5 airlines with great in-flight services in economy class

Last week, I spent 13 hours desperately trying to fall asleep on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to London; my economy class seat didn’t have a personal entertainment system and the cabin monitor was pitch black from my angle. The week before, my sister took a red-eye United Airlines flight from Honolulu to San Francisco without the benefit of a pillow, blanket, or snack.

For many airlines, it looks like in-flight services in economy class are going the way of liquids on board. But thankfully, there are still some airlines that understand that service, entertainment, and even a few extras are a part of the customer experience, even for the peons in coach. These five are leading the pack.

Virgin Atlantic
Not only does Virgin offer one of the best personal entertainment systems I’ve ever experienced, they also offer a uniquely British flight experience on their Heathrow-JFK service. From complimentary English publications like Hello and Tatler in the waiting room, to free toiletry kits with socks and eyeshades, to a high tea service with scones and clotted cream, the attention to detail is there.Singapore Airlines
Rated by Zagat as the best international airline for both premium and economy seating, Singapore Airlines spares no expense with their amenities, offering all passengers luxurious Givenchy socks and toothbrush/toothpaste kits. If you happen to snag a seat on their Airbus A380 (say, through this sweet deal) or Boeing 777-300ER planes, you’ll also be able to read digitized versions of publications like the Wall Street Journal and Elle Magazine on Krisworld, the airline’s award-winning inflight entertainment system.

Though it’s a budget airline, JetBlue’s little extras make the flying experience one of the best in the U.S. Their entertainment systems offer 36 channels of DIRECTV programming, while their complimentary snack selection runs the gamut from Terra Blues chips to animal crackers (who doesn’t love animal crackers?). Plus, their Shut-Eye Service on overnight flights from the West includes free eyeshades and earplugs, plus hot towels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee upon arrival.

Virgin America
Yup, Virgin again. Their American cousins offer sexy dim cabin lighting, standard and USB plugs at every seat, and the ability to easily offset the carbon emissions from your flight through a credit card swipe donation to Carbonfund.org. Plus, from now until January 15, passengers on flights departing from San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Chicago, and New York JFK can enjoy free in-flight WiFi on new Google Chromebooks through the Chrome Zone pilot program.

Emirates Airlines
I first flew Emirates Airlines from Tokyo to Dubai when I was 12 years old, and it still sticks out as one of my favorite travel experiences. At the time, I was blown away by one of the first economy class personal entertainment systems in existence, as well as the extra Swiss chocolates snuck to me by the charming flight attendants. These days, Emirates offers 1,200 channels of programming plus telephone, SMS, and e-mail services on their ice entertainment system; regionally inspired multi-course meals with locally sourced ingredients; and cabin lighting specially designed to ease jet lag. I’m betting those chocolates are still there too.

[Flickr image via Richard Moross]

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 12: Going Home

Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 42 – Click above to watch video after the jump

After riding elephants, eating scorpions, walking through Hellfire Pass, visiting the famous bridge at the River Kwai, and seeing a Red Shirt movement up close – it’s finally time to say goodbye to Thailand and wrap up the biggest adventure Travel Talk has had.

Our last day was a blur of packing, dashing around Bangkok’s street markets for souvenirs, and a spectacular goodbye dinner overlooking the entire city. If there’s a better way to leave Bangkok than with a night up on the Dome / Sky Bar at Lebua, we’re not sure what it is. Early the next morning we said goodbye to new friends, stocked up on M-150, emptied a few last bahts from our pockets and prepared for the long ride home.

If you have the itch to embark on an adventure like ours, check out Trikaya Tours and ask for Joom (our incredibly hospitable tour guide). Thailand, we thank you for your hospitality and can’t wait to return in the future.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.

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Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews

Special guests: Sean Boompracong, International Media Director for the UDD.
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Trikaya Tours, Lebua at State Tower

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.

Flight attendant weight restriction causes uproar

Thai Airways International imposed body mass index and waistline restrictions on its 6,000 flight attendants last June. According to the Bangkok Post, all flight attendants, both male and female, were given six months to comply with the weight restriction. For female attendants, a BMI of 25 and a waistline maximum of 32 inches was implemented. The male attendants had restrictions of 27.5 BMI and a 35 inch waistline. To compute BMI, check out this handy calculator.

Those that did not meet the standards are now limited to domestic flights and same day service. They will be further relegated to ground crew if they fail to comply within a year. 41 flight attendants, 28 of them male, did not meet the guidelines and have filed a complaint with the Thailand Labour Protection and Welfare Department for the regulation which “violated their human rights, hurt their feelings, and decreased their incomes.” Although less than 1% of the Thai Airways flight attendant work force was affected, the Draconian measure has stirred up a debate regarding weight restrictions for flight attendants.

The vice president of products and customer services for Thai Airways, Teerapol Chotechanapibal, had this to say about the restrictions:

“…the regulation was aimed at improving the personality of flight attendants, who were an essential part of boosting competitiveness with other airlines, while their health had an impact on services and the safety of passengers. Flight attendants had to be agile and able to evacuate passengers from a plane within 90 seconds in the event of an accident. He said airlines worldwide had implemented similar standards. Stewardesses who are 160cm (5’3″) tall must not weigh above 66kg (145 lbs) while stewards who are 165cm (5’5″) tall must not weigh over 74.8kg (165 lbs).”

Asian air lines are notorious for hiring tall and rail thin flight attendants. A couple years ago, Air India even fired ten employees for being fat. I recall walking through Incheon airport in South Korea and passing a group of Korean Air stewardesses striding along the auto-walk like a gaggle of graceful storks. While I do not mind the inherent rule that flight attendants should be fit enough to assist with potential emergency situations, seeing an explicit weight restriction (an unnecessarily strict one at that) makes the whole enterprise feel cold, calculating, and inhuman. What do you think?


flickr image via kalleboo

Is Thailand Safe Now?

Yeah, pretty much.

A full month has passed since Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the slightly Orwellian-sounding CRES (Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situation) gave themselves an all-clear. The official sigh of relief follows a few weeks of fairly intense civil unrest–the chaos of ongoing street protests between yellow-shirted PAD and the red-shirted UDD claimed 88 lives and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage and lost business. The violence only ended following an agreement to hold general elections this coming November. Since then, the Thai government has been implementing a number of important changes in order to return the country back to normal. (But honestly, was Thailand ever normal? I mean, does anyone fly 16 hours to a country because it’s normal?)

Although the emergency decree remains in place, the curfew has been lifted in Bangkok and the country. (That’s a very good thing because Bangkok with a curfew is like going on a date with your parents in the backseat.) A far more encouraging sign is that the US State Department has ended their travel advisory for Thailand, even disappearing it from their website.

If it was anywhere else in the world, this on-again/off-again safety status might seem alarming, but those who know Thailand understand how quickly people settle back into a peaceful, “life-is-good” sort-of existence. It’s also important to remember that the most recent protests were concentrated in very specific areas of Bangkok. Few signs remain that anything was ever amok.

Hesitant tourists are the unfortunate result of any political instability, no matter how short-lived. The resulting drop in foreign visitors to Thailand has instigated a price war among hotels and resorts across the country–if you thought Thailand used to be cheap, it just got a whole lot cheaper. A number of awesome deals are up for the taking, like Thai Airwarys’ Discover Thailand pass (fly to any 3 cities within Thailand for $278).It will take a long time for tourism to recover, for sure. To encourage reluctant travelers, the Thai Tourist Authority is now waiving visa requirements and all fees for any American traveler wishing to stay beyond the normally-allotted 30 days. Already eager to please as a culture, Thai businesses are also bending over backwards to accomodate visitors. All flights are running normally at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, which, for the record, is a far more efficient airport than JFK and LAX put together.

Regardless, travelers to any foreign country should always follow a “Stay Informed” mantra. Before you go anywhere (be it Ireland, Italy, or South Dakota), it’s best to make yourself aware of the political situation. People versus parliament is a universal struggle (see Tea Party) but in Thailand, there is a long back story to the back and forth between people, government and military. There is also a very long history of peace. The beaches aren’t bad either.

(Photo Credits: Ratchaprasong and The Media Slut on Flickr)

Airline chairman in hot water for 840 pound luggage load

When the chairman of Thai Airways arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport, he did so with his wife, and 30 pieces of luggage. His official luggage allowance is just 132 pounds, so the 840 pounds of stuff he was dragging along with him on his trip was about six times too heavy.

Based on the excess luggage rates for Thai Airways, Mr. Wallop would have been expected to pay about $12,000 for the right to bring his luggage on the plane – but apparently he felt he was too important to pay. And that is where a firestorm of criticism started.

Thai Airways hasn’t posted a profit in several years, and the chairman was already on shaky ground. This incident has finally forced the airline board to investigate the incident, and they placed Wallop on administrative leave.

The whole story gets even better, because apparently Wallop demanded that all his luggage be sent to the lost and found depot at Bankok airport, in order to prevent it passing through customs (and being subject to import taxes). As the storm grew, Wallop even claimed all 30 bags were filled with donations for a local Buddhist temple.

Even the Thai government managed to get involved – and with growing calls for his resignation, Mr. Wallop will probably really regret pushing the limits on luggage allowance, since it will end up costing him his job.