Tried & Tested

Thai Airways B747-400 Royal Silk (business class)

4 Dec 2009 by Mark Caswell

Background Thai Airways serves London to Bangkok twice a day – departing London at 1150, arriving at 0610, and at 2135, arriving at 1555. The return services are at 1330, landing at 1935, and 0015, landing at 0620.

Check-in As I was told I could not check in online with Thai Airways, I arrived at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport at 1100, two and a half hours before my 1330 flight TG0916 to London Heathrow. Row A at the far end of the terminal offers a dedicated check-in area for business (Royal Silk) and first (Royal First) class passengers, and there was no queue. (Economy class check-in desks are in rows H and J.) From here it is a short walk to Zone C departures, where I waited in line for passport control for about 15 minutes. Security was very quick.

The lounge Once in the airside shopping area, signs direct passengers left for the Royal First lounge on level three by Gates A1-A6, and to the two Royal Silk lounges by Gates C1-C10. The Royal Orchid and third Royal Silk lounges are to the right, by Gates E1-E10, also on level three. I was to board from Gate C3, so turned left down Concourse D, then left and down a set of escalators to the business class lounge.

The facility is very long, with three quiet zones, a work room with 13 PCs and free internet, a small duty-free shop, a meeting room for 15 delegates (book in advance), plenty of chunky leather armchairs in grey and purple, and three refreshment bars with a modest selection of food such as sandwiches, watermelon, cake, and spinach and cheese pies.

One bar had a choice of spirits including Johnny Walker Black Label and Smirnoff, and all supplied tea, coffee, beer and soft drinks. A reading section held lots of English and foreign-language newspapers and magazines, including Bloomberg, Time, Newsweek and The Economist. Although the lounge wasn’t very brightly lit, there was a glass wall through which you could see the runway, and the general ambiance on this Sunday lunchtime was very peaceful.

After taking 20 minutes to check my emails and have a drink, I decided to investigate the Royal Orchid spa, which is outside the lounge on the opposite side of the concourse (take the exit on the right at the far end of the lounge). Business class passengers are entitled to one free 30-minute shoulder or foot massage on a first-come, first-served basis – and I had no problem getting one as there weren’t many people around.

I was given a cup of cold herbal tea and a refreshing hand towel before being ushered into the spa area, which had screens sectioning off the eight treatment rooms. It was a very relaxing experience and there is no need to undress, so even if you are pushed for time, 40 minutes in total is long enough for this indulgence.  

Boarding Boarding started at 1250 from Gate C3, a four-minute walk away, and at 1310 the flight was on its final call. Premium passengers accessed the plane from the front via a separate airbridge, with those in first class turning left and those in business turning right. After a traditional Thai bow and greeting from a member of the crew, I was shown to my seat. My jacket was taken, and newspapers (from the day before), juice and champagne (Bollinger in business, Dom Pérignon in first) were offered.

We started taxiing at 1335, and between then and 1355, when we took off, glasses were collected and the safety demonstration was presented via the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.

The seat The seats in the business class cabins (rows 22-25 downstairs and 11-19 upstairs) are upholstered in more subtle grey and lilac hues than the garish yellow, pink and purple of economy. I was in 24A, a window seat on the lower deck of the B747. First class is configured 1-2-1, while business class is 2-2 (A-B, E-F downstairs and A-B, J-K upstairs).

Unfortunately, the B747 that serves the London-Bangkok route has not yet been fitted with the new economy, business and first class seats, and this is quite evident – they are pretty worn and battered, and the fabric on the lower section of my seat completely came away during the flight.

The new business class product is angled lie-flat, whereas the older version on this flight was cradle-style, and was fitted with lumbar support (somewhat lacking in padding), built-in massage functions, a handset to control the seat-back IFE screen, and a slot for newspapers. I was also given a pink cushion and blanket, and an amenity kit containing a brush, comb, lip balm, mouthwash, eye mask, toothbrush and paste, lip balm and socks (although sadly no moisturiser – a must-have for me on long flights).

Which seat to choose? If you like having extra legroom, seats 23 E-F and exit row seats 22 A-B are good choices – note that the former are not by a window as there is a partition down the right-hand side of the business class cabin, and they have a very large IFE screen projected on to the bulkhead in front. (They also have small personal screens that come out of the arm of the seat.) On my flight, there was a couple with a young child sitting in these seats, and they used the extra floor space as a play area.

On the upper deck, seats J-K should be avoided as they are near the galley and the staircase, so could suffer from some disturbance. Row 16 is the exit row, so seats here have more legroom. Personally, I preferred the lower business class cabin as it felt a little more spacious and there were fewer seats (14 compared with 26 on the upper level).  

The flight At 1410, menus were given out, and 15 minutes after that, drinks and a bag of cashew nuts were offered. Tray tables lift and slide out of the armrest in the middle of the seat pairs, and white cloths were placed upon these before the food was served.

The wine list stated the champagne option as being Pommery Brut Royal, although it was actually Bollinger Special Cuvée that was served. White wine options were Mâcon Villages, 2006, Bourgogne Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes, 2007, and Krug’scher Hof Chardonnay Spatlese Trocken, 2007. Red wines were Mercurey Domaine Faiveley, 2003, and Château Robin, 2006. These were served in small glass tumblers as opposed to “crystal glasses” described on thaiair.com.

Although I had ordered a special vegetarian meal, I made note of the standard lunch menu. This was hot deep-fried fish cake with Thai-style cucumber salad, followed by a starter of duck foie gras, apple and walnuts with salmon pastrami, and cannelloni bean and fennel salad in a cabbage cup. Along with a green salad and a selection of bread and cheese, there was a choice of four mains, including seared Atlantic salmon with fresh tarragon cream sauce, spinach fettuccine and roasted vegetables, or stir-fried pork fillet with garlic, chilli, basil, steamed Thai hom mali rice and vegetables.

To start, I was presented with two soggy, tasteless potato cakes, some semi-raw chunks of grey mushroom, courgette and tomato on a skewer, and a tomato with a lump of wilted spinach on top. My main consisted of a tray with a green salad and a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette, a fruit salad, and a cold salad of pumpkin and courgette with Thai spices (unimaginative but just about edible). There was also a brown roll, and a dish of spinach and ricotta cannelloni with (more) courgette, roasted carrot and pumpkin. Not only was it a shame that it was not Thai food, but the meal was, on the whole, distinctly below par. Tea, coffee and liqueurs were served along with the dessert of chocolate sponge cake and mousse.

After lunch, I checked out the IFE system – there was a reasonable selection of English-language movies and some newer releases, but many of the higher-rated films had been edited for the flight, and the other 60 per cent were children’s films, which I thought was a bit nonsensical as the majority of premium passengers are not going to be interested in these. Also, the headphones supplied were not particularly effective at cutting out engine noise. The screen was touchscreen, although I found it easier to operate it with the handheld remote.

Once the flight was under way, the crew closed the window shutters to allow passengers to sleep or watch films. However, the small child in row 23 was proving to be a bit of distraction – while some passengers took a shine to her and enjoyed taking it in turns to pick her up and walk around the cabin with her, as well as chat with the parents while helping themselves to champagne, others looked decidedly annoyed.

There were a number of complaints from passengers, including one who stormed through the curtain from first class in her pyjamas to vent her spleen on the doting parents. The member of crew assigned to our cabin did her best to placate those who were upset by this disturbance, and on the whole, people did their best to be tolerant. However, it did mean it was hard to relax and unwind during the 11-hour journey.   

At 2230 there was another meal service. My vegetarian option was a cold roasted vegetable and mozzarella salad, with a choice of warm rolls or garlic bread, and a side salad, followed by a dish with two brown chunks of what was, apparently, tofu on a bed of tomato sauce. Next to it were two bright yellow mounds, which might have been polenta, although I couldn’t say for sure. The food looked and smelled so unappealing that I didn’t even try it. (The non-vegetarian main chosen by the passenger next to me looked much better – white fish steak Colbert with potatoes and carrots.)

I also realised that there had been no snacks offered during the flight (unless I had dozed off when they came round), and not much in the way of drinks – although in this case most people seemed to helping themselves.

Arrival We began our descent into London Heathrow at 1840 local time and landed at 1910. However, our slot was taken so there was a 15-minute wait. We disembarked via an airbridge at 1930, which meant we were right on schedule, despite the delay. Business class passengers were given a fast-track immigration card during the flight, so I walked ten minutes to the dedicated lane, and then straight through to baggage reclaim, where my priority bag was out promptly. It was then another ten-minute walk to the underground station.

Verdict The lounge facilities in Bangkok were excellent, particularly the spa, and the cabin crew were very diplomatic when passengers started complaining about the baby on board. However, the vegetarian meal was inedible and the business class seat is in serious need of an upgrade.

Jenny Southan

Fact box

CONFIGURATION First class is 1-2-1, business class is 2-2, and economy is 3-4-3.

SEAT RECLINE 126.5-133.5 degrees

SEAT WIDTH 49.5cm/19.5in

PITCH 122-124.5cm/48-49in

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight in January started from £3,860.

CONTACT thaiair.com

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