Is Thai Airways finally putting a 747 on their LAX route?!

There are a few things in the world so illogical that I lose sleep over them. One of those things is why Thai Airways doesn’t have a first class product to LAX. Hear me out.

Thai used to have two nonstop flights to the US, one to New York and one to Los Angeles. A couple of years back they cut their JFK nonstop flight, given what a gas guzzler it was at 17+ hours of flight time.

Then on May 1 they discontinued the nonstop Bangkok to Los Angeles flight, given that it too was a gas guzzler and that they were planning on retiring their A340-500 aircraft that operated the route. Instead they switched the route to a 777-200 and added a stop in Seoul Incheon. I can see why the stop in Seoul Incheon and switch to a 777 make sense, given that not only is the aircraft more efficient, but also that there are huge cost savings in carrying only 12+ hours of fuel at a time vs. 18+ hours worth of fuel (since you burn quite a bit of fuel just carrying excess fuel, not to mention it often comes at the expense of cargo, which is a big money maker). But what I didn’t understand about the added stop is that they didn’t instead put a 747 or 777-300ER on the route, since the 777-200 aircraft don’t have a first class cabin.

Here’s the thing — Thai Airways admits they lose money on their first class product, and that they basically keep it around for “royalty.” There’s no other airline where I’ve as consistently run into other award passengers. Still, that’s not to say they can’t strategically schedule their aircraft.

They fly 747s to cities like Rome and Madrid, so surely Los Angeles would work at least as well, right? I mean, I have to assume there’s a decent amount of paid first class traffic in Los Angeles compared to some other cities they presently operate the 747 to.

Well, it seems they finally agree, because as of March 31, 2013, the schedule suggests that Thai’s Los Angeles to Bangkok service will be operated by the 747, and first class award space is wide open!

This is pretty exciting news because Star Alliance first class options between North America and Asia (without going to Europe) are pretty limited. The only airlines that consistently release first class award space are Air China, Asiana, United, and now Thai.

Of those four options I’d almost always choose Thai, especially if departing Bangkok thanks to their amazing ground experience, which I’ve written about here, here, here, and here (yes, those are links to the trip reports and not the emergency exits).

The one disclaimer I’d add is that Thai is notorious for adjusting their schedule, so I wouldn’t completely count on the launch date. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them start the service months earlier, months later, or not at all.

But at least it’s a positive sign…

Thai Airways first class

(Tip of the hat to usairelite)

Filed Under: Advice, Thai
  1. I will only go if I can book it for four miles and a few dollars in fees. I have been spoiled 🙂

  2. @ Michael — Thai Airways is owned by the government of Thailand, so they keep first class around so they can fly around in it. Trying to dig up an article about it.

  3. @ anon. — As of now it’s not scheduled to be, though Thai is reconfiguring many of their 747s, so I suspect it’s a function of them not having updated the schedule yet.

  4. If they cannot turn a profit on their First Class product, 1) They’ve got be almone in the airline word and/or 2) They are grantine too much award space.

  5. Part of the problem may have been that people were burned enough times by aircraft swaps that there’s no way anyone would pay actual money to fly TG F since you could well end up in the purple recliners for your 12 hour flight instead of an updated F product. Now that they are finally updating the fleet paying customers might be more inclined to spend cash for it.

    I’m not sure what advantage there is to taking TG though going via ICN. The nonstop had the advantage of being nonstop. Now that you have to make a stop anyway I am betting that schedule/cost will trump everything else. So TG will have to offer very competitive fares.

  6. @ RakSiam — I think most consumers still prefer Thai because it’s a “direct” flight. When they see a single flight on their itinerary in both directions, I think that’s enough for them to jump on that one over another option.

  7. I flew TG F MXP-BKK and thought it was fantastic. The seat is good (not great), but the food is grand and so are the FA’s. Plus, the F ground offerings at BKK blow everything out of the water…and other than the chauffeur service and restaurant at the F Terminal at FRA, it is better than LH, imho.

  8. What program are you using to find availability? I have found nothing on United in June 2013.

  9. Do you know why the a340-500 is the plane used for super long hauls (on sq and tg when the did it)…can any other plane make ewr to sin or lax to bkk non stop?

  10. I flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand…it was about a 30 minute flight. It was on a Thai Airways 747! I was shocked.

  11. I wouldn’t risk booking Thai for a flight like that, since they may sub in one of their truely ancient 747’s with no notice. The F is so bad on those you would be much better off with AC or UA J. Happened to me on the BKK-NRT red eye, luckily it was a fairly short flight though. Trying to get through 15 hours in those F seats would suck.

  12. Lucky & Michael – The reference to “royalty” is literal. They’re not keeping anything around for government officials, but for members of the Thai royal family. The king is old and frail, confined to a hospital, but members of his extended family flys on TG regularly.

    If the princess or other member of the royal family wants to go somewhere, I believe they close off first class and give the section to them exclusively. As they say, it’s good to be king – or one of his close relatives.

    BTW, the crown prince (next in line to the throne) is technically a captain for Thai Airways. If he wants to go someplace, he gets to sit in the left seat way up front with the view. He may or may not actually manipulate any of the controls (my guess is the guy in the right seat does all the work) but he’s got the outfit with the scrambled eggs.

    I have a family member who is a FA for Thai. Some crazy stories.

  13. I flew 747 first class from London to Bangkok several years ago. The seats in the Thai First Class 747 were old. Did not recline fully. There was no video. But food was great (read caviar) and good wine. However, due to the seats and video, not sure it is an upgrade from Thai 2-class business.

  14. @ Flyer Fun — Fortunately Thai has very few of those aircraft left at this point. While there’s always a small chance of one of them being substituted, I think it’s very rare on longhaul flights, fortunately.

  15. You couldn’t possibly think TG has first class cabin for the sole purpose of keeping afloat F award pax and royal family members. You’re talking out of your rear.

    Obviously those aircrafts were made to have two or three cabins. Why would a company (even if owned by a government) purchase/lease aircrafts without the standards configuration by the suppliers (boeing, etc) or for that matter, have it change?! Why would TG not want to compete in this global market with product options? While not all F seats may be revenue-ed, it’s there to offer “options” for both paying pax and (in more modern time) compete in loyalty program marketing. An international airline can’t be in this market and survive without biz and first product obviously. TG has a reputation for best in class service and while this may no longer be true across all surveys platform, the airline objective is to achieve and defend this status years after years, even with different management in different eras. It’s a pride of the airline. TG is known for this.

    I mean, do you even know that TG, from its beginning, was not even a 100% Thailand owned company? It was owned by SAS! The international portion of the airline was SAS partly owned and operated. The domestic portion was a Thai wholly owned and operated. Because of the nation identity and an aim for a national flagship carrier, the government at the time seeked and successfully merged the “THAI” and “Thai Airways” into Thai Airways International and remain in this name since.

    Do you think SAS management in the 60’s care too much about exclusive service for Thai royal family on its European routes in the bulkhead of the aircrafts?

    An international company of this size surely has marketing needs and plans in place for its aircrafts and products, even if owned by the government.

    But one thing is true per Lucky’s post, TG first class seats certainly don’t generate profit as much as it can be. But it’s also there as a marketing tactic so pax in Y or J revenue tixs can either use loyalty points or pay to upgrade. One way or another, a revenue is being raised and “loyal” customers continue to pay Y or J fares to travel/accumulate loyalty points/miles to qualify for upgrades. It’s only become more of a “steal” when TG joined *A when other airlines loyalty program customers can get in with the respective *A miles/points.

  16. @ YVR604miler — I think you misinterpreted my post. 50 years ago first class profitable because people paid for it. Post-recession it’s not so profitable anymore.

    My point was simple — the cabin ISN’T profitable, though Thai is keeping it. To me that means they’re doing it either for the prestige or for the royal family. There’s a reason virtually every privately owned airline is getting rid of first class.

  17. Ben,

    While I agree it’s not as profitable as it can be, to say they’re doing it for the prestige and for the royal family is not simply inaccurate.

    Let’s explore a bit deeper. Think about those outstanding amenities and ground services TG provides at their hubs especially in BKK. These first class “ground” services were not created for prestige and royal family. For once, the royal family members will NEVER USE those ground services. When a royal family member travels, they utilize the airport VIP room (if not taken directly to the aircraft and in some cases, private military or government aircraft), not TG first class lounge or the spa or the golfing cart.

    TG (i.e. Thai government) implemented this top notch services to create a long lasting impression and to be recognized “differently” in the world as a top notch service to a “choice” destination for the many “$$$$” tourists and investors, in particular tourists from Europe and investors from within Asia, especially China. Thailand’s government has a very ambitious goal to create and ensure Thailand remains as the world top tourist destination and business prospect choice. Take this for example, Sweden has about 9 M populations. Over 5M Swedish visit Thailand every year. TG ensures service on this route is “outstanding” and especially in first and business class. Take a look at F revenue inventory stat for STO-BKK. Then take a look at F revenue inventory between major Chinese hubs and BKK.

    Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Thailand. The government is in a very clear way utilizing the national airline almost as an immediate gateway and immediate welcome to the tourists. They set their objectives to provide outstanding service (i.e. treat them tourists like a VIP, make them happy in hope they’ll spend a lot of money while at destination). The government wants these tourists to fall in love with Thailand starting with fall in love with TG and exclusively travel on TG as their “preferred” airline when travelling to Thailand.

    One other [important] reason why TG is generous with F award space, it’s because TG is actually one of a few airlines where “loyalty” principle remains true in its purest definition. This is simply a “principle” (some may argue a norm) in Thai culture. Thai people are very loyal and kind. Many business are conducted based on this principle. Unlike many other airlines, your long time loyalty doesn’t always [and infrequent] get you to the F seat. TG makes those F seats available for awards as a way to say thank-you. For every TG flights with three cabin service, there are an identified number of F seats identified as award seats. They may or may not sell them but they have been marked. It’s a very convoluted process but it is based on a very simple strategy and that is to award the loyal customers, NOT just the prestige and the royal family (the latter is not even true at all).

  18. @Lucky. Glad to hear that. I have been avoiding Thai First Class. However, after I finish my Singapore First Class Trip (from when they released all that space), maybe I will try to book.

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