DALLAS — Thai Airways International (TG), the flag carrier of Thailand, declared bankruptcy in 2020. So what’s it like to fly a bankrupt airline for 11 hours? It involves a hectic boarding process, comfortable seats, decent meals, brilliant cabin crew, and broken luggage!
Thai Airways International, aka THAI, is the national airline of Thailand. Established in 1961, the company is headquartered in Bangkok’s Chatuchak district on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road and operates primarily from Suvarnabhumi Airport. THAI is one of the founding members of the Star Alliance.
|Route flown||Stockholm Arlanda Airport Terminal 5; Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport|
|Flight Number||TG 961|
|Flight Time||11 hours, 15 minutes|
|Baggage Allowance||20KG Checked Bag + 7KG Cabin Bag|
|Price||$1124/€1062 (Return) NB: This flight was the second part of a connecting flight to Bangkok|
Transit Experience and Arlanda Terminal 5
Having arrived on a SAS flight from London Heathrow (LHR), I now had a long 3 hours to spend at Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN). Around half the passengers on the SAS (SK) flight were also passengers on Bangkok-bound TG961, all of whom were given minimal guidance and assistance for the transit process.
Most airports have staff at the connecting walkway entrance holding up transfer signs or screens displaying transfer gates. ARN had none of these, but two Gate Agents who were talking to each other and were not very helpful. They simply pointed passengers in the direction of arrival signs and offered no other explanation.
Tip: Bring something to entertain yourself with, Arlanda Terminal 5 has no airside lounges at all!
After a group of confused passengers, including myself, followed some unclear signage, we ended up waiting 32 minutes in the security line so that we could get to the airside departure hall. The transit security area was incredibly small, with only three members of staff supervising it.
Arlanda Airport’s airside in Terminal 5 is quiet and looks like a typical airport; there is nothing special about it. There are plenty of duty-free stores, a few cafés, and supermarkets. There is also a children’s play area, several workstations, and charging stations.
One of my pet peeves at airports is when the WiFi cuts out after a certain time and you have to pay to continue using it. Frustratingly, this is the case at ARN.
Boarding for my flight, TG961, was called one hour and ten minutes before the scheduled departure. I made my way to gate F66, situated towards the end of the terminal, a 10- to 15-minute walk from the security of the transit area.
As common practice among full-service carriers, there is a priority boarding lane for Business class/Royal Silk class passengers, Royal Orchid Plus Gold members, and Star Alliance Gold members.
I found the gate to be very poorly organized. The staff would play seemingly random announcements that would create the impression that boarding had started, which prompted passenger clog-ups at the gate, only to make more announcements that caused further confusion.
One thing that I thought I could congratulate Arlanda Airport on is that for this particular flight, boarding announcements were done in three languages. English, Swedish, and Thai. However, I soon found out that TG had directly hired a Thai-speaking Gate Agent for their flights, so in fact, it was not ARN I could give credit to.
Boarding actually started 15 minutes behind schedule, with priority lane and disabled passengers boarding first. As soon as I stepped on board, the cabin crew welcomed me and directed passengers to their seats.
They also helped passengers put away baggage, which is something that is not common nowadays. The cabin was decorated with orange and purple seats, which made it seem vibrant and colorful.
Thai Airways never fails to provide a great seat on board, no matter how old their aircraft may be. Thai’s A350-900 has purple and orange seats, all of which are extremely comfortable as they have plenty of padding and are rather wide.
In addition to this, the headrest is adjustable vertically and can fold as well. My seat also had plenty of recline, great legroom, and knee room.
The seat had a folding tray table that could extend in and out and a very modern Inflight Entertainment (IFE) touchscreen with a remote and a footrest. Unfortunately, none of the seats had individual air conditioning, which made the boarding and de-boarding process quite stuffy.
Waiting for me on my seat was a plush purple pillow, a blanket, and a pair of phone-style earphones. In the seat pocket was a torn-up WiFi card, a little less torn-up safety card, and an air sickness bag. Underneath the seat was a universal charging port, for USB charging, the seat had in-seat power with a USB socket near the screen.
Inflight Entertainment System
The IFE touchscreen on the A350-900 is certainly state of the art, it responds quickly and looks modern. Now, Thai’s IFE is not known for having the biggest range of entertainment options available however; it does have other great features, such as the “SkyChat” which allows you to text-message fellow passengers according to their seat number.
Due to budget cuts, TG provides a good but limited selection of films, TV series, and music. Popular films and TV shows are available, such as “The Conjuring“, “IT“, “Tenet“, “Family Guy” and others.
There are Korean, Japanese, and Chinese films on their IFE system as well as some Bollywood. However, their music range is very limited and odd, they have playlists such as “TikTok Hits” and it is difficult to find music that is known by a large audience on it.
One thing that I found to be slightly strange was the fact that when you plug your earphones into the port, the system automatically plays Thai Pop music which you cannot turn off unless you either watch something/play something else or turn off the volume. An annoying but unique feature.
As we pushed back, the exotic and vibrant safety video played and the cabin crew did their cross-check. I noticed that we were around 15 minutes behind schedule and therefore had a late departure. Whilst taxiing towards the runway, I made use of the tail camera feature, as well as the view from my window.
Arlanda Airport has a collection of retro aircraft parked on the airport apron including an old DC-8 that was previously operated by United Airlines (UA). After we reached the runway, the A350-900’s Rolls Royce Trent XWBs roared and in a matter of seconds, we were up in the skies of Sweden.
Catering and Inflight Meal
Thai Airways has always been very good at providing a decent inflight meal in my opinion, and this time I was not let down. During boarding, the cabin crew went around to Star Alliance Gold and Royal Orchid Plus Gold Members and read them the food options so that they could take their order.
Half an hour after we took off, the lunch service started. The options are a Seafood Lasagne or Thai Chicken Massaman Curry, if you have special dietary requirements, you need to select your meal online at thaiairways.com at least 48 hours before departure. Gold members and special meals were served first, followed by everyone else.
This being a flight on the flag carrier of Thailand, I opted for the more appropriate option of Thai Chicken Massaman Curry. Every meal tray had the main course, a sweetcorn and feta cheese salad, a bread roll with cheddar cheese and butter, Italian crackers, a bottle of Harrogate water, and a chocolate brownie for dessert.
The cutlery consisted of a knife and fork, a teaspoon, and a toothpick. A plastic teacup, salt and pepper, and a refreshing lemon wipe also came with the meal tray. The Massaman curry tasted great, and although the portion was quite small, the brownie was also quite nice.
As well as serving meals, the cabin crew also served drinks, consisting of tea, coffee, red or white wine, apple or orange juice, still/sparkling water, Coca-Cola Zero, and Sprite Zero. Two hours after the lunch service, the meal trays still had not been collected yet.
This was due to the service being suspended multiple times by turbulence, where the seatbelt sign would turn on and the cabin crew would have to go back to their galley and wait for it to turn off. Finally, 3.5 hours after lunch had been served, the trays were collected back in.
Staff apologized for the delay and handed out TG water bottles. A few hours after lunch, I asked a Flight Attendant for a glass of Sprite as I was quite thirsty. She returned with the can of Sprite and 2 bags of cashew nuts!
Breakfast Service and Beverage Service
As the A350-900 was over the Andaman Sea, with around 2 hours till arrival, beverages were served, followed by the breakfast service; special meals and Gold member meals were served first as usual.
For breakfast, the cabin mood lights had been turned to a pink and purple color, which made the cabin environment seem refreshing and calm.
There were 2 options for breakfast, but I went with the one that TG is famous for, their Cheese omelet with chicken sausage, hash browns, and spinach. The main meal came with a fruit salad, strawberry yogurt, a cold croissant, butter, and jam.
The omelet and chicken sausage were good as far as airplane food goes, although I do remember it being slightly better. The fruit salad, yogurt, and croissant were also very nice.
This time, it only took the cabin crew a matter of 30 minutes to collect the trays after everyone had finished. After the trays had been collected, a second drinks service began.
In terms of cleanliness, TG hit the target, the cabin crew wore masks and gloves, and the lavatories were cleaned regularly. My seat, tray table, and the cabin in general had been cleaned to a high standard and I found it difficult to spot any problems with it in terms of hygiene.
Thai Airways was also one of the world’s first airlines to use hospital-grade HEPA filters (high-efficiency particulate air filters) on all of their aircraft and the World Health Organization presented them an award for this!
There were many toilets on board, all of which were somewhat spacious, clean, and nicely designed. Toilets were well stocked, with basic necessities in addition to paper cups and even Chiang Mai Tea flower-scented cologne/perfume.
The taps also had specific temperature controls. Overall, a very clean cabin with high standards of hygiene maintained.
After a fairly uneventful flight, with small patches of turbulence, we started descending from our cruise altitude of 39,000 feet. The Captain announced that we would be landing in Bangkok in about 35 minutes. The cabin crew came around and collected litter, and returned 15 minutes later to do a final cross-check.
This was where I learned that TG has a policy of not allowing passengers to use their mobile phones or PEDs during landing, something I have not seen before on other airlines. Usually, landing is somewhat of an average experience, but Thai Airways added a little magic to it.
As it was about 6 AM, the sun was rising, which cast a golden patch of light into the skies. In addition to this, Thai played some landing music which was a mashup of their advertising music. “Sound of Places” by Violette Wautier, “Searchin’” by Alyn Wee, and “Fly With Me (Be My Love)” by Tom Isara of the Thai band Room 39. Which made the cabin atmosphere feel very relaxing.
In a matter of minutes, we had touched down 25 minutes behind schedule; a smooth landing. The A350-900 taxied past the dozens of parked TG A380s and Boeing 747-400s (which are up for sale) and we also got a glimpse of Suvarnabhumi Airport’s (BKK) new SAT-1 terminal.
We parked next to a fellow TG A350, where we began the process of disembarking the aircraft.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
The deboarding process was slow as usual, but when I stepped off the jet bridge, BKK surprised me. I had not been back in there for a year, and the arrivals hall was packed with tourists and luggage. On the way to passport control, there are plenty of duty-free stores, currency exchange, and sim card shops; however, I would recommend buying a tourist sim card outside the airport, eg. in a 7-Eleven convenience store, as the price is at least 50% cheaper, sometimes depending on your package even 100% cheaper.
Immigration was a breeze, it took a matter of minutes for the Thai passport lane, and around 15 minutes for the foreign passport lane. BKK’s baggage claim area looks old, badly maintained, and poorly organized. However, the airport is very clean, this could be due to the high number of robotic cleaners that Airports of Thailand (AOT) have installed.
A short while later, my bags arrived. To my annoyance, one of my suitcases had a large crack in it. So I went to the TG baggage service center and filed a damage report. The staff was very helpful and efficient, and I walked out with a form within ten minutes.
Their process is simple, you file a damage report, fill in your personal and flight details, and write down how long you will be staying in Thailand. After that, they hand you a list of luggage repair stores in the vicinity of your accommodation. TG will then provide full compensation for damages. I then made my way past Thai Customs and exited BKK via a taxi.
Featured image and all photos: Author