The airline with the best average rating is Singapore Airlines with 8.6/10.
The average flight time is 2 hours and 16 minutes.More information
Note: Several of my pictures are vertical (portrait mode), including many screenshots. For this reason, I have decided not to use Flight-Report’s gallery feature, as it crops pictures if they are in portrait orientation.
I apologise in advance if this report is too lengthy, but this is because I try to capture the journey in as much detail as possible.
Before I proceed, I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all those people and institutions who are bringing travel like the pre-COVID days closer to reality, and ensuring that the health and safety of people is paramount. At the same time, while a devastating war rages in Ukraine, I can only feel incredibly fortunate to live in one of the safest parts of the world, and I send my best wishes to anyone who is willing to help in this trying time. Slava Ukraini!
It had been a whirlwind four months since my previous (and first) trip report was published, which you can find here. Since that Singapore Airlines 787 touched down on that cold January morning — though nothing is really cold when it comes to Singapore — I had to complete the final semester of my Computer Science studies at the prestigious Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which is rapidly rising in global university rankings, alongside its older and more illustrious competitor, National University of Singapore (NUS). Aside from this, I also had to secure a job (preferably in Singapore) before graduating, failing which I would have to look in my home country, India, or somewhere else, for employment. And there was also the Final Year Project, encapsulating a year’s worth of academic research and experimentation.
Throughout all this, I harboured grand plans to return to India in June, as well as squeeze in a trip to Dubai, which I so far didn’t have the joy of experiencing in the 22 years of my existence, unlike most people I know. As early as February — in fact, literally a day before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shook the world, and triggered blue-and-yellow outpourings of support from everywhere on the planet — I was chalking up travel plans and planning routes so as to maximise my chances of getting a good onboard product, particularly on the A350.
There was one main motivator for this. In 2020, I had planned to travel to Kathmandu, Nepal, as part of my NTU Hall 7 SOE (Seven Overseas Expedition) outreach programme, to help build schools in rural areas that were adversely affected by the earthquake in 2015 and were still struggling to come to their bearings five years on. As part of this, we all had to send in money to pay for tickets to Kathmandu on Thai Airways. (The tickets had been booked for May 2020, and to my dismay the routes were scheduled to feature TG’s ancient 777-300s and 777-200ERs, which dated back to the late nineties and had tiny, grainy IFE screens. I was worried sick about getting a less-than-ideal onboard product, and even posted a thread on Airliners.net on the same.)
But, given that the year was 2020, you can very well guess what ended up happening. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to all travel plans for the foreseeable future, and I could not move out of Singapore from March 2020 to December 2021. In the midst of all this, Thai Airways was not able to refund our tickets, as it was itself going through an acute financial crunch and was not in a position to give its money back to customers. However, the airline very kindly offered us a Thai Travel Voucher worth nearly S$600 SGD (around US$430 or ₹33,000 INR) that was valid through December 2022 and could be used on any Thai Airways or Thai Smile flight. This was the single biggest reason behind planning this roundabout trip to Chennai, by taking three flights where my family was insisting on a single direct flight — but, for me, any amount of traipsing through terminals is worth it if I can experience a fantastic onboard product. Boy am I glad that I did!
Note: While I have been to Thailand previously in May 2016, this was my first time visiting Suvarnabhumi Airport, as my previous trip was on Thai AirAsia as follows.
15/5/2016 | FD154 | MAA–DMK | HS-BBQ
16/5/2016 | FD3445 | DMK–CNX | HS-ABI
18/5/2016 | FD3442 | CNX–DMK | HS-ABG
20/5/2016 | FD153 | DMK–MAA | HS-BBU
When the time actually came to plan the journey, I was positively salivating at the proposition of being able to fly Thai Airways’ A350, as I had never flown any widebody so far other than the 787. I had always wanted to fly an Airbus widebody, but sadly many airlines have retired their A330s — with Singapore Airlines’ and Thai Airways’ retirements in particular hurting badly. In any case Chennai, my home airport, doesn’t get a lot of A350s (other than a short-lived handful of flights on Qatar Airways), with fellow Oneworld carriers SriLankan and Malaysia Airlines being the only consistent A330 offerings. But I was not quite ready to fly them yet, because their routings took quite a detour, and I have something of a soft spot for the Star Alliance, since both my home country’s (AI) and my work/education country’s (SQ) flag carriers — not to mention founder-member TG — all belong to that alliance. In the coming years I very much intend to gain status with the alliance, but as of now, the Thai Airways voucher was a fantastic starting point to my journey.
The A350’s wide, tall cabins and mood lighting have made it a passenger favourite across many airlines. Combined with the renowned ‘smooth as silk’ Royal Orchid service and the prospect of experiencing Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport — which I hadn’t been to, as my only other visit to Thailand in May 2016 was via Don Mueang (DMK) Airport — this was too good an opportunity to miss. Not to mention that TG is one airline which has fitted tail cameras on its A350s, allowing for breathtaking full-HD views, and that was yet another reason why this was the best option for me. Above all, violet is my favourite colour, and just staring at pictures of TG planes lined up at BKK takes me to cloud nine (no pun intended, since that is the name of fellow Star member Ethiopian Airlines’ business class product!). Simply to be sitting inside a purple plane, eating purple food from purple dishes, swiping through the purple IFE in a purple mood-lit cabin was the stuff of my dreams.
Another important factor was that the South Indian city of Bengaluru or Bangalore (BLR) — just a 45-minute hop away from Chennai — is TG’s only Indian destination that receives the A350 on a daily, consistent basis. For comparison, Delhi is operated using the 777-300ER on one frequency, and the ridiculously outdated 777-200ER on the other (oh, the horror!), while Mumbai typically gets the 777-300ER (barring the odd A350) and Chennai the ‘baby’ 787-8, which is now the smallest aircraft in the TG fleet. (Two other Indian cities, Hyderabad and Kolkata, are served using Thai Smile’s A320s — a downgrade from the pre-pandemic A330 that the always charming and inspiring @Jish.B experienced here.)
So it was a no-brainer to fly from Bangkok to Bengaluru instead of Chennai, as the other Indian cities are too long of a detour. Since this was a late-night arrival into BLR, it was prudent to sleep the night at an airport hotel and take a morning flight to Chennai on IndiGo, India’s largest and most reliable carrier. It turned out to be an excellent decision in all aspects but one — but for that, you will have to wait for the third instalment of my journey.
I made the mistake of waiting too long before booking the tickets, since I wanted to first book my trip to Dubai in mid-June. My first preference for flying from SIN to BKK was actually not TG, but Singapore Airlines, since they have a reasonably timed evening departure (SQ714)* which would minimise my layover at BKK before taking the night flight to BLR. While SQ has a whopping five daily flights to BKK — all operated by the A350 (some regionally configured, some long-haul) — the only options on TG are either an afternoon flight to BKK, resulting in a six-hour layover, or a late-evening flight which would mean missing the BLR flight by a long distance. Unfortunately, the fares on SQ had shot up to an exorbitant S$600 (from just S$200 only two weeks before), and so I had no choice but to book the TG404 afternoon flight to BKK followed by the TG325 evening flight to BLR. The layover would be spent in one of the several Miracle business class lounges that allow access with paying cash. In any case, the voucher couldn’t be used on non-TG flights, so this worked out well.
*As an aside, both me and my dad used to be die-hard Tintin fans back in the day, so you could only have imagined his joy if I were to tell him that I was flying ‘Flight 714’. While that didn’t come to pass, TG404 is not bad either, since 404 is our house number!
All told, the fares were pretty reasonable and were more than enough to be covered by the voucher, which was fully depleted with these two flights. There was, however, a catch: these were Saver fares, which allowed for only 20 kg of baggage. Luckily, I was able to notice this in time and pre-paid for 5 kg extra for each leg on the Thai Airways website, since I am a heavy traveller and tend to bring everything but the kitchen sink on a trip. This still did not prevent shelling out for an extra 4 kg for excess baggage at Changi, though this was nothing compared to what happened with the domestic flight at BLR — which I will explain in that flight’s instalment. Nevertheless, all three flight bookings (including the IndiGo one) were completed in a span of 30 minutes.
Furthermore, Thailand requires all transiting passengers to have purchased insurance with a minimum coverage of US$10,000, and it was as simple as going to the Axa Thailand website — since their Sawasdee travel insurance plan is one of the cheapest and most well-known — and buying a cheap plan for THB 1600 (around ₹3600 or S$64). All these bases covered, I then had to think of booking an airport hotel at BLR, which I will detail in the third instalment.
It is such a blessing that we are past the days of RT-PCR testing and waiting feverishly for results, when a simple vaccination certificate is enough to do the trick. More importantly, Singapore has scrapped the VTL concept of dedicated quarantine-free flights, and introduced a far superior scheme akin to pre-pandemic times where you can fly anywhere on any airline, irrespective of flight, as long as you have a globally recognised vaccination certificate. Thailand has pretty much done the same, with the additional requirements of insurance for all travellers (transiting or otherwise) and a Thailand Pass for all those who want to enter the kingdom. Not to mention, India has opened up international flights, which made going via Thailand possible in the first place — with the downside of Singapore Airlines pushing its fares back to crazy pre-pandemic highs, when ironically it was the cheapest during the ‘air bubble’ period.
Epitaph to Thai Airways’ retired aircraft, particularly the A330-300
Now I can completely sympathise with Thai Airways’ financial struggles, many of which were brought about by completely unnecessary and extravagant expenditures — which is probably no surprise since we are dealing with the country of ‘white elephants’ — and as a result it had to retire a number of fleet types to try and simplify its mind-boggling variety of aircraft. Wisely, the dilapidated 777-200s and 777-300s were thrown out as a result of the pandemic, and many avgeeks were saddened when the grand old 747s were retired, especially since the Queens had a much-loved Royal First cabin in the nose.
What hurt me more was the fact that the majestic and beautiful A340-600 was retired… but as sleek and classy this stretched quadjet was, she always drank too much fuel to keep her four engines spinning. Besides, she was getting on with age, so it was just as well that Thai laid her to rest. The same can be said for the superjumbo A380, which I feel was always one plane type too many in the TG fleet, and a completely unsuccessful attempt for Thai Airways (and also Malaysia Airlines) to play catch-up with the far more successful Singapore Airlines and its signature A380 Suites. While these striking purple quadjets will be missed, their retirements have been a much-needed salve to Thai’s wounds.
However, I won’t forgive Thai Airways for retiring the A330-300, a perfectly modern and wonderful aircraft that is also up there among the sleekest and sexiest. Of all the aircraft types that were retired, this was the most unnecessary one, since these aircraft were very young and had a lot of flying ahead of them, plus their seating configuration of 2-4-2 was unique in a world of 3-3-3 widebodies. At TG they were used mainly for shorter flights, including to India, and I believe it was a terrible mistake to retire them. With SQ also having retired these underrated and lovely aircraft, the A330 options on flights between Southeast Asia and India are limited to Malaysia Airlines and SriLankan Airlines, both in Oneworld. Furthermore, all of Thai’s Star Alliance-liveried aircraft were 747s and A330s, and with those retired, TG does not have a single Star Alliance aircraft left — which is all the more a pity since it is a founding member of the alliance. If not for the A330s’ retirements, TG would have had at least 50 aircraft instead of the current 43, a sharp downgrade from the previous tally of 80+.
Nevertheless, since SQ and TG have a sizeable A350 fleet in place of the A330s and older 777s — with SQ now being the largest A350 operator in the world after Qatar Airways’ paint fiasco — all was forgiven, and I was more then overjoyed to finally be flying the Thai A350, that too on both the legs. I hope I will be able to fly both configurations of SQ’s A350 soon, not counting the ULR, of which SQ is the exclusive operator. The A350 is now the only Airbus aircraft type in the Thai Airways fleet, a distinction it shares with airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines and Japan Airlines.
Check-in and leaving home
For some reason, Thai Airways did not allow online check-in for the SIN to BKK sector, so I could only check in for the BKK to BLR leg. I decided to choose a window seat, 39K, which was admittedly not too useful, this being a night flight. Soon enough, it was done.
The night before, I had a violent cough, a result of all the dust that arose from the packing and s(h)ifting while preparing for the trip. It was with great difficulty that I was able to sleep after having a flask full of warm water from the pantry. I was genuinely worried that I might be barred from boarding, the lungs felt that severe. Fortunately a quick home ART test returned negative. At 8 in the morning (Singapore time) I got up and finished the last of my packing, and by 9 I trudged to a Grab car that I had booked to the airport.
Here is a picture of my supremely comfortable but unbearably dusty hostel room, where I had stayed for nearly a year and would move out on returning at the end of June.
Meanwhile, I checked Flightradar24 and found out that HS-THF was going to operate our flight. This A350, named Yan Nawa, first flew in June 2017 and would soon celebrate her fifth birthday. She operated the same route the previous day — which would later turn out to be the case for TG325 as well — but faced a significant delay on the return to BKK. Needless to say, I could barely keep myself together, between the cough and the giddy excitement of stepping on an A350. I must say, there is not an airline in the world that can so perfectly blend the sexiness of the A350 with the loveliness of the purple Thai Airways livery, and her tail and rear was as flowing and flowery as her nose was razor-sharp.
Thai Airways had accorded her a grand welcome on joining the fleet in July 2017 — what better picture of grace could there be? ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to our newest member of THAI family, the 5th Airbus A350-XWB in our fleet, HS-THF, royally bestowed the name “Yan Nawa”, and she cannot wait to take you over the clouds, flying smooth as silk to the destinations of your desire.’ My expectations, already very high, were raised even further by the elegance of this magnificent (but long-suffering) airline.
By the way, Thai Airways skips the letter I in its registrations (similar to Singapore Airlines avoiding X, and Turkish Airlines avoiding Q, W and X), so HS-THI does not exist — and nor does HS-THA for that matter, so Thai’s twelve A350s run from HS-THB to HS-THN.
Thai Airways departs from Terminal 1 at Changi, and by 10 I joined the long queue that snaked its way through the check-in counters. It was especially interesting to note that there were a number of Pakistani passengers who were going to Karachi via Bangkok, including a family with two little girls. Since their Urdu language is almost identical to Hindi in its spoken form, every word they spoke was crystal clear to me. While Singapore Airlines has completely steered clear of Pakistan, Thai Airways is a big operator to the country, sending its A350 to Islamabad and Lahore, and both the 787 and the A350 to Karachi. Despite TG’s much smaller fleet and route network, it is praiseworthy how they have managed to keep serving our neighbour when many others, including SQ, continue to shun it.
It took a long time for the agent to process my check-in details and check my bags through to Bengaluru. On top of this, I was 4 kg above my allowance of 25 kg (20 kg from the fare plus 5 kg that was pre-purchased online), and I am no stranger to having to pay for excess baggage, so this had to be paid for. Fortunately, the fact that I had insurance for Thailand ensured that there were no more hassles, and indeed everyone seemed to have it, but it would definitely be appreciated if Thailand scrapped its insurance requirement for foreigners.
A rear seat would have allowed for a fantastic view of the winglet, but sadly there was no window seat available, which was a shame since there were plenty of planespotting opportunities while landing at Bangkok, but a little girl next to me had full control of the window. So I requested for an aisle seat, and got 61C, near the back of the plane: economy class rows in TG’s A350s are numbered from 31 to 63. Luckily, the tail camera was more than enough as an alternative to catch planes.
The beautiful boarding passes, better than the plain white passes that Singapore Airlines uses at outstations. However, I would have preferred the coloured band to be on top instead of at the side, as is the norm for most other airlines.
This done, I decided to get some Thai Baht, and I exchanged SGD 50 for THB 1200 at a nearby counter. It would prove to be handy when in transit at Suvarnabhumi.
To immigration and beyond
Then I proceeded to go through immigration, by when it was almost 11:15. It’s nice that Changi has these automated machines for frequent travellers, where all you have to do is insert your passport and have your face recognised. However, one of the machines did not work on the first try, so I had to do it with another one, and soon enough I was through. I wish Indian airports implemented this feature.
I had eaten nothing since morning and I wanted to grab a bite, so I found a decent-looking food court. The restaurants looked fairly appetising at first glance, ranging from a 4Fingers to a Subway to numerous local options. However, the service was pretty much non-existent: neither were the ordering kiosks functional, nor was there more than a single person to handle the influx of customers, and the people in the Subway queue waited interminably, as the grand total of two employees could not handle their orders. After wasting a good amount of time queueing, I left, hungry and frustrated.
I then proceeded to the next dining area, which consisted of a Starbucks, a Ya Kun Kaya Toast (a breakfast favourite of Singaporeans for many generations) and a Japanese sushi stall. It had a nice view of the apron, as well as a play area for kids. On display were the typical assortment of the three local airlines — Scoot and Jetstar A320s and SQ A350s and 787s — as well as a couple of AirAsia A320s (the one on the left, I think, is 9M-RAP, which would soon leave for KUL as AK704).
But nothing compared to this stunning A320 from Royal Brunei Airlines, which was preparing to fly as BI422 to BWN. Honestly, I simply don’t understand why Brunei, despite such a wealthy kingdom, never reached the level of fame as its more famous neighbours, Indonesia and Malaysia — as well as Singapore, with which it has a currency arrangement where the Brunei and Singapore dollars are exactly equal in value. Even the tiny mountain kingdom of Bhutan is more well-known than Brunei, and this seems to me an area where the country — officially known as Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace — has massive potential. Of course, that is bearing in mind its strict Islamic principles, which are on par with those of Saudi Arabia.
At Starbucks I decided to go for the Egg Ham, Roasted Pepper, Mushroom and Cheddar Wrap (S$6.20) and the Buttery Croissant (S$3.80). I’m afraid the former is one of the vilest, most repulsive things I have ever had at a Starbucks. It was so hot as to be untouchable, the pepper was spilling from within, the tortilla wrap was disintegrating and the heat was scalding. It was soon thrown out. Thankfully, the croissant was sinfully sweet and sugary. Of course, that is about as unhealthy and sugar-loaded a breakfast as can be.
It was nearly 12 when I proceeded to the gates, with heavy cabin baggage in hand. All my chargers and cables were squished into a plastic bag that I haphazardly carried around. I stopped briefly at a WHSmith where I bought a S$1 bottle of hand sanitiser, but I misplaced it almost immediately! There was a plethora of other shops, such as The Cocoa Trees, which earnestly asked you with a sweet childlike smile: Can we make you happy today? In hindsight, I should probably have bought something from here in order to get a large bag to carry my belongings, but the cute little violet elephant at Bangkok more than made up for it. More on that in the second instalment!
After a fair amount of trudging through travellators, I finally arrived at the departure gate, D47, at 12:10pm. There was a huge crowd and everyone was jostling for space. It would be a few minutes before the at-gate security was completed.
And there my first A350 awaited: HS-THF, Yan Nawa, with her winglets curving upwards as if saying Sawasdee to her passengers.
Another shot of the boarding pass, with the milling crowd serving as a backdrop. I far prefer the low ceilings of Changi to the high ceilings at Suvarnabhumi and several Indian airports — but that is not to say that I enjoy the low ceilings in Chennai’s ancient international departures terminal!
Soon enough, boarding was called, and this is another reason why I like to sit towards the back of an aircraft. After business class, Royal Orchid Plus and Star Alliance Gold passengers, the rearmost rows were called for boarding, and at 12:36 I was dancing on the way to Yan Nawa (or is that Nirvana?).
Flight: Thai Airways International TG404/THA404
Date: Friday, 3 June 2022
Route: Singapore (WSSS/SIN) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (VTBS/BKK)
Aircraft: HS-THF, Airbus A350-900 XWB, named Yan Nawa
Age: 5 years (first flight: 22 June 2017, delivered: 15 July 2017)
Seat: 61C (aisle)
Boarding: 12:30pm SGT, UTC +8 (11:30am Indochina Time)
Departure: 1:15pm SGT, UTC +8 (12:15pm ICT)
Arrival: 2:15pm ICT, UTC +7 (3:15pm SGT)
Duration: 2 hours 0 minutes
First flight on Thai Airways
Third flight on a Star Alliance airline after Air India and Singapore Airlines
Fifth flight on Thai HS-registered aircraft (four on Thai AirAsia in 2016)
First flight on an A350
First flight on an Airbus widebody
First flight to Suvarnabhumi (BKK)
Purple is the colour of royalty and (smooth as) silk
On entry, I was greeted with the sign for Wi-Fi on board, which would sadly turn out to be as good as a hoax on both my flights on TG, as the Wi-Fi was disabled for the entirety of both flights — something I had asked the cabin crew on the BKK–BLR leg, who confirmed as much. This was also the case on my SQ flight in January. It seems TG has disabled Wi-Fi for several months and hopes to resume it ‘soon’. This was a cause of much tension on my second flight, since there was no way I could communicate with my family until I reached BLR, between the airport Wi-Fi failures at BKK and its non-existence on the aircraft.
The two flight attendants at the door (male and female) Sawasdee-d me and I proceeded to 61C, where a small girl of about ten and her mom were already seated. Too bad I could not get the window seat, as I said, because there was a wealth of planespotting opportunities, including a Gulf Air 787. Never mind, as the pre-teen could stare out the window all she wanted, but I had my tail camera. Here’s a view of the spacious and airy cabin.
The IFE screen, bedecked in purple orchids on swirling clouds against a golden sky, greeted me in seven languages. These are based on the airline’s destinations, and so there was neither Spanish nor (strangely enough) Korean. There was, however, Italian, since it was a big operator to FCO and MXP pre-pandemic. In fact, it was about to resume flights to Milan a few months ago, but had to put it on hold for unknown reasons, though it will likely return later in 2022. Nevertheless, TG continues to operate a decent network to Western Europe, including to destinations like Stockholm that SQ has terminated (which it served via Moscow, which was also terminated this year for obvious reasons). This is a far more extensive network than Garuda Indonesia and Malaysia Airlines, which struggle to even serve London, let alone continental Europe.
It’s also nice that there was not only an inset map, but it could even be customised right from the home screen, and you could launch the tail camera. A small but fantastic touch by Thai Airways.
Here’s the IFE with the remote, something that is missing on SQ’s 787 and is a very welcome addition here. The purple mood lighting had already been switched on. Also, while the provided legroom was comfortable, I barely had any, since I had to stash my multiple bags in that space and was continuously rummaging for something from some bag or the other. There was also a footrest, which isn’t so clear here but is more visible in another photo at the end of the report. However, there wasn’t a cup holder, unlike on the slightly older A330-300 that @Jish.B reviewed.
The safety card hadn’t been handled very safely! This and an airsickness bag were the only contents of the literature pocket, since Thai, like SQ, has discontinued its inflight magazine, Sawasdee. Southeast Asia is definitely a region where airlines have now deemed inflight magazines unnecessary.
A guide to the dual operations of the handheld remote and the touchscreen. One irritating thing was that whenever I accidentally pressed the language button, which was often, this screen would show itself after I selected English, leading to another click of the Main Menu button, which seems unnecessary.
A pillow was also provided for each passenger, and a blanket for every three passengers. They were wrapped in paper packaging. Cheap over-ear headsets were distributed to everyone, a tad better than the in-ear version provided by SQ that tends to tangle up.
IFE exploration, safety demonstration, takeoff sensation
Let’s explore the IFE in a little more detail, given that Thai has taken more effort than many other airlines to showcase its heritage through its IFE. Among the myriad ‘onboard services’ was the promise of viewing the in-flight menu…
…which turned out to be another hoax, like the Wi-Fi.
When was the last time you could make voice calls or SMSes on Thai Airways?
That is where my complaints end! These little issues aside, there was hardly any fault I could find with the IFE or onboard product, especially as it delved into a great amount of detail on the Royal Orchid Service. Starting with the in-seat power, consisting of a USB port below the screen and universal power ports below the seat, though I didn’t use the latter out of fear of disturbing my co-passengers.
Some of the movies on board — a pretty solid selection in terms of Hollywood, though not to the level of SQ KrisWorld or Emirates’ ICE.
Here’s a description of Wonder Woman 1984, though I didn’t watch anything, given the short nature of the flight. The mom beside me was watching Crazy Rich Asians, one of the few Hollywood comedies I have enjoyed.
But the Bollywood selection had a measly three movies — of which two (What Are the Odds? and Khuda Haafiz) were also on my SQ flight in January, the third being Suraj Pe Mangal Bhaari. None are all that well-known. This didn’t improve on the BKK to BLR leg, though the Indian music selection did marginally. A big area of improvement for TG!
At this point the safety video played. Thai Airways’ version is an exotic trip through the rainforest, with exotic birds, beasts and butterflies flitting around the over-excited girls, complete with a Michelangelo-like baby angel. A little over-the-top compared to SQ’s serene and sedate video. But it fits the colourful culture of its home.
Just how geniune is that smile on her face?
As the safety video was ending, I spotted a Gulf Air 787-9 (A9C-FC) that would follow us to Bangkok as GF165. The Bahraini flag carrier is seriously underrated, and provides a highly genuine and hospitable service and product on par with Oman Air (the favourite boutique airline of Lucky from One Mile at a Time), plus I think its typography — both the custom font with its flourishes and the Tanseek font that’s used in body copy — is the best of any airline in the world. I hope it regains its former glory with this outstanding product, and I might very well try them on this sector (operated 3x weekly) in the near future.
I’m afraid this is the best picture I could get of this beautiful bird from my aisle seat, as the little girl — who I’ve decided to call Astrid, after the Crazy Rich Asians character — was enjoying the view outside, and her head got in the way. I wouldn’t for the life of me give trouble to Astrid or her mother, Lady Astrid. But there was no other port-side window seat available, so this is all I could do.
The safety video ended, but we were yet to taxi.
And then we started to taxi, and appeared live on Flightradar24. This was the last picture I sent to my family before going on aeroplane mode.
Before takeoff I decided to plunge into the in-depth IFE help guide. As someone who loves to explore every last detail of an IFE system, both the crisp HD IFE screen on the A350 and Thai Airways’ own content more than overdelivered and surpassed my expectations.
There was a full keyboard on the back of the handheld remote, as a handful of airlines have. It must be a pain to use, and it’s frankly pointless, but it does add a touch of nostalgia and, to me, it brought back memories of the BlackBerry/Palm/Nokia Communicator days.
It also showed off a number of novelties that are hard to find on other airlines, such as this seat chat feature (which I doubt anyone used)…
…including what looked like a conference button(!!!)…
…and another feature that in theory allowed you to plug in your own USB device and view media from there, but in practice I did not find any menu option for accessing personal USB devices.
At 1:11pm the engines were revving and we were ready to roll. There was no better time to enjoy the view from the A350 tail camera, a feature I wish more airlines and aircraft types provided.
Oh those lovely velvety violet and gold stripes!
Here’s the flight path and route map.
I won’t bore you with any more IFE explorations right now, but at this point I decided to look at Thai Airways’ history, destinations and fleet. The novelty of seeing it on a big screen was wonderful. I’ll come to those later in the report. As of now I’ll leave you with a brief description of our destination, the Golden Land as it’s called in Sanskrit — or should we say the Land of Grey Arches and Spotter-unfriendly Windows? 😉
At 1:15 we were finally airborne, and the thrill of being lifted airborne by the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB, while capturing it on the tail camera instead of the passé windows, was sensational and insurmountable. Here’s a video for you to enjoy. As you can see, young Astrid was glued to the window, while Lady Astrid was swiping through the IFE screen with her colourful painted nails.
Saying sayonara to Singapore:
More Thai-high in the sky
I should note that the below music was played on both flights throughout takeoff and landing, along with another song, and they help to set the mood of flying this soothing Southeast Asian carrier.
Continuing the Thai Airways history lesson on the climb. I didn’t touch the ‘Travelport’ app that provided destination insights and tips, but I did so on the next flight, and I will talk about it in the second instalment.
The ‘Thai Highlight’ turned out to be a promotional video for the Star Alliance.
Most of these have tearfully been retired. But the old 777-200(ER)s/777-300s will be missed by no one, at least as far as the cabin product is concerned. Oddly enough there was no sign of the A340-600, another majestic bird but nowhere as modern as the A330-300.
I was so elated to be flying this at long last. The pride and joy of every major Southeast Asian flag carrier, with the glaring exception of Garuda Indonesia, which loves the A330-900neo so much that it never ordered any A350s or 787s. Too bad for an airline with such phenomenal service and cabin crew, enough for it to deservedly gain a Skytrax 5-star rating where TG couldn’t.
No, Thai, no amount of A350s, awesome as they are, can compensate for this retirement. As beautiful and comfortable a regional workhorse as there ever was. Retiring the A330-300 was a completely senseless decision.
Here’s the former global route network, including a number of codeshares. But it is quite outdated by nearly eight years, outdated enough to show its final US route — Los Angeles via Seoul — that was finally axed in October 2015.
Wellness tips, which are more applicable for TG’s long Europe flights than short hops like this.
A Wikipedia-esque overview of the airline’s history.
Before we proceed, some of the other movies and shows in the IFE. As you’d expect, there isn’t as wide a selection as you’d expect on SQ or EK, in terms of both series and seasons.
A key subject of my Computer Science studies.
Lady Astrid’s choice.
Okay, how many Junos is too many?
Anyway, back to regular transmission. The next stop was the ‘Window on Thailand’, which was as good a window as any despite my not having a window seat.
A long article on the kingdom formerly known as Siam. I wonder what would have happened if that name were still used today. Siam Airways, anyone? Or something more creative?
Now for the real highlight of the IFE: the extensive Thai culinary lowdown. It was divided into three: the ‘Must Try’ section had descriptions of some famous dishes; the Recipes section had, well, recipes; and the ‘Fresh from Nature’ section had descriptions of spices and other natural ingredients.
Thai green curry! An all-time favourite food of mine in Singapore, very hard to get in India.
Tamarind, the name of my residential hall in NTU!
Noting the flight details in my journal, as I always do.
The Wi-Fi that wasn’t. A play on The Week That Wasn’t, a satirical Indian TV show, which my mom and I enjoyed back in the day.
As food was being served, I moved on to the music selection. Here’s a list of some of the albums — Thai even had live radio stations:
There were only two Indian movie albums, but they were more than enough and had a number of rousing, moving tracks. First the war biopic Shershaah, whose Raataan Lambiyan and Ranjha were nominated for several Indian music industry awards, and even won a few.
Followed by Mimi, a comedy-drama on surrogacy.
How royal is the Thai Royal Cuisine?
As seems to be the norm on short flights, there are no menus, and passengers are simply told the available choices. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a chicken or vegetarian option on this flight, as most do. The available choices were fish with rice and prawn with mashed potatoes. Since I don’t usually like fish, I went for the latter. It was served with a bread roll, butter, a bottle of water, a tasty chicken salad (at least that’s what I think it was) and a simply decadent, delectable crumble cake — among the best I’ve had on a plane, or on the ground.
The unopened food with my music of choice:
Suffice to say that the food was great for a short-haul sector like this. The mangoes or whatever that fruit was alongside the mashed potatoes added a fruity flavour to the meal, and the main dish was fairly good too. The chicken salad was a tasty accompaniment, but nothing can beat that crumble cake. That was next-level. Kudos to Thai for maintaining high standards of catering, even at outstations.
Later drinks were served. I almost always ask for a soft drink or juice, but given my poor health, I requested a black tea instead. It was tasteless and bland, but it’s not like I like milk tea either. I don’t have a photo of it, which is just as well. It was served in the purple cup at the top right on the table above.
Approaching Krung Thep Maha Nakhon
This, in case you’re unfamiliar, is the name most Thais usually use to refer to Bangkok, and in fact the full name runs to 168 Thai letters long — a Guinness World Record. A couple of months back there was a proposition to change the English name of Bangkok to Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, with (Bangkok) in brackets. We have seen such things all over the world, from Turkey trying to become Türkiye, to — closer home — Allahabad becoming Prayagraj. As long as the high and mighty have their whims, the common public has no choice but to follow.
The flight path.
A convenient compass tool.
A view of the orange-and purple mood lighting of the A350. As you can see, the trash hadn’t been collected until it was nearly time for landing.
A small word on the service here. It was perfectly okay; the cabin crew responded to passenger requests promptly, and were quick to point out the options, but they were a bit short of the smooth service I had on Singapore Airlines. They didn’t clear the trash, as I said, until before landing. Interestingly, our cabin was served only by male cabin crew — I believe Puttipong was the name of one of them — whereas the cabin in front of us was served by female cabin crew. This could have been a bit better, but not by much, and overall it was well done.
Looking longingly into the lavatory
Now I decided to have a peep into the restrooms on the A350. The bulkhead had a beautiful flowery pattern on it, which reflects the purple elegance of this airline.
Some technical paraphernalia, I’m not sure what. Am I even allowed to snap a picture of this?
A view of the rear cabin from the lavatory door.
The lavatory door, which you push to enter.
Once you entered, there was a red sign below the mirror saying ‘Please Lock Door’, which disappeared once you slid the latch shut. The lavatory was bright from the get-go, compared to some other aircraft where they are dark on entering and brighten up once the door is closed.
There were a number of cups and tissues at your disposal.
The cups all had a pretty Thai Airways diamond pattern printed on them. I took a few home, and they now adorn my desk.
There was also a premium-looking eau-de-cologne by local company Divana on the shelf, which I haven’t seen on any other airline. Special kudos to TG for having something different.
The taps dispensed both hot and cold water, though they were not touchfree. You pressed the power button to turn on and off the water. I didn’t take a picture of the toilet itself.
Behind the galley, another forbidden fancy that I was very discreet about snapping.
At 2:10pm local time (3:10pm Singapore time) we were descending over the chaotic, charming and cosmopolitan city of
Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Bangkok, and what better way to appreciate the meandering Chao Phraya river than through the HD tail camera.
A look at the overhead panels (but without individual air nozzles): this consisted of the reading lights and the digital safety signs found only on the A350 and A220, which had been turned on as we prepared for descent. They were illumined further by the orange mood lighting, as fiery as a packet of Lay’s West Indies Hot & Sweet Chilli, my favourite potato chips in the world, which you won’t get outside India.
The plane banked left as we approached Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Now, Lady Astrid was of Thai citizenship, as she spoke to the cabin crew in Thai, but the kid was Singaporean, as towards the end of the flight the mom (who was left-handed!) filled out Astrid’s arrival card into Bangkok, while she did not have to do so for herself.
At 2:16pm the wheels touched down with spectacular views from the tail camera, and so my brief stay at Suvarnabhumi Airport got off the mark.
Throughout the taxi, Astrid pressed her nose to the window, while I tried to make do with bit-part pictures of the lineup of parked planes, such as this 747…
…this 777-200 (HS-TJA)…
…and this 777-300 (HS-TKA), the last two of which I’m glad have been retired because of their 1990s-vintage product.
You can see how much Astrid enjoyed staring out the window with a child’s round-eyed wonder. She deserved the window seat more than I did.
The tail camera offered a much better view of the planes that TG has had to retire, including all the old 777s — good riddance!
There were plenty of other parked aircraft from ‘Asia’s boutique airline’, Bangkok Airways, such as HS-PGV…
…the ‘plane’-Jane HS-PPE (that reminded me of 2020 when full-body PPE kits were the norm on aircraft — how far we’ve come!)…
…and HS-PGT. No two Bangkok Airways Airbus aircraft, I believe, are painted in the same livery, but I could be wrong. So even though the registrations aren’t clear from the pictures, I was able to identify each parked aircraft from the liveries, thanks to Planespotters.net.
Meanwhile, there were two Etihad 787s. First A6-BLT, a 787-9, which was painted in a ‘Choose Italy’ livery. She had arrived that morning from Abu Dhabi as EY402.
And then A6-BMH, a 787-10 painted in the ‘Greenliner’ livery. You can see her towards the right of this picture. There is a better picture of her in the next instalment.
She was going to return to AUH as EY431 via Phuket. Etihad has cut an insane number of destinations over the past five years, but Phuket isn’t one of them.
An Air France 777-300ER (F-GSQD) stood in the distance, ready to fly back home to CDG as AF165 — she had arrived very late that afternoon as AF166. Next to her, a Thai VietJetAir A320 prepared for takeoff.
A Thai AirAsia A330neo (HS-XJB) stood in the distance. Her unapologetically red body contrasted with the other elegant planes on the tarmac.
Finally Yan Nawa taxied to the gate, and the distinctive arch(itectur)es of Suvarnabhumi greeted us.
And so we had arrived in Thailand. Though the cabin crew had mentioned in their pre-landing announcement that the entertainment system would be disabled, that wasn’t the case. The moving map and other IFE features remained fully functional upon arrival. Here’s a view of the seat and footrest.
My phone had already switched to the local AIS network. However, there was absolutely no data signal throughout my transit in Thailand, and so the roaming data pack that I had bought beforehand was wasted. Interestingly, the battery percentage, 66%, is the international dialling code for Thailand.
A few pictures during disembarkation. Contrary to many other people’s preferences, I prefer to be among the last to leave an aircraft.
Another picture of the bulkhead wallpaper.
A shot of HS-THF’s nose, about as good as you can get through BKK’s infamous dotted windows. There are more airport pictures in the next instalment.
And so my first journey on the A350 and Thai Airways came to an end. I will continue this report in my next instalment, where I will talk about my five hours in the Miracle Business Class Lounge in Concourse F of Suvarnabhumi Airport, and the various shops that dot the terminal — of which King Power Duty Free alone operates more than half. After this was my evening flight from one Bang to another — Bangkok to Bangalore, or Bengaluru.
It is not without reason that I ensured that my first-ever flight on the A350 would also be my first on Thai Airways. Suffice it to say that this was perhaps the best flight I have ever taken, even beating SQ on the night journey in January. It was of great help that this, being a daytime flight, allowed me to fully appreciate the joys of the tail camera — something you won’t find on TG’s much more successful and higher-rated Star Alliance partner, Singapore Airlines.
Plus the superb detail of the IFE content (not entertainment-wise, but information-wise), the Thai catering and hospitality, the various power facilities and the fact that this was a PURPLE plane all around made for a legitimately ‘Smooth as Silk’ experience. The A350 is such a joy to fly, and combined with Thai Airways’ impeccable soft product, this flight and airline will rank highly up there among those I have ever taken. Now, if only I could also have a window seat and Wi-Fi…
Stay tuned for the next instalment of my trip report!