Thai Airways A380 launches Intra-Asia Service, A Test Drive Of Business And First

Following its delivery late last month, Thai’s first A380 has been operating silky smooth intra-Asia routes for just over a week, and we’ve managed to hop on board to experience the airline’s Royal First service from Hong Kong to Bangkok, followed by a Royal Silk (business) segment to Singapore. The Airbus flagship has been ferrying passengers around the globe for a half-decade, but Thai’s in-flight experience is among the world’s most luxurious, making us eager to see how the world’s largest jetliner would serve to make one of the planet’s best airlines even more desirable. Economy appears to be in line with what we’ve experienced on other A380s, so we skipped right to the premium cabins. The journey was fantastic, and we’re happy to share – keep reading to hop aboard the industry’s leading super jumbo for a couple short jumps in this five-star beauty.


Thai Royal First

If you can afford it, there’s (almost) no better way to fly. Thai’s first-class service includes the airline’s most attentive flight attendants, paired with multi-course meals and Dom Perignon Champagne, even on our 2 hour, 20 minute flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok. Despite the A380’s enormous floor plan, we liken the experience to flying on a roomy private jet – even the business section is separated by a curtain, so there’s very little pedestrian traffic to worry about beyond the 12 passengers calling this 1-2-1 cabin home for the duration of your flight. There’s no in-flight shower here, as you’ll find on Emirates’ A380, or the bed-equipped suite from Singapore’s jet, but the section does pack a very roomy bathroom with a sitting area and high-end amenities, along with a four-seat lounge at the nose, complete with universal power outlets and seat belts. We didn’t feel any need to escape the spacious seat during this short regional hop, but we could see a communal area coming in handy during a 12-hour hop to Frankfurt.

Looking to disconnect from the world when you’re 35,000 feet above? Not here. Wi-Fi Internet is provided by Airbus’ OnAir satellite-based service, which means hefty tariffs of $14.95 for 13MB of usage or $29.95 for 26 megs. You’ll also rack up charges of just under 60 cents per 100KB over the limit, or you can opt to disconnect once you reach your pre-purchased allotment. Thai is also planning to offer in-flight cellular service, which unfortunately wasn’t available at launch. Like other A380s, Thai’s version includes a state-of-the-art entertainment system, with 23-inch touchscreens in first, 15.4-inch displays in business and a 10.6-inch model in economy. Twenty-three inches of real estate may sound excessive, but given the five or so feet that separate you from the display in first, the size is just right.

The seat itself is large even by international airline standards – it should comfortably accommodate even the most generously sized passengers. There are three stowage compartments flanking the cushion, with space for cellphones, power adapters and a small library of reading materials. The universal power outlet should accommodate any laptop adapter, while a pair of USB ports will let you charge up both your business and personal smartphones. The IFE includes an industry standard wired controller, which you will indeed need to use here, since the 23-inch touch-enabled display is located a good five feet away. Seating controls include headrest, back and leg rest adjustments, along with a Do Not Disturb button, should you wish to opt out of the seemingly endless meal and drink service. There are also dedicated controls for jumping right into bed, meal and takeoff/landing mode, all of which activate with the speed and efficiency of a Hong Kong subway escalator.

Since we spent most of the flight eating and drinking, the sliding table was a fantastic addition. The soft armrest serves only to support your appendage – there’s no tuck-away tray in there. The one and only option spans the width of the seat, and slides all the way from the bottom cushion to just below the display, should you need to hop out or do some work mid-service. The tray felt very durable and doesn’t require extra support. It shook a fair amount during taxi and takeoff, sure, but there was never any risk of it coming loose or causing injury. After dessert, it’s time for lights out, at which point you can keep the party going with a secondary lamp on one side or a unique glowing purple panel on the other. There’s no sliding door to close off the seat entirely, but you can lift a motorized partition between you and your seat mate in the center pairing.

Thai Royal Silk (Business)
After landing in Bangkok, we deplaned from the upper deck (both premium cabins are up top) and were greeted by a determined chauffeur who shuttled us through the connecting flights security line, leaving us in the capable hands of a Royal First Lounge attendant. One complimentary 30-minute neck and shoulder massage later we were back on board, this time in Silk. Jumping from first to biz on a domestic US carrier typically represents only a modest bump in service, but the difference here is far more significant. Unfortunately, so is the cost, making the business cabin a much more reasonable option for executives and luxury seeking casual flyers alike.

Where the first class cabin offers a cozy sanctuary, isolated from your neighbors until you rise from your soft fabric throne, business feels much more in line with the long-haul mid-tier experience of other carriers. Seats are still arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, but they seem considerably more cramped than those in the front. For single travelers, the window seats are ideal, with two portholes per seat in most rows, and a cradle design that offers a fair amount of privacy. While the center seats span a width similar to United’s 747 and select 777s, which accommodate four passengers with aisle access only for the outer two, the arrangement here enables quick escapes for everyone in the cabin, thanks to a staggered design which alternates two seats nearer to the windows and two at the center from one row to the next. The center pair is ideal for couples traveling together, while the outer seats offer significant separation from your row mate.

There’s a side storage compartment positioned just below the armrest, large enough for a wallet and cellphone, perhaps. A large footrest lets you stretch out comfortably even during takeoff and landing – there’s much less space between the front edge of the seat and the forward console than you’ll find in first. A small compartment under the footrest can hold your shoes, while all other belongings need to go in the overhead bin. The tray table flips up and out of the way, and can rotate towards the footrest for aisle access during meal service. Like in the first class cabin, there’s a universal power outlet at the bottom of the side console, and two USB ports below the 15.4-inch touchscreen fixed directly in front of the seat (there’s no privacy filter, and the viewing angle is actually quite decent, so you can watch a neighbor’s display with ease). The USB port position isn’t great for charging gadgets, since there aren’t any pockets nearby for storage. Another poorly positioned component is the wired remote – when docked, it’s far too easy to bump playback controls with your elbow, given that the wand tucks away just beside the armrest.

The seat, while much narrower than its first-class counterpart, does lie flat for sleeping. A control panel lets you move the headrest, lumbar support and bottom cushion individually, or you can hit the bed, relax or upright buttons for speedy access to presets. It’s comfortable enough, but forgettable – it should provide a decent sleep, while the first class seat is something to write home about. You have your choice of overhead or side-mounted lights for reading after the cabin LEDs dim. There’s no Do Not Disturb button in this cabin, though an A380 info folder in the seat pocket includes a similarly labeled sticker, which you can place on the adjustable headrest should you desire a bit of peace and quiet.

As much as we were blown away by the Royal First cabin, the Royal Silk seats and cluttered positioning left us underwhelmed at best. The airline’s service is attentive and thorough in both sections, even on our short two-hour Singapore leg, but unless you’re riding up front, this latest member of Thai’s fleet doesn’t yield a drastically improved in-flight experience. Overall, the A380 does offer a fantastically smooth and quiet ride, however, so if it’s flying your route, you won’t regret booking a seat. It’s a massive craft, but you wouldn’t know it – unlike in economy, where you’re free to move between the upper and lower decks; first and business are both locked down with curtains and ropes, limiting your opportunity to explore this airborne marvel. We love the new aircraft smell and fresh, and unmarked seats are always welcome, but without a first class ticket, we’d be just as happy flying Thai’s other wide-body jets, assuming the seats tilt into beds and the in-flight entertainment is up to date.

[Photo credits: Zach Honig]