I am not really sure why I am reviewing this flight other than it shouldn’t take me long to write it. I took this flight back in early May and there have been a few changes with this route. I guess that is a good reason in itself to review this service as well as to clarify if Thai Smile actually has a Business Class. To answer that question; yes, they do. They call it “Smile Plus”.
I flew down to HKT from BKK on Thai Airways on an A330 in Business Class and it had their long-haul seats. So I wasn’t really thrilled with flying Thai Smile back because I knew it was an A320 and certainly wouldn’t have the same comfortable seats that Thai would have. Unfortunately, all the later Thai flights were sold out (in all classes) and I was catching a 1:30 am Qatar flight out of BKK, so the latest available flight leaving HKT was this Thai Smile flight. The fare in Smile Plus was slightly less than Thai’s Business Class fare (600 Baht less), but the real appeal was that it left two hours later than the last available TG flight.
At the time I booked this flight I knew there was some confusion and changes between Thai Smile and Thai Airways. I had a little trouble booking my ticket online, but was eventually able to buy my ticket from their site (http://www.thaismileair.com/index). My flight did carry a TG flight number (TG2216) and I was able to earn miles through Thai’s Star Alliance partner United Airlines. But a Thai agent I spoke with told me that that was changing and they would be operated as two separate airlines. I just looked and now Thai Smile flights two letter symbol is no longer TG (like Thai’s), rather, WE. Because of this I am fairly certain that miles will not be credited to one of Thai’s Star Alliance partners. You do however, earn miles with Thai’s Royal Orchid Plus on all fares except for Smile Promotion (and some Smile Saver) fares. Another benefit that may be lost because of the change in codes is Star Alliance Gold members would not receive their Gold benefits; like lounge access, priority check-in, etc. Again, this would not apply to members of Thai’s Royal Orchid Plus program. I was given a lounge invitation on check-in (my boarding-pass had Star Alliance Gold imprinted on it), and I would imagine if you purchase a Smile Plus fare the same still applies.
The other change, and it is a big change, is this flight no longer departs and arrives at BKK. Now the HKT flights to Bangkok are operated out of DMK, the older Don Mueang Airport. Thai Smile flies two other domestic routes out of DMK (Chang Mai and Khon Kaen). The rest of their flights depart from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). If this was the case back in May, I would not have taken this flight as it would have been to much of a hassle to switch airports to catch my connecting flight. But Thai Airways still flies several TG flights from BKK to HKT and CNX.
Check-in was rather hectic with no seperate Thai Smile area. All Thai Smile passengers checked-in with Thai passengers (loosing a little of the benefit flying a smaller airline). Being able to use the Royal Orchid Plus line did save a little time. As I said, I was able to use the lounge on the domestic side of Phuket’s airport. This lounge was a little old and certainly not as nice as I remembered the last time I flew out of HKT (a year earlier). I headed out to the boarding area and was a little confused because there were only a handful of people waiting to board. I knew this flight was sold out, but couldn’t figure where the other passengers were. There was no pre-boarding announcements and what few people were taking this flight all approached the gate agent at once. After a long walk down the corridor, it dawned on me most people were boarding from the international side of the terminal, as they had international connections. I didn’t realize this when I checked-in and was sent to the domestic side. I wished I mentioned I was connecting to a Qatar flight because I may have been able to use the international side and in turn use the Thai Lounge there that I remembered being much nicer than one on the Domestic side (I had two hours to kill before my flight).
The domestic passengers must have boarded after the International connections, because I was one of the last passengers to board the plane. Thai Smile flies new Airbus A320’s. I was seated in 31 H, the bulkhead aisle. On this flight Smile Plus consisted of three rows 31-33 (AC & HK – 12 seats). On International flights Smile Plus has four rows (16 seats). It is configured very much like an intra-European flight. The seats are the same as Economy, but with the middle seat left free. So you do have more space if you raise the armrest. They also promote Smile Plus as having a few more inches of leg room, but because I sat in the bulkhead it was hard for me to tell. I felt the bulkhead may have had a little more legroom than rows 32 & 33 and I felt a little cramped in my seat. In addition, the tray table in the bulkhead is in the armrest, therefore it does not raise, making the seat much narrower. Despite my late boarding there was plenty of room in the overhead for my rollaboard and briefcase. I was greeted with a smile and offered a lemongrass drink before departure. The one striking difference with Thai Smile compared to Thai was the flight attendants uniforms. Instead of the traditional sarongs the female flight attendants with Thai wear, these flight attendants wore bright orange pants or shorts with light orange tops. Thai Smile positions themselves not as a discount carrier, but rather, a trendy and fun airline. The interior of the A320 also reflected this. The design was nice and the seats had a more modern color scheme (orange and purple). They were cloth with a small leather headrest. A small pillow was placed on each seat for further comfort.
There were four flight attendants serving this flight. All very young (as were the pilot and co-pilot) and not as proficient in English as you would expect, but it was passable. As the name would indicate, they were always smiling (one of the nicest things about Thailand) and very pleasant. One flight attendant was assigned to Smile Plus while the other three to Economy. Before take-off she brought out the meal options on their trays. So you knew exactly what you were getting. The choices were both cold plates; fried shrimp or a chicken dish. I read on International flights a hot meal is served in Smile Plus. We pushed 20 minutes late, but were in the air a few minutes after that. Shortly after take-off we were given a hot towelette. This was a little disappointing because Thai usually passes out a nice refreshing soft cold towel, which, when in Southeast Asia, is always a welcome reprieve. After the towelette, the drink orders were taken. The beverage selection was very limited. Just juices, coffee, tea, and a few soft drinks. No beer was available and I assume no alcohol at all for this route. My guess is on International routes alcohol is available. I selected the chicken dish and it was ok at best (the shrimp didn’t look much better). It was more of a pressed chicken (cold chicken plate on Thai flight to HKT was much better). It was accompanied with a small salad and a strawberry mousse cake (which was tasty). I think they even served a lite snack in Economy. I can’t complain about the food too much as the flight time was only one hour. They even managed to have a second beverage offering of orange juice after the meals were collected.
There were TV monitors throughout the plane that did show some comedy program, however there was no volume and the seats did not have an audio control, nor a socket for a headphone. The show was “Just for Laughs” which doesn’t need to much volume to be able to watch and sort of enjoy. There was no power port, nor was wifi available. As this was a newer A320, the overhead light and air-vent worked just fine. The seat-back pocket in the bulkhead was much smaller than the other seats. I tried to get a few minutes of sleep but with the recline being the same as an Economy seat and my seat being so narrow I gave up on that idea rather quickly. We landed in Bangkok a few minutes late and deplaned in the Domestic part of BKK.
Flying on Thai Smile is definitely a different experience compared to Thai Airways, but not that of a low cost carrier to a full-line airline. With Thai Smile you are allowed one bag checked for free (20kg bag allowance for Economy, 30kg for Business), you can select your seats in advance, Smile Plus passengers have priority boarding, check-in, and baggage handling, while Smile Plus and Smile Flexi dates and times can be changed without a fee. All things you can do with Thai Airways. The difference is that of the full-service tradition airline compared to the simplified, fun and hip (or at least trying to be) airline. Personally I would rather spent 20% more and fly Thai Business Class (at least within Thailand where fares are low anyway), but for Economy that may not be the case (smaller aircraft means faster deplaning as well as faster luggage retrieval). I think the other issue I would have flying Thai Smile again from either HKT or CNX would be they do not fly out of BKK on these routes. But if airport preference is not an issue than that would not apply and Thai Smile would certainly be a worthwhile option flying to/from Bangkok.