First Look: Thai Smile’s first aircraft

Thai Smiles’s delivery flight, with its first Airbus A320 aircraft, is set to take off at 1230 from Hamburg to Bangkok via Dubai. 

The carrier, Thai Airways’ new regional subsidiary, will begin scheduled commercial flights on July 7 to Macau before launching domestic flights.

For more details about the new carrier click here, and for an interview with Thai Airways’ executive vice-president of product and services, Teerapol Chotichanapibal, click here

Stay tuned for an exclusive review of Thai Smiles’s delivery flight.

Visit www.thaismileair.com.

Design Hotels boosts portfolio

Design Hotels is welcoming a number of newly opened city properties to its collection this year.

In London, the Dorset Square hotel has reopened this month as a Firmdale property (see online news June 20). The 38-room Marylebone hotel was the luxury boutique group’s first property when it opened in the 1980s but was later sold, and has now been reacquired. All of Firmdale’s properties – which include the Soho and Covent Garden hotels in London and the Crosby Street in New York – are Design Hotels members.

Also opened this month is La Suite West, an 80-room property in Bayswater. It features a minimalist black and white design with Asian touches. The 80-room South Place hotel will open close to Moorgate station in September as the first property for restaurateurs D&D (see online news June 8).

In Berlin, the 80-room Das Stue will open in November in a 1930s former Danish embassy building bordering the Tiergarten and Berlin Zoo. Facilities include a spa, pool, gym, restaurant and cocktail bar.

In Zurich, the 25 Hours Hotel Zurich West is to open in October with 126 rooms, an open-plan “living room” and a top-floor wellness area and sauna. It will join other 25 Hours properties in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Vienna, all Design Hotels members.

In Vienna, two sister properties are joining the portfolio – the 31-room Hotel Topazz, which has just opened, and the 32-room Hotel Lamée, which will follow in August. They are located opposite one another in the First district. The Topazz features an unusual dark façade with large oval windows, while the Lamée’s design celebrates “1930s Hollywood glamour”.

In Ljubljana, the 16-room Vander Urbani resort opens in July on the eastern riverbank of the Slovenian capital. It will have a rooftop pool, two treatment rooms, a restaurant, bar and wine cellar.

In Sydney, the 200-room QT will open in two 1920s buildings – a theatre and a department store – in the central business district in September. It will have design elements that reflect the buildings’ previous incarnations, and facilities include a restaurant, bar and spa.

In Mexico City, the 17-room Downtown Mexico opened this month in a 17th-century palace in the Centro Historico district. It “blends colonial grandeur with a raw industrial edge” and has a rooftop pool and terrace.

In Bogota, the BOG hotel opened in April in the north of the city. The first Design Hotels member in Colombia, it has 55 rooms, a rooftop pool and a design concept inspired by the country’s gold and emerald resources.

In Kochi, a new property from Indian group the Park Hotels will have its soft opening in September. The 175-room Park Kochi will be housed in a 28-floor new build and feature local artworks and design elements inspired by the city’s port location, as well as a Club floor, Keralan and pan-Asian restaurants, a pool and spa.

For more information visit designhotels.com.

Report by Michelle Mannion

Exclusive: Thai Airways senior executive clarifies, “Thai Smile is not a low-cost carrier”

The test flight of the first A320 of Thai Smile, the “new sub-brand business unit” of Thai Airways (TG), took off yesterday from Airbus’s Hamburg facility yesterday (June 28). Things all went well, and if another test flight is also deemed successful today, the aircraft will make its way to Bangkok tomorrow (Saturday) via Dubai.

Thai Smile is branded as a “light premium” service, and there has been some confusion as to what it means. Business Traveller has caught up with Thai Airways executive vice-president of product and customer services Teerapol Chotichanapibal for a clearer picture.

“We still consider Thai Smile as full-service, but service is delivered smartly and in a modern style, while still having the Thai touch. It’s like when telling a decorator, I want this place to be luxurious but in a minimalist style,” Teerapol said.

“‘Light’ is not ‘cheap’. We want [Thai Smile] to represent value for money.”

At this point, Thai Smile is operated as a business unit of TG and its flights will fly under the same code, although it is expected to become increasingly independent as time goes. Captain Woranate Laprabang, formerly in corporate planning for TG, has been appointed managing director of the new unit.

Thai Smile’s first flight is scheduled for July 7, with Macau as the launch destination (see story here). There are a lot of low-cost carriers serving Macau, but those are not Thai Smile’s competitors, according to Teerapol.

“Who actually go to Macau? It certainly has a name for gaming, but it‘s also quite a pretty place. If you are talking about the gaming segment of the market, they can do it in Thailand much more cheaply if they just take land transportation for a few hours for the border,” he said. “These people are not short of money. There is enough traffic out there from them, who say, forget about this nonsense and hassle of having to pay for food and drinks, they just want a light and easy trip.”

According to Teerapol, Thai Smile will be able to offer fares 10 to 20 per cent cheaper than those of legacy airlines as, although not a low-cost carrier per se, it will be run on an operational cost structure similar to that of a low-cost carrier.

As reported earlier (see story here), passengers get free seat selection, counter check-in, free baggage allowance (20kg for economy class and 30kg for business class) as well as free food and drinks onboard. The first five rows of the cabin are designated “Smile Plus”, a business class product. There is more leg room, and middle seat on each side is to be left vacant, so that passengers can lift up the armrest for more stretching space.

Thai Smile has 11 A320s on order, and it is expected that by the end of 2012, four will be in service. Other than Macau, they will service a host of destinations within Thailand such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi. The rest will be delivered in 2013, with five of them equipped with one of Airbus’s latest inventions “sharklets” for better aerodynamics. Although initially, Thai Smile will only serve flights under three hours, Teerapol revealed that long-haul destinations were not out of the question in its future, and he said the two could complement one another.

“When you talk about Thai Airways International, what do you think of? Luxury and tradition. The passengers are old money and are used to flying traditional carriers; we will continue to serve them very, very well. But Thai Smile will serve the younger generation who have their own definition of good service, people who are smart and looking for value for money.”

Teerapol has also confirmed that Thai Airways has not ceased its efforts in establishing a low-cost carrier despite the collapse of its Thai Tiger plan (see story here). An announcement on that front, he continued, would be made within months.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific has been invited to board Thai Smile’s historic delivery flight. Stay tuned for a review.

Reggie Ho

Middle East Airlines officially joins Skyteam

Middle East Airlines (MEA) has officially become the 17th member of the global Skyteam airline alliance. 

The carrier, based in Beirut, is the second Middle Eastern carrier to join the alliance shortly after Saudia joined last month (see story here). 

The addition of MEA, which was first announced last year (see story here), means passengers of all member carriers will have greater options for travel across Africa and the Middle East.

Prior to joining, the carrier launched a restructuring project that included fleet renewal and rationalisation, network expansion and enhancing product quality.

Effective immediately, passengers who are part of frequent flyer programmes on other Skyteam member airlines will also be able to earn and redeem miles on MEA services, while those in MEA’s Cedar Miles can do the same on other member airlines.

For more information, visit www.mea.com.lb

Alisha Haridasani

Business Traveller July / August edition now live

Subscribers to the print version of Business Traveller can access the edition online before everyone else.

All of our special reports and destination features are uploaded to businesstraveller.com each month, and the July / August 2012 edition has now gone live.

Subscribe to Business Traveller today, and as an added bonus you’ll receive a Contura suit carrier and 20 per cent off subscription rates. For more information click here.


This month’s packed issue includes:

  • A look at the positive effects of the Olympics on London’s hotel scene
  • Cutting the cost of rail travel
  • A round-up of the latest gadgets to help our physique and boost motivation
  • Travel options from London to Doha and beyond
  • A look at the up-and-coming Silicon Roundabout in East London
  • Meeting options in Prague
  • A report on Abu Dhabi’s experimental eco-city Masdar
  • A look at the benefits of major airline loyalty schemes worldwide
  • Four hours in London’s Notting Hill
  • Golfing around Los Angeles
  • A look at getting cheap business tickets in the Eurozone
  • Our frequent traveller takes her boyfriend on a work trip

Plus we review the Grosvenor House Dubai, as well as the refurbished Sheraton Grand and newly opened Hotel Indigo in Edinburgh.

If you are already a subscriber to Business Traveller, simply log in here (using the email address attached to your subscription), then click on the archive button on the navigation bar for full access.

If you are unsure of your log in details, or have any problems accessing the archive as a print subscriber, click here to send us an email.

Korean Air to launch Yangon flights

Korean Air has announced that it will launch a nonstop service from Seoul Incheon to Yangon, Myanmar on September 13.

The route will be served by the 138-passenger B737-800, and depart from Incheon Airport every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 1805, arriving in Yangon at 2140 the same day. The return leg will leave Yangon at 2320, for a 0740 arrival in Seoul the next day. Flying time is about six hours.

A surge of investments and economic transformation is expected in Myanmar following the lifting of international sanctions last April. According to Abacus International, Asia’s leading revenue partner for airlines, Myanmar is currently the most underserved travel market in all of Asia. Initial forecasts indicate that traveller numbers are set to increase by 300 per cent this year compared to last, and one million tourists will have arrived by year’s end. Outbound traffic is also predicted to have increased by 100 per cent in 2012.

In order to tap into the latent potential of this destination, many airlines have been moving to service the route. This announcement from Korean Air, for example, closely follows news of China Airlines increasing frequencies to Yangon (see story here). Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways are also reportedly exploring whether to launch flights to Myanmar this year. 

In her recent speech at the World Economic Forum in Bangkok, Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged the huge anticipated investment in Burma’s stunted infrastructure, adding that she hopes foreign firms will invest with cautioun and transparency, so the money can benefit the impoverished masses.

For more information, visit www.koreanair.com/

Alex Andersson

JAL signs codeshare deal with NIKI

Japan Airlines (JAL) has announced a codeshare agreement with NIKI Luftfahrt, Vienna-based subsidiary of fellow Oneworld alliance member airberlin.

From July 1 onwards, the agreement will see JAL’s “JL” code on NIKI’s six-weekly flights between Frankfurt and Vienna International Airport.

The codeshared flights, operated on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, depart Frankfurt at 2010 and arrive in Vienna at 2130. The return leg departs Vienna at 1755 and arrives back in the German city on the same days.

JAL now provides customers with more options for European destinations through various codeshare flights arrangements. In addition to codeshare flights between Frankfurt and Vienna with NIKI, the carrier codeshares with airberlin for flights between Frankfurt and Berlin, with Finnair for flights between Helsinki and Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, and with Iberia on the Frankfurt-Madrid and London-Madrid routes.

For more information, see www.jal.com and www.flyniki.com

Michelle Fong

Delta to offer wifi on long-haul flights

Delta is to add wifi capabilities to its fleet of over 150 Boeing and Airbus long-haul aircraft, with the rollout starting early next year.

The airline already offers wifi on domestic US services using ground-to-air technology, but satellite coverage will now be added to Boeing B777, B767, B747 and selected B757 aircraft, as well as its Airbus A330s.

The rollout will start early next year, and is set to be completed by 2015, by which point Delta will have around 1,000 wifi-enabled aircraft across its fleet.

Wifi internet access on international flights will be provided using “high-bandwidth Ku-band capacity satellites”. It’s not yet clear what price point the service will be provided at, or which routes it will launch on.

Earlier this month Air France KLM announced plans to trial wifi internet access on B777 aircraft next year (see online news June 11), and Japanese carriers JAL and ANA have both recently confirmed they will offer wifi on long-haul services.

For more information visit delta.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Ryanair to cut Moroccan routes

Low-cost carrier Ryanair is to cut routes to and from Morocco in a row over airport charges. 

In a statement the carrier said “ONDA, the Moroccan Govt’s airports authority, has reneged on its agreement with the airline by imposing a new monopoly handling company on Ryanair which would have resulted in a massive increase in charges for the airline”.

The carrier says it will cut a total of 34 weekly flights (totalling 250,000 annual passengers) from October 1. Routes which will be cancelled include London Stansted to Fez and Valencia to Marrakech, while flights between London Luton and Marrakech will be reduced to twice weekly.

Commenting on the move Ryanair’s Deputy Chief Executive, Michael Cawley said;

“Ryanair entered into long term agreements with the Moroccan Tourism Authority and ONDA, as part of the Moroccan Govt’s 5 year plan to grow tourism. Ryanair has spectacularly over-delivered on all its undertakings under these agreements, becoming Morocco’s second largest airline and ensuring the Moroccan Govt achieved its 5 year targets within an earlier timescale.

“It is regrettable that ONDA has now lost sight of the key to the success of our partnership, offering low fares based on low costs. Ryanair cannot accept cost increases as it seeks to deliver more growth to Morocco. It is completely unacceptable for ONDA to increase the cost of Ryanair’s operation in Morocco and unrealistic for them to expect us to continue to grow our business in that context.”

For more information visit ryanair.com.

Report by Mark Caswell