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For years Thai Airways has lagged behind its full-service competitors in terms of features for premium cabins, especially considering that segment leaders such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates have introduced impressive features for their premium customers.
From 2012, though, this will no longer be the case. Thai Airways is reportedly undertaking a massive overhaul to all three of its cabins which is expected to introduce radical changes to its seats, in-flight entertainment and passenger amenities.
The overhaul, reported by the Bangkok Post, is rumored to be costing Thailand's national carrier billions of US dollars. Once complete it will provide a serious alternative for business travellers flying to South East Asia, as well as further destinations from Thai Airways’ international hub at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (including Europe, the Middle East, the US, and Asia).
Thai Airways’ own product development director, Rangsiman Mokkhasmit, admitted that "the current in-flight products are [a] weak point" which are also "inconsistent from aircraft to aircraft [and] route to route".
While work on the upgraded cabins has already begun by retrofitting existing aircraft, the delivery of a new fleet of six Airbus A380s (the first for Thai) and seven Airbus A330s in February 2012 will likely mark the launch of the new cabins. However, Thai Airways admits that the retrofitting program could take the airline more than a decade to complete.
We've outlined the changes across all three classes below, but it's worth noting that while this is a radical overhaul for Thai Airways’ in-flight product, there aren’t any features that we haven’t been seeing on other Asian and Middle Eastern airlines over the past few years - so think of this as Thai's overdue catchup to its competitors.
Long-haul business passengers currently flying on Thai have to make do with an angled flat seat, while the rather limited in-flight entertainment options are shown on a 10 or 15 inch screen (depending on the route and aircraft).
Thai Airways’ new business class seat arrangement will be similar to what we’ve seen from Emirates and Cathay Pacific. The new seats will be ensconced in a high privacy setting and will be at least 20 inches wide. Thankfully they will also be 180-degree, full lie-flat seats (with massage functionality), and passengers will get a personal TV that's at least 15 inches in size, along with noise-cancelling headphones.
Business class passengers can also expect the AVOD (Audio-Video On Demand) system to offer up a wide selection of entertainment, including 500 albums, 150 TV shows and up to 100 films. In the future, Thai Airways is also promising the ability to make phone calls in-flight from your mobile, access the Internet and even watch live TV.
Thai Airways’ First Class service will also be overhauled, with mini-suites the format of choice - expect something similar to what Lufthansa currently offers its First Class passengers.
Seats are expected to be at least 23-inches wide, and we suspect Thai Airways will be offering up passengers a number of amenities and services to bring it up to the level of its competitors.
New economy seats in Thai will add some consistency in the product, and there won’t be any more rolled-up cinema screens at the front of the plane forcing everyone to watch the same thing. Instead, economy passengers will also get personal TVs and economy seats will be at least 17.5 inches wide with a seat pitch of 31-32 inches. That's actually down from the current seat pitch of 34 inches.