Stickman Readers' Submissions September 19th, 2008

Smooth As Silk

In response to pleas from Stick for fresh postings, and because as an avid reader for several years I feel the need to give something in return, here goes with some thoughts about Thai Airways.

Do you fly on Thai Airways? I guess that most foreigners who live in Thailand or who spend chunks of their time here (as I do) fly Thai either to get to the country and / or to visit nearby countries or areas of Thailand distant from
Bangkok once they are here. 20 or so years ago Thai had a first class reputation and travellers spoke of Thai in the same manner that Singapore Airlines is regarded today i.e. 5 star. Do you agree with me that something has gone wrong?

One of the main issues is surely the age of the fleet. Competitor airlines flying to Thailand from Europe are buying new planes as fast as they can be built, and here I am talking primarily of the expanding Middle Eastern airlines with
unlimited coffers like Qatar, Etihad, Emirates. But also there is Singapore who claim to have an average fleet age of, I recall, 3 years. But I hear you say, Singapore are expensive…but not always so. I have just bought, on the internet,
an SQ ticket for my wife BKK / LHR / BKK via SIN cheaper than the direct TG flights on the same day. OK it takes a little longer and there is the transit to deal with, but Changi airport is a not an unpleasant place to while away an hour or
so. She will be flying on a fairly new 777 to SIN and a brand new 380 on the long hauls. She will still get her Star Alliance miles – slightly more in fact.

On the long hauls to UK TG are flying very old 747s. In economy there is no seatback entertainment, and although I do not fly economy I believe this to be a major area of complaint. To be fair a plus factor is their economy seat pitch
which at 34" is the best available. Will they still be giving 34" when they eventually take delivery of new long haul equipment – we will see. The planes TG use on some of their regional flights are quite shocking as those who fly
to Delhi, Manila, etc in ancient Airbus A300s will testify.

Do you worry about safety when you fly Thai? I'm sure some people do and their safety record is not good. If you were involved in some sort of emergency situation would you rather have a couple of German pilots up front in a well
maintained Lufthansa 747 or a couple of Thais in their 20 year old kit? As we who spend time in Thailand know, maintenance is not high on the list when it comes to to just about anything in the Land of Smiles. Does this attitude extend to
planes. I hope not.

And what about Thai culture and its impact on cockpit and cabin procedures. I believe, and I am sorry if I have this fact wrong, that Thai only will employ Thai nationals as pilots. Now we know that Thailand is not a meritocracy. Those
who get to fly these 747s might not have got there on merit…of course I have no evidence for this supposition but I could be correct. And the international language for air traffic control is English – enough said. Thais tend to have a reluctance
to accept criticism, a reluctance to accept responsibility when things go wrong…all those who read this site will know exactly what I mean, and do you think that these characteristics somehow get abandoned when the TG uniform and wings are
donned? I think not.

And back in the cabin, how do you think the crew got their jobs. Ability? How do you think they would perform in an emergency situation? Of course I have no evidence, but if I was on a plane in difficulty I would rather put my faith in
someone who was properly trained, who was confident enough to take charge of a situation under pressure and who got their job on merit in a competitive environment.

Most TG flights to and from UK are pretty full, and they fly twice every day. Why is this? The reason why the premium cabins have a high load factor will be price. TG business and first is quite a bit cheaper than the alternatives who
fly direct and I know from personal experience that, usually, a high percentage of the premium passengers will be non-Thai. Back in economy it is different and there will be a high percentage of Thais, and do you know the main reason why?
Sure some will prefer their own national airline for patriotic reasons, many will feel more comfortable with being able to speak Thai to the cabin crew, some will be racking up miles on their Thai frequent flier account (possibly unaware that
they can fly other Star carriers and get the same credit)… No, the main reason is overweight baggage. TG check in staff do not charge excess baggage to Thais (ask any Thai and they will confirm this, but beware trying to go overweight yourself,
because all foreigners are rich!!!)

I'm now switching to a listing of areas where I personally have seen a deterioration in service over recent years. If flying on TG to or from UK, I fly first. Yes it is expensive, but if I'm going to die on a plane I will do
so in comfort drinking champagne.

1. Back in the days of Don Muang there was a complimentary limousine service to and from the airport. This service was quietly dropped when the transfer to the new airport took place.

2. First dinner used to be silver service but now it comes ready plated.

3. Caviar was always on the menu as a starter – not any more.

4. For at least a full one year period, maybe longer, there were no wine lists. (To be fair, these are now available and the quality of wines on TG is very high compared with other airlines.)

5. Packs of 'nam pla', ground chilli and sugar in small bottles used to be given out – not any more.

6. Beautiful quality sleepsuits labelled 'elle homme' or 'guy laroche' used to be given out – not any more. What you get is a cheap looking unbranded sleepsuit complete with 'Thai' logo.

7. In the toilets quality accessories were available. As an example there were smart little hair brushes – not any more.

OK. travelling in first is still a most pleasant way of getting from A to B long haul and Thai pricing is quite competitive. Also their ground handling, up to a point, is excellent. Check in for first / business is always quick and easy
and the lounges are quite good. There needs to be a fast track security channel however.

Thai have got a lot of work to do if they want to become a 5 star airline and this will never happen unless they renew their fleet and follow this up with an ongoing renewal programme.

I will continue to fly Thai first for so long as I can afford to, but with the way sterling is going at the moment this might not be for much longer.

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Stickman's thoughts:

In many ways Thai Airways mirrors what is happening in the tourism sector in Thailand itself. Once one of the world's darlings, it is now under fire from all directions with perceived slipping standards, poor customer service and let's not forget racist policies which are all contributing to its fall from grace.

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