The market for economy-class (and to a lesser extent business-class) flights in Southeast Asia is very competitive. Low-cost carriers abound. That competition has been a problem for government-backed flag carriers like Thai Airways. It is hard to maintain a standard in planes, seats and service befitting a flag carrier while at the same time matching fares with LCCs.
To compete, some national carriers created low-cost airlines. In 2012, Thai Airways launched Thai Smile, a wholly owned subsidiary designed to beat LCC competition. Thai Smile is a very good name for this airline as Thailand in known as “the Land of a Thousand Smiles.”
Traveling from Bangkok to Phuket last month, I tried Thai Smile for the first time. The return flight was on VietJet Air, an airline that takes the low-cost routine to the ultimate level. I booked two one-way flights on different airlines to get the best combination of price and departure and arrival times.
Thai Smile Flight WE207 – Bangkok (BKK) to Phuket (HKT)
Check-in for Thai Smile flights is at Pier B on the far right side of the Suvarnabhumi Airport departure level with check-in counters for Thai flights. Tip: If you want more legroom at check-in ask for a seat assignment in an exit row. I did and was able to get an exit-row seat for no charge. Many Asian airlines block these seats online, and there are usually exit row seats available at check in. I’ve never been charged more for moving to an exit row.
After getting a boarding pass, simply walk through the entrance for domestic flights to reach the facilities and lounges on the A and B Concourses. There is no security check until just before boarding.
While waiting, I spent time in the very nice Bangkok Airways Blue Ribbon Lounge at Gate A3. It is a Priority Pass lounge.
It took about 10 minutes to walk from the lounge to security and be processed through. There was no wait for security screening. I arrived at Gate B1 after the scheduled boarding time of 12:30 but nothing was happening at the gate. Boarding finally began near the scheduled departure time of 13:00.
Thai Smile operates a fleet of 20 aircraft – all A320-200s. According to Seatmaestro, these planes seat 162 coach passengers in a 3-3 arrangement. The seats are 18 inches wide and generally have between 28 and 31 inches of pitch. Here is the seating diagram from Seatmaestro.
My seat was 41A, an exit row window seat on the starboard side. Seat pitch for exit rows is 33 inches. The flight was nearly full, but I had this exit row to myself.
Boarding went smoothly and takeoff was at 13:05.
Like Bangkok Airways, Thai Smile serves free meals and non-alcoholic beverages on domestic flights. Service on this flight, with a total scheduled flight time of just over an hour from takeoff to touchdown, began while we were climbing to the cruising altitude.
Serving was easy as all the crew had to do was hand out prepackaged meals without having to collect payments.
After serving the meal, the flight attendants immediately returned with beverages.
Service was complete with nearly 30 minutes remaining in the flight. There wasn’t much to do other than enjoy views of the Malay Peninsula and the Gulf of Thailand on the trip down to Phuket.
Thai Smile does not have WiFi, and while there are small overhead video screens showing Just for Laughs programs, no headsets were offered. Bring your own, if you want to watch.
Even with the delayed start, the flight arrived only three minutes late at 14:03.
We parked at a remote stand and were bused to domestic arrivals.
This flight lived up to the Trip Advisor ranking as one of the best regional airlines in Asia. It was low cost (just over $50) but included “frills” found on full-service airlines like hot meals and beverages, seat selection, and 20Kg of baggage allowance without charge. I would be happy to fly this “low-cost” airline anytime. This experience contrasted with the return flight on VietJet Air that will be reviewed next.