Flying Solo in First Class Again! Thai Airways Phuket – Bangkok – Tokyo and the Bangkok First Class Lounge & Spa

This is a Continuation of “Trip Report – A Private Jet Experience: Alone in First Class on ANA and Thai, Plus Singapore First, a Suite, a Villa, and Some Incredible Food Porn”

Past installments:

The hotel’s (outsourced) car brought us to the Phuket airport, again about 45 minutes away. We pulled up and went inside the terminal. As is common in many parts of Asia the first thing we had to do is run all of our bags through an x-ray machine on the way in. Once inside we proceeded to the Thai Airways business class check-in counter.

The agent became somewhat nervous, seeing that we were actually first class passengers departing business class from Phuket. She left her desk to go get first class boarding pass stock, printed the passes upside down, then left again to go get more. She got on the phone, and then minutes later a woman appears with a clipboard ready to escort us through immigration and customs formalities.

The last time I departed Phuket the Thai Airways lounge had been closed for renovations, and they used part of an upstairs restaurant in the airport. And despite traveling on a first class award, I received no special first class treatment prior to the business class Phuket – Bangkok business class segment.

On this trip it was another story entirely, Thai had really ramped up its game.

Now, departing Phuket as an international ongoing passenger, you again get the sticker for your shirt indicating you’ll be making an international connection, and you clear immigration in Phuket rather than Bangkok. Interestingly, domestic-only passengers depart from an entirely different gate area and only re-combine when it’s time to board the aircraft.

We were escorted through both immigration and security, and walked on to the Thai Airways lounge. It’s similar in style to the Bangkok lounges, there’s even a first class living room section that evokes the Bangkok living rooms in the first class lounge. There’s a sign on the table of the living room areas indicating that they are for first class passengers, and that’s where our attendant dropped us off.

Of course, there’s no first class service departing Phuket (although there’s certainly three-cabin international aircraft, the front cabin is still sold as business). And there was no real difference in the lounge between business and first class, no different food, the food options were limited. And there was no escort from the lounge to the aircraft. It was a little bit contrived, but a continued attempt to recognize first class passengers differently, though sitting in the same lounge you’re a bit on display.

The lounge itself is fine, nothing special, though better than waiting in the terminal itself. Although the lounge has no restrooms, you actually have to re-enter the terminal to use facilities.

Since we weren’t enthralled by any of the snack items, my wife decided to go back into the terminal to the Dairy Queen that we passed on the way in, she picked up a green tea blizzard and brought it back to our living room while I caught up on email and a bit of work before boarding.

There are plenty of 3-cabin aircraft flying the Phuket – Bangkok route, in fact I wound up on the Jet Airways 777 on the way out. For the return, though, I was more interested in departure time than I was flight equipment, and I wound up on an old domestic-configured Airbus.

It’s only an hour-long flight, so I didn’t much mind. They even serve a ‘meal’ though I really wasn’t interested in eating it, it wasn’t very good.

By the time I made it through the Bangkok Post it was time to land, and for the magic to begin.

We disembarked, and waiting at the end of the jetway was a Thai Airways representative, ready to walk us through security and deposit us in the first class lounge.

We were welcomed into the lounge, though unfortunately all of the ‘living room’ areas were occupied so we took a seat in the corner and an attendant brought over a welcome drink.

We were immediately asked if we’d like to head to the spa, but we said we’d like to wait and asked them to let us know what times were available. It was around 6pm, our flight wouldn’t be departing for Tokyo until 10:35pm, so we had plenty of time. I figured it would be nice to have a snack (we hadn’t eaten since an early light lunch at the resort, and though my wife had had a Blizzard in the lounge I hadn’t snacked at all and was a bit puckish).

Minutes later a passenger left and vacated one of the living rooms, so we switched places.

A lounge attendant came by to update us on spa availability. Unfortunately evening is peak period, and availability was limited. They had a 6:30pm and an 8pm appointment available, no two appointments at the same time were possible. I took the first booking, and my wife the second since she prefers to break up our stay in the lounge a bit more and I tend to while away the hours with alacrity.

At the appointed time I was escorted to the spa.

I was seated in the waiting area with a welcome drink, and a couple of minutes later I was escorted back to the treatment room.

The ritual is to be seated, remove your shoes and change to slippers, then have a shower prior to your treatment. I was presented with a choice of oils, then went inside to wash up. Instead of a shower kit they offer robes and towels fully stocked in the bath area, and full size L’Occitane amenities in the showers.

The hour-long full body massage is really a treatment of about 45 minutes to allow time for showering and changing, and after my very relaxing massage I showered again to wash off the oils (the woman performing my treatment forgot to put out a second towel, but they’re in the closet with the bath robes). She brought me back to the reception area and offered to have a relaxation drink brought to me but I opted to return to the lounge straight away where my wife was waiting. I wanted to touch in before she headed over for her treatment.

While my wife was off having her massage, I headed over to the food room. There’s a small menu at each table but it shows only a small number of the dishes that they offer. You visit the food room, point at what you want, and then they’ll bring it over to you.

While on that side of the lounge I peeked into the dining room, though no one was there. I’ve never taken a meal there myself, or actually seen anyone else do so.

Late as it was getting, I had a cappuccino..

I’ve always loved the wonton soup in the lounge:

And I had some dim sum, fish cakes, and mini-egg rolls:

While my wife was gone, an agent came to me with new boarding passes. An aircraft swap, from a Boeing 744 with proper ‘new’ seats to the old 747 with 14 first class seats in 2 x 2 formation, lie-flat for sure but not as wide or as private. Bummer.

My wife returned, it was getting late, and we were itchy to go. Though I suppose I could sit in that living room, waited on by attendants who deliver food while bowing ever-so-precisely, and attending to any other need graciously for much longer.

By this time the lounge, though, had really filled up. Not just Thai Airways first class passengers, but also first class passengers of other Star Alliance airlines. I saw a Swiss representative escort two passengers in, and also passengers of another airline whose representative’s uniform I didn’t recognize. I was really pleased to be in the more spacious semi-private room. It is entirely open on one side but it’s more spacious than a simple chair/table area and lets you spread out. Plus having a private television, desk, couch, and chair area is just inherently more relaxing.

Our flight was delayed about 15 minutes, and then when boarding had commenced a lounge attendant came for us and brought us to the lounge entrance, where an airline representative was waiting to escort us to our flight.

We took a wrong turn, though, our escort was surprised to find a pathway closed near the Singapore lounge. She was confused, got on her walkie talkie, apologized profusely, and took us in another direction. We had already cleared security, weren’t headed to another pier, so didn’t even have that hurdle to cross. We were shortly to our aircraft, which was perhaps two-thirds through boarding. She walked us to the front of the premium line, and then onto the aircraft where she turned us over to the cabin crew. We were greeted by name as we boarded, even without showing our boarding passes. I was confused for a moment, and then it hit me as I took my seat. The seat map had a few other seats taken when I had checked that morning, but apparently those passengers were no longer taking the flight. We’d be the only ones in first class this evening!

And here I was worried that the ‘old’ 747 first class cabin had virtually no privacy to offer. We’d have plenty of privacy, with no other passengers!

Alright, the seats are a bit antiquated for first class. And there’s even a front cabin projector screen!

(Each seat does have its own small television monitor with looping video.)

Welcome drink was served, the 2004 Veuve Clicquot Rose’ is their new pre-departure offering. I admit I was concerned at first, Thai has a history of sometimes offering their premium champagnes in first class intra-Asia and at other times substituting for something a notch below. The last time I flew Bangkok – Hong Kong in first class, for instance, the champagne was Bollinger. But the Veuve was fine, and just what we were expected to drink before getting airborne. After takeoff they were happy to switch to the 2002 Dom Perignon, I didn’t ask them if they would have changed it up earlier or not…

Here’s the Dom waiting, just for us…

Amenity kits were distributed, but no pajamas for the overnight flight of just over 5 hours.

The first class amenity kit these days is a miniature Rimowa suitcase, very cute and my wife loved it. Though I much preferred the contents of their earlier kits, I miss the Hermes hand lotion and cologne (my favorite, for what it’s worth, it’s the Bvlgari miniatures that Asiana has given in the past).

Our purser introduced himself, confirmed that we were alone in the cabin and that of course we could have service however we wished, for instance if we preferred our pre-arrival meal first that would be no problem and just to let someone know and it would be taken care of.

It was late and we were pretty much ready for sleep, so I suppose it made sense that the first meal offered was really a limited affair. Still, I was surprised by just how limited it was when I looked at the menu:

First Serving

Double Boiled Beef Consomme Scented with Sherry Wine
Sesame Grissini
Prawn Brochette Marinated with Fresh Herbs
Smoked Italian Speck Stuffed with Green Asparagus

While that sounds as though it could have been quite a lot, it wasn’t:

Perfectly fine by me, I ate the appetizer bites and tried the soup which wasn’t especially flavorful, and decided to go to sleep.

Thai doesn’t have bedding per se, or make your bed. They give you a pillow and a blanket. I asked for a second blanket, using the first one as a mattress pad, and ‘made my own’.

I woke up after a perhaps two and a half hours’ nap, and it was nearly time for breakfast and arrival. Such a short flight, no time to sample the mid-flight snack option of Rice Vermicelli Soup with Pork Balls and Garnitures. Not much interest, either.

I cleaned up in the restroom:

And the flight attendants quickly began preparing for second service.

Second Serving

First Course
Fresh Fruits
Yoghurt
Cereal

Main Course
Frittata with Bell Pepper, Gruyere Cheese and Herbs
Grilled Back Bacon, Pan-fried Nuremberg Sausage
Panache of Mushroom in Herb Cream Sauce

or

Braised Duck Rice Soup

or

Grilled Salted Salmon
Simmered Dried Radish “Kiriboshi Daikon,” Carrot and Fried Bean Curd
Steamed Japanese Rice Roll with Green Tea
Simmered Japanese Vegetables with Vegetable Ganmo

Assorted Bread, Butter, Assorted Preserves, Honey
Tea, Coffee, Hot Chocolate

Hardly famished, I opted to have a few pieces of fruit (artfully presented as always by Thai)

As well as the Duck Rice Soup, which was the absolute best soup I’ve ever had on a plane — and one of the tastiest soups I’ve had, ever.

Thai is funny, on the whole I’m not impressed by their meals but occasionally they hit just absolute heights. The very best truffle triple cream cheese I’ve ever tasted, no the very best cheese I’ve ever tasted was on board a Bangkok – Beijing flight in 2008. And now one of the very best soups. Most of it I could do without, but when they do well they do really well.

Our trays were cleared, our seats back in upright position, and we were landing at Narita. As is the custom, we were given orchids prior to arrival. I never take mine with me.

After landing, business class was held back while we deplaned. Looking back at the old-style business class cabin, which made the United 777 business seats look comfortable (they were closer to the seats on our flight from Phuket to Bangkok), I was really grateful to have been sitting in the nose of the 747, not to mention having been alone in the cabin. I took the briefest moment to take that all in as I got off the plane and headed towards transit security, which was still closed for another 8 minutes when we got there…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Gary, your luggage looks awfully heavy. I think you need someone to carry it on your next world tour.

  2. @poster huh? I don’t see any luggage in the photos above, do you mean my Chekpoint flyer laptop bag at my feet on the Thai domestic segment, Phuket-Bangkok? My rollaboard is a Briggs & Riley 20″ baseline, really not that heavy 🙂

  3. Great report Gary! Perhaps I missed it, but what happened with the split reservation, F for your wife, J for you and “sweating it out” that you mentioned in the first post? I ask because I am contemplating the same strategy on the same TG route. Thanks!

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