It’s been a dozen years since I trekked around Asia for 100 days. Back then (those pre-9/11 days), airfares were relatively affordable and service in-flight still decent. I remember getting to know a flight attendant fairly well on one of my frequent flights on United as I flew from Hong Kong to Hanoi to Manila to Singapore, all via Narita Airport in Tokyo. He’d give me full bottles of wine from first class and move me to empty rows.
Five years ago, I was on another United flight, this time to Seoul. Relatively roomy seats, even in economy, and individual video monitors filled with games, movies (even Korean ones) and TV shows helped pass the time quite pleasantly on the 13-hour flight. They even offered paper menus to let us know what the “chef” had prepared for our flight. Things were still pretty good.
Ah, those were the days.
My last flight on United to Asia was one seriously rude awakening. I can only assume that the pathetic excuse of a plane was a 1980s-era relic from the recent United-Continental merger. Gone were the individual video screens. Gone the decent amount of legroom (caged chicken, anyone?). In fact, gone was any semblance of humanity in the presumably overworked, haggard flight attendants. Oh, and nonstop flights to Seoul? That too was gone. My seat barely reclined, and even though I was fortunate enough to have a slim young woman as my seatmate, even she had a difficult time getting out of her seat once the seats in front of us were reclined. If it weren’t for the fact that I was utterly exhausted and slept through most of the flight, I would have been in hell.
Needless to say, I’m never flying United to Asia again. I’ll pay the extra because that’s how bad it was. Now I may have thought that in this post-9/11 Great Recession age, my experience on United was just par for the course and that a decent flying experience was now just a pie in the sky. But no, I happened to fly Southwest a week after that miserable United flight and I couldn’t believe how nice the planes were. It was just a short flight to D.C., but the seats were pristine, the lighting ambient and the legroom frankly amazing. (Not to mention the most entertaining flight attendant ever.)
Next time, I’m going to try Thai Airways. They just started a new nonstop service four days a week from Los Angeles to Seoul, and I, for one, am super excited. I flew Thai Airways once a dozen years ago when I was traveling to Thailand, and at that time I felt that its service was on par with Singapore Airlines, one airline that’s practically legendary for its service. Today, their service in economy class features 34-inch pitch seats with 122-degree reclining, individual 9-inch video screens with Video on Demand, a personal outlet for laptop charging, toys and games for children, and even at least one Korean meal on the menu (think hot and spicy fish Korean-style or pork bulgogi — yum!). I mean, they didn’t win Best Economy Class Catering and Best Economy Class Seat from Skytrax 2011 for nothing.
Next time, I’m going to take advantage of their special promotional fare — if you fly Thai Airways from LAX to Bangkok, you can take extended stopovers to Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong or Phuket from just $100 additional per stopover. After all, after a week of hardcore shopping in Seoul, what better way to unwind than on a beach in Phuket?
For reservations, go to ThaiAirwaysUSA.com.