With so many airlines in South East Asia flying the same routes, does Thai Airways have that extra ‘something’ to make them as Smooth as Silk?
As the national flag carrier of Thailand, Thai Airways (TG) is unsurprisingly the largest airline in the country, and operates mainly from its hub at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, but also has secondary hubs at Phuket and even Chiang Mai.
Hopping around Asia from country to country is often a good way to experience Thai Airways, as their regional fares from Bangkok to neighbouring countries are usually very competitive compared to the likes of Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. I have flown with Thai on multiple occasions precisely because of this fact, and have generally enjoyed my experiences with them. However, there are major issues with the onboard product that need to be addressed if the airline is to overturn its recent losses.
For example, for regional flights to Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines, TG uses rickety old Airbus A330 aircraft, which have certainly seen better days, and must surely be in line for a refit soon? Also, from my experience, Thai cabin crew are usually stressed and in a bad mood, and they are lethargic in distributing meals and drinks on longhaul flights.
Unquestionably the life and soul of the Thai fleet these days is the Airbus A380, of which Thai have 6. They fly the A380 daily from Bangkok to Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo-Narita (twice daily), and Osaka-Kansai. These routes are proving very profitable for the airline, at a time when a lot of their other routes are becoming loss-making. This is the case for many airlines in the region, including the much-maligned Malaysia Airlines. The A380 from TG has an upper deck economy class cabin, which is proving to be very popular, and also includes a smart self-service bar for business class and first class passengers.
So what is Thai Airways doing wrong? Well, I have always wondered about their agreements to allow certain airlines (including Emirates) to use Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport as a hub for fifth freedom flights to other countries. Fifth freedom rights is the term given to a route between A and B (usually in 2 separate countries) that is given to an airline who does not usually have the reason to be there. For example, Emirates fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong and Bangkok to Sydney, and this pair is very profitable for the Dubai-based airline. But in order for them to create such routes, they obviously needed to politick with the Thai government to be allowed this freedom. I think such rights really hurt Thai Airways, especially on the Sydney route, which could still be a bigger money-spinner for them on the Australasia-Europe routing. Other airlines such as Cathay Pacific (enroute to Delhi), Qatar Airways (enroute to Vietnam), and even Sri Lankan (enroute to all major Chinese cities) take traffic away from what should be the sole right of Thai Airways, and this needed to be addressed in the future if TG are to come back into profit-making.
Thai Airways have posted 5 consecutive quarter losses on their profits and this has much to do with the uprising in Bangkok earlier in the year, but with load factors down to 75% across the whole network, it shows that restructuring still needs to take effect. This, however, should not deter you from taking advantage of Thai’s good value fares to ASEAN destinations – so long as you don’t mind travelling on a slightly older aircraft than some of their rivals. That said, Thai Airways are still a much more enjoyable ride than low-cost carriers such as Thai Air Asia and boutique airline Bangkok Airways, neither of which I rate as high as Thai.
So Why Fly Thai? You tell me.