I was very happy with United’s Mileage Plus. My wife and I were traveling a an award ticket and I was able to switch this leg from United in First Class to Royal First on Thai just a week before we were leaving. Not only would we get into BKK an hour earlier, but I would be able to experience Thai’s new A380 and their new First Class seat. However, after missing our flight to SFO (and getting off another to SFO, because of weather) and just making the flight at LAX to Tokyo’s Narita Airport I thought my cleverness had backfired. We were once again running to catch our flight. Our flight from LAX was a little late, but that was compounded by our gate still being occupied, so we sat on the runway for an additional 15 minutes. This left less than an hour to catch our flight. I was hoping someone would meet us as we de-planed to expedite us through security, but this was not the case. Fortunately, the line at security was not too long, and both United and Thai use Terminal 1 (almost all Star Alliance Airlines use Terminal 1) at NRT. Still, we had a long walk to gate 46. We actually made it with enough time to spend a few minutes in the lounge (was just above our gate). Thai’s Royal First customers can use ANA’s Suite Lounge. There was just enough time to use the restroom, get a quick drink, and try to change our seats.
We could not change our seats in the lounge, but the attendant was able to send a message to the gate. As this was Valentine’s Day I thought it was a good idea to try to sit next to my wife. The agents at the gate got a good laugh at this and they were able to change our seats. Most of the passengers had already boarded and there was a dedicated line for First and Business Class customers, so boarding was very quick. We were warmly greeted by name as we entered the upper deck of the A380. Royal First (also known as Royal Suite) is in the front cabin of the A380 and Royal Silk (Business Class) is directly behind (there are some Economy seats in the upper rear and the entire lower level is Economy). I was told that Thai has three A380’s as of now, with three more to arrive by the end of the year. Royal First seats twelve passengers. Three rows in a 1x2x1 configuration. We were seated in the center two seats, 3E&F. It was only half full on this flight. There were three or four flight attendants dedicated to Royal First. All very friendly and of course smiling (Thailand is the land of smiles!). Orange Juice or Champagne was offered along with a hot towel after we got settled in. The orange juice was good and my wife loved her champagne. The flight attendants offered to take a photo of the two of us, which was nice. On the seats was a blanket and pillow, clever amenity kit with L’Occitane products, and headphones. The one thing that was missing was pajama’s. I have flown Royal First in the past (to & from LAX), and was offered pj’s to wear on those flights, but this is much shorter flight. We were 30 minutes late departing, so it gave me time to explore the seat and Thai’s entertainment system.
The first thing that struck me as we entered the cabin is how light the color scheme is. Eggshell (or some off-white) with the seats light gold and light purple accents. The seats are very wide with more than enough leg room (I think 82” of pitch). There was plenty of storage areas at the seat, including a thin closet to hang a jacket. In addition, the overheads provided plenty of space for carry-on’s. I did have trouble getting the seat to a comfortable sitting position. I guess I just had trouble adjusting the seat. The one thing that I did find very innovative was that the tray table was under the TV and once unlocked could be pulled toward you. There is a small screen on the side of the seat that has no purpose. I even asked the FA about it and he said it does nothing. If you are in the two seats in the middle and want privacy from your neighbor there is a partition that raises. Like on most Asian carriers, I found the cabin temperature to be warm, and unfortunately, there was no individual air outlets (it may also just be warmer on upper decks of the 380’s).
Thai’s entertainment system, as you would imagine on a new aircraft, is state of the art and AVOD. The TV screen is very large and outside of scenes with dark backgrounds, has a very good picture. There are plenty of the latest Hollywood movies (in fact, most of the same movies that were on the United flight to NRT), International movies, TV shows, documentaries, music and interactive games to choose from. Plus there is a moving map and camera attached to the tail (looking forward). It is possible to view the content before take-off and after landing. The movies are uncensored, which makes the movies more enjoyable (or funnier), but be mindful if traveling with children. The in-seat control is very easy to use, but was a little jumpy (although, I probably didn’t know how to use it properly). The one thing I really had a hard time with was plugging in the headphone. The headphones that were provided were noise canceling and very good. But they were three prong and I needed two FA’s to help me plug it in (my wife was able to plug her’s in with no problem). There is also an in-seat power outlet and a USB port at your seat.
In the front of Royal First cabin is the Sky Bar area with two benches where people can congregate, sit, and talk. No one used this on this flight, but I imagine on a longer flight it may be used. It is not a bar like on Korean or Virgin where someone is making drinks for you. Rather just a place to sit and talk other than at your seat (and drinks brought to you). The other rather interesting thing in front of First Class, is the toilet. It is huge!! Well not the actual toilet (wouldn’t want anybody falling in), but the lavatory. There is an area to sit (again, not the actual toilet) with a make-up mirror. Lotions, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and shaving kits are available and the wash towels are cloth, not paper. I must say, it was the nicest bathroom I have ever been in on a plane.
The flight time to Bangkok was scheduled for seven hours. We had just come off 14 hours of flying from San Diego so both of us were tired and looking forward to some sleep. But not before dinner. A few minutes after take-off we were offered drinks and another hot towel. This was followed by a hot savoury of Chicken Yakitori and a Curry Puff. Both were rather tasty. After the savouries, the flight attendants prepared the tray-table for dinner. The white table cloth and set-up was very formal (fist class) and the basket of bread I thought was an interesting and nice touch..The first course was a King Crab Salad with shrimp and grilled scallop’s. As usual, my wife ate most of mine (I am allergic to seafood). I know she liked it because she actually did eat my portion.
Before the main course a Chestnut soup with Duck Liver Mousse was served. Now, despite flying first class occasionally, I am a pretty simple guy and normally do not like (or can not appreciate) dishes like this. So I was a little hesitant about even taking it (honestly, I just ordered it for the photo). But I must say that I enjoyed the soup very much. My wife liked hers as well.
Before we departed NRT, the flight attendant asked for our main course selection. There were three choices on the menu. Steamed Sea Bass, Pork Curry “Pa-naeng”, or Duck Leg Stewed with Tapenade. My wife was not hungry enough to want any of the three choices and I was not overly enthused about any of them either. So I asked what was being served in Business Class. The flight attendant was very gracious and brought us the menu from there. I saw they had Beef Stew in a Japanese Beer Gravy which made me much happier. My wife ordered the pork curry. The beef stew was very tender and tasty. It came with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli.
The Pork Curry was ok, but I wasn’t crazy about it. I think it may have had lemongrass in it, which (in my mind) gives it a soapy taste. Plus, I am not crazy about peanut sauce. It may have also been because I just ate the beef stew and was getting full and it is hard to go from one taste to another. So my critique of this dish may be slighted.
After the main course, assorted cheeses and fruit were offered. I was full by this time, but I love fruit from Japan and felt that it may make me feel better. The dessert was a Rum Savarin cake with orange sauce. I could not eat anything that was remotely heavy so I passed on dessert and just had the fruit (if my wife was awake she would have been shocked). I also passed on any drinks afterwords and finished watching the end of the movie, before trying to get some sleep. A hot towel was given after the fruit was removed.
Dinner service lasted almost three hours and after the movie I tried to do a crossword puzzle (always puts me to sleep), but the lighting was not that great. Just one light overhead and another one over the shoulder. Because the seat takes up so much space it was hard to illuminate enough area for me to see clearly. I was tired enough to sleep without the puzzle and found a relative comfortable sleeping position (seat does lie-flat). Still, I found sleeping to be a little uncomfortable. Maybe because I ate so much or because the cabin temperature was so warm. I did find the pillow to be a little hard (or maybe coarse). I only slept for a little over two hours. I have flown to BKK thru NRT many times and this is always an easy leg to sleep on, so I was a little disappointed to sleep so little. When I woke I was not feeling that well and asked for an ice cream (somehow always makes me feel better) and water.
Around 30 minutes from BKK they made the announcements (in three languages) that we would be landing shortly. The flight attendants came around with another hot towel and thanked us for flying Thai Royal First. They also presented us with a small basket heart for Valentine’s Day. I turned on the camera to watch us land, but when it is dark all you really see is a flashing light.
The landing was very smooth and we had a relatively long taxi to our gate. We arrived 25 minutes late. As we de-planed the flight attendant again thanked us and said good-bye by name. I had told my wife as we left San Diego that sometimes when flying First Class someone may meet you as you disembark to assist in connections. This was not the case at LAX nor NRT, when it would have been helpful, as we were running to make our connections. I certainly was not expecting anybody to greet us in Bangkok as our connecting flight was the next day. However, as we entered the terminal there was a man with a sign with our name on it (and another passenger). He placed our luggage on a cart and drove us to the passport control area. I thought this was great, because it was a long walk from our gate to this point. But it did not end there. He then escorted us to a private passport control where there was no line. We did not check any bags so we were in the Novotel van in less than 15 minutes from when we exited the airplane.
This Thai Airways A380 flight from NRT to BKK was a true First Class experience. The seats have the feel of a suite and the service is outstanding. At one point my wife was reading and a flight attendant came by and turned on her shoulder light. Something you see in commercials, but never actually see on the plane. Nothing against United, but I can’t imagine our flight to BKK from NRT on United would have been this nice. Even on other Thai aircraft, I think the same. We flew Thai in Business Class to Singapore the next afternoon on an A340-600 and the Royal First cabin and seats looked nothing like the Royal First cabin on the new A380. I may get mad at United from time to time, but without a doubt, they have the best award availability from any of the US Airlines, and the fact I could see this flight was available on their site is just great!!!