Review: Thai Airways First Class B747-4, Bangkok – Madrid

Thai Airways is one of the few remaining airlines within Star Alliance to continue to offer a first class cabin. The experience is a little “off perfect”, but still a really enjoyable adventure that is worth trying at least once or twice in your travelling career. When you add the meaningful hospitality of the Thai crew, it makes the experience all that more enjoyable.

This post is one chapter in our Around the World in Star Alliance First Class via China, Thailand and Spain. This trip was booked using Air Canada Aeroplan miles. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Read more from this trip:

Review: Thai Airways Royal First Class, Boeing 747-400, Bangkok – Madrid

“Thai Airways First Class is unique within Star Alliance as one of the more unique flying experiences.

It’s known for it’s excellent ground service, Dom Perignon champagne and its funky food menus”

We arrived at the aircraft after a semi private van transfer and stepped out of the van into the dark, warm Thai evening. With a deep and crisp tear of our boarding pass, we were soon to be on our way. Amid all the airports sounds of aircraft engines spooling up and taxiing, we were led up the outdoor stairs and turned over to an absent door attendant. It didn’t appear that they were ready for us at the separate first aircraft doorway as no hosts were present at the door. The usual swadikaa was missing but it really didn’t matter. We were on such a high from our fabulous ground experience that we just sauntered into the plane and found our own way to our seats.

Thai Airways First Class Van Transfer
Boarding B747 at a non gate position at Bangkok Survarnabhumi
Boarding Thai Airways First Class – Bangkok to Madrid
Thai Airways
BKK – MAD (Bangkok Survarnabhumi Airport – Madrid Barajas Terminal 1)
TG 948 – Royal First Class (F)
00:05 AM – 08:00 AM
May 19, 2012
Booked: Boeing 747-400
Flown: Boeing 747-400

On board Thai Airways First Class:

As the plane filled up, we learned that the load in F tonight was 4/10 seats with 3 cabin staff serving in F. The cabin is set up in a staggered triangle with a high of 4 across at the read, narrowing to 2 across at the front thanks to to the nose of the airplane. Our adventure on Thai Airways’ longest regularly scheduled flight (12 hours and 55 minutes) was about to begin. One minus about this particular flight was that it was set to depart just after nightlight and was set to arrive at 8 AM, meaning that most of the flight was through the night.

Thai Airways First Class Boeing 747-400
Thai Airways Open Concept First Class
The nose of the Boeing 747

Upon our arrival to the seat, we located a Tumi amenities kit and separate noise canceling headphones. The Tumi kit was of high quality and the nicest kit out of all the carriers on this trip that we had experienced. I’ve used this kit (the case specifically) already for other travels since I’ve been back. We were delivered blue pajamas and “SLEE-pers” (actually these were slippers, which I discovered when they arrived).  We were offered a pre-departure beverage of Champagne while we waiting for boarding to complete.

Thai Airways glasses
Thai Airways Royal First Menus

It was at this moment when I experienced the service difference that is Thai Royal First. The service that we received on this flight could be best described as “clunky”. Similar to when you go to a restaurant and order your chosen bottle of wine, only to be told that it is not available. You ask your server for your second choice and are also told – it is not available. Two bottles of wine not available? The circumstance leaves you with a small sense of “what just happened here?” or “was that a one time incident?”. It leaves you pondering throughout your meal, in this case, perhaps waiting with amusement (or displeasure) for the next surprise. These are minor niggles but it makes for an entertaining experience.

Leading to this context, it was amusement. We were offered a pre-departure drink from our flight attendant.In this case, I asked for “The Dom please”. With two large brown eyes, the flight attendant looked at me like I was from The Planet Mars. She stood still, inquisitively, similar to a cat starting to stare down its owner, trying to figure out what I meant. 

“The Dom Perignon …” I said … 

Still no movement, just an inquisitive look. It was as if the words Dom Perignon meant nothing to her. We were in a standoff position here and it was clear that I needed to explain further. 

“The Champagne…” 

“Ohhh Yes….” And quickly, with those words, the stare down was broken. 

In an instant, in the smallest glasses from the year 1970, two glasses of bubbles were produced, as poured from the galley. It wasn’t clear if we were drinking the “real” thing or a suspected cheaper substitute as with our previous experience from the galley. 

The wines were set out on the center bin for all to see. Surprisingly, it seems that I was one of the only passengers interested. As menus were passed out, (but strangely enough not a drink menu or wine list tonight), I snuck up to the front to see what champagne bottle had been opened. In addition to Joseph Faively Mersault and Chateau Berliquist Grand Cru St Emillion on offer, I glanced over and saw that lovely green badge of honor belonging only to Dom Perignon. Yes – all is right in the world again. 

Thai Airways First Class Wine Bar

Mrs WT73 was unaware of the fact that Thai Airways served Dom Perignon in First Class and was a bit surprised at the whole thing. We were silent for several minutes, the quiet drone of the aircraft engines in the background coming in through the open doors of the aircraft. Later she commented, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about (referring to Dom)– I much prefer that champagne that we had on Asiana (Tattinger Comte be Blancs).” She stated, slightly confused. I guess that means that I should stock something less extravagant at home for the birthday barbeques…

The Meal Service: Dinner

Our meal orders were confirmed before aircraft take off at the dreadful hour of 00:45 AM. I had pre-ordered the Lobster Pai Thai and this was confirmed by our flight attendant that, indeed the Lobster had made it on board. Before we knew it, we were rolling down the runway, destined for Europe. 

Thai Airways First Class Menu – First and Second Serving

Dinner service started with the caviar with the traditional garnishes. The table was set from the cart, including individual salt and pepper shakers. 

Caviar with the Traditional Garnishes
Imprinted Butter

Next up was the main course. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the first course of Spanish toasted soup or choux pastry with salmon loin would have been next in sequence. The Lobster Pad Thai was brought out, and I was in no mood to ask for more – it was 1:30 AM already and I was getting pretty sleepy. The Lobster was tasty. I did come to the conclusion though, that after this flight, and the lobster on Asiana, that it is a fish that does not travel well in airplanes. It was a bit chewy, and characteristically, not a trait that you’d enjoy finding with lobster. The pad Thai side accompaniment was also good, but not very good. It reminded me of a deluxe TV-dinner that had been reheated. Next time, I would just take whatever was catered on board, instead of the pre-order service. 

Lobster Pad Thai

The main course was followed by cheese service, cut from the block. The wrong side of the block unfortunately, but who’s counting??

Thai Airways Cheese Service

After the service and ingestion of massive amounts of cheese, I slipped into the pyjamas. At 6ft 2 inches, I fit a large size fairly well. We settled in for the night at around 3 AM. Ms World Traveller73 found the seats exceptionally complicated and difficult to figure out. She said that the foot stool for resting was too short for her feet. (She’s 5 foot 3 inches). 

I felt asleep being bumped around by headwinds of 112 km/h. The seat belt sign was on and off throughout the night. Our pilots did a great job of changing altitude throughout the flight to compensate for this. 

The Second Service: Breakfast

At about two hours before landing and ten hours into the flight, breakfast service started. It started with service of fruits and yoghurt and boxes of corn flakes from the cart. Included in all this, was a plastic grapefruit white wedge that was completely cello wrapped. Although the wrapped fruit was a great idea, it was exceptionally hard to get into. Half asleep, it took about 5 minutes of fiddling since I didn’t want to mush the grapefruit. All of the other fruit was either fresh cut or transported well from Bangkok.

Given that it was available, and no one else was drinking it in First Class, we continued on sharing a second bottle of Dom through our breakfast service. We ended up finishing off this second bottle before the end of our flight.

The Last of the Dom Perignon Champagne

The Poached Egg with Mornay sauce was very pleasant. There was not a scrap left on the plate when we were done. 

Poached Egg with Mornay Sauce

Overall, the in flight service was not as polished as the exceptional ground staff. There were little things that seem trivial when they are written up here, but when you add the some of the parts, it did lead to somewhat of a lesser experience. Things like serving over the middle seat in F with drinks, taking your coffee cream away when you’re still drinking coffee and giving it to another passenger right in front of you. Minor things in the grand scheme of the world, but it would certainly cause me to think twice if I was paying for this route expecting top service, and had a choice to Europe between Singapore, Lufthansa, Quantas or Thai. 

As we approached continental Europe, I asked for immigration cards and was told with a broken accent – no immigration cards sir. I didn’t know if that meant they had forgot to load them, or whether they didn’t have any. After a while I was thinking that maybe I could ask for some in the back, but I didn’t bother as the time ticked away on the remaining minutes in F.

Approaching the Coast of Spain on the Flight Track
Morning Light in the Nose of the Cabin

On our descent, most of the staff had changed into their non plane uniform. The men into suits and the women into a pant suit jacket. I couldn’t help but think that it must be a pain having to carry two suits for men and I am sure there are equal problems for women.

Looking out the window, we had returned to a first world country. Wind turbines could be seen dotting the landscape.  

We touched down to a sunny day in Madrid. After a long taxi over to Terminal One at Barajas, we were let out and sent over to immigration. As the plane parked, our senior staff saw that I was being a bit slow in my departure from the aircraft. Indeed, I wasn’t hurrying at all. It was almost a 13 hour trip, and I was in no rush.

“Quickly, you will miss the departure!!” said the senior purser.

I didn’t quite understand what he meant by this but I thought that with this sense of urgency, I’d better listen to him. He ushered us down the galley at the back of the First Class Section, and around the forward business class compartment. I realized that he was trying to ensure that First got off the airplane first as business and economy were crushing at the doors to get off. I snapped this photo of the long 747 galley while we were waiting for the doors to open. A last swadikaa and we were off the last queen of the skies for this journey.

Thai Airways Boeing 747 Galley

We got off the aircraft and arrived into Madrid Barajas Terminal One. My first impression of Barajas Terminal One was that it was quite old and dated. It seemed to be the home of many charters, Easyjet and some Star Alliance Carriers such as US Airways. There were no F arrival services at MAD, just a self directed walk to immigration and the luggage belt. 

Madrid Barajas Arrivals Hall

By simple design of the Terminal One belts, we were soon surrounded by Spaniards crushing to get to their bags. The bags did take a bit of time arrive. When they arrived, they were number two and three on the belt, decorated with a Thai Royal First tag on the handles and usual priority baggage tag.

By simple design of the Terminal One belts, we were soon surrounded by Spaniards crushing to get to their bags. The bags did take a bit of time arrive. When they arrived, they were number two and three on the belt, decorated with a Thai Royal First tag on the handles and usual priority baggage tag.

The Bottom Line with Thai Airways First Class:

We had a good to very good Thai Airways First Class experience.

Some of the high points include excellent Dom Perignon champagne and classy wines. The ground service in Bangkok with an escort, golf cart and passenger handling is among the best in the world. At the time of this flight, there was great Star Alliance Reward availability for Thai Airways First class and the flights are pretty easy to pick up. The Tumi Amenity kits are also pretty neat and a great souvenir.

In terms of low points, the cabin seats are pretty dated and were at the end of their life cycle. The seat itself is not super comfortable and is quite worn. The staff on board were also not as well trained as their colleagues at the Thai Royal First Lounge. With this particular flight, a flight through the night is a challenging one to fully enjoy a First Class experience unless you happen to enjoy sleeping.

“Thai Airways First Class is a memorable experience with world class ground handling that should be experienced at least once by all frequent fliers”

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