Thai Airways: 60 years in the air
I’m a couple of days late, but Thai Airways had its inaugural flight using a Douglas DC-6B on 1 May 1960. That flight travelled between Bangkok and Hong Kong and represents the founding of Thai Airways.
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Flights to Sydney
Thai Airways first flight to Sydney, Australia was in 1971, followed in 1972 with their inaugural flight to Europe. Copenhagen was the destination, which may sound strange unless you know that Thai Airways started as a joint venture between SAS (Scandinavian Airline Systems) and TAC, the domestic Thai Airways Company. The airline lost its SAS shareholder, to became to fully government-owned in 1977.
The airline made Bangkok a gateway between Europe and the Asia Pacific, and fostered the international tourism industry in Thailand.
With the advent of the Boeing 747 the Jumbo ‘Queen of the Sky’), Thai commenced ‘direct’ flights from Bangkok to Europe, although when I first flew them to London in 1988, it still involved a Sydney to Bangkok hop, and then on to London Heathrow, with a refuelling stop in India I think, and definitely one in Bahrain.
Thai Airways was one of the initial 5 airlines that founded this alliance in May 1997. Those airlines included Thai, United, Scandinavian, Air Canada and Lufthansa. Their slogan, developed by Young and Rubicam was ‘The Airline Network for Earth‘. How naff does that sound these days?
The airline’s frequent flyer program is Royal Orchid Plus founded in 1993. I used to be a very active member, preferring Thai to take me between Sydney and Europe, or Sydney and Asia. Their angled flat seats in Business being a revelation in 2003, but then quickly becoming old fashioned along with the service by 2010. Remember British Airways introduced fully flat seats in Business in 1999 – admittedly, they made you sleep like sardines with their 8-across head to toe formation.
I upgraded from Economy to Royal Silk Class (Business) many times with points or certificates, and my first experience of the very pointy end of a 777 was in Royal First Class as the only passenger in that cabin between Bangkok and Sydney using a certificate.
The airline, already in a weak financial state, has been very badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Thai government has provided a US$1.6 billion dollar loan, with conditions, including the approval of plans for reform. Thai Airways is so wrapped up with the countries tourism economy, it is unlikely the government would let it fail. However it is in a delicate financial position which it needs to address before it can succeed.
Thai Airways have an outdated onboard product on many of its aircraft. It needs to sort out its 80 strong fleet, which is all over the place, and get rid of their final 8 ageing 747’s and the 4 oldest of their 26 strong 777 fleets. It has a bunch of aircraft on order but with delayed delivery, including A350’s. It probably needs to take a deep swallow, and take these on to keep its fleet fresh.
Thai Airways has suffered from mismanagement, reputed corruption and political interference for decades. In October 2019, the Bangkok Post reported the airlines president Sumeth Damrongchaitham saying:
‘”Today I want staff to be united to overcome the obstacles. Otherwise, the national airline must close down. There is still time for a solution, but there is not much time.”Bangkok Post, 22 October 2019
The Airline has an accumulated loss of some 280 billion baht or US$8.6 billion, so it’s a bit of a basket case in the light of competition from Asian based low cost carriers, not to mention the current COVID-19 crisis, which has forced it to cancel all international flights as of 25 March 2020, in answer to the Thai governments implementation of a state of emergency.
So, its a bit of a bleak anniversary, this their 60th.
For their committment to service, this is a great airline, and I for one, hope it emerges better and stronger post pandemic.