt that it's gems like Ana that have helped the airline maintain its commitment to industry-leading hospitality.
My first journey with Thai Airways exceeded all of my expectations, and I definitely think the airline deserves more credit than it gets. The passenger experience on the A350 is tough to beat: quieter engines, higher cabin-air quality and an overall smoother ride. What left the biggest impression, though, was Thai's phenomenal soft product. From the luxurious massage treatments on the ground to the delicious food and world-class hospitality in the air, the entire experience was nothing short of unforgettable.
All photos by the author.