What Is It Like To Fly Coach Class To Asia?

Coach Class to Asia

I started planning our trip to Thailand in February 2013.  At that time I had enough miles for 3 coach tickets.  I knew coach would be rough, but I wanted to know just how rough.  I searched and I Googled, looking for a blog post that documented just how bad it was to fly coach, long distances,  on different carriers.  I found none.  But I found TONS of  posts reviewing the different business class offerings on different airlines.  Yes, we love to drink champagne and eat ice cream sundaes before we Lie Flat in our comfy “bed” with fluffy pillows and duvets.  Yes, we get it.  It’s nice.


Yes yes, very nice

In order to get 3 business seats (assuming I could even find 3 on the same flight) I would have to earn another 120,000 miles.  I didn’t have time for that! The time to go to Thailand was now! My son was the perfect age and it was pretty easy to pull him out of Kindergarten for 2 weeks.  When he’s older, that may not be as easy.

When I started my blog, I said it was going to be different.  This was going to be “real life”.  A “real” family traveling in coach for 20 hours because we want to take 2 trips rather than one.  Well….by the end of this article, I may just change my mind!


Who wants to sit like this for 10+ hours? Not me! But I did.

We literally traveled around the world, in coach, and lived to tell about it.  We had a total of 9 flights on our trip to Thailand.  All of them in coach.  Some were ok, some were bad and some were down right ugly!


Our routing sent us, literally, around the world!

The Flights


We started on a United Regional Jet (RJ) from Cincinnati to Chicago.  You know those kind of flights are going to be bad, and there is no first class anyway, so you just have to deal with it.

Scandinavian Airlines

Our flight from Chicago to Stockholm was on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), a founding member of the Star Alliance Network. We were on an Airbus 330 with the horrible 2-4-2 configuration.  No hope for a family of 3!  I booked 3 seats in a 4 seat row, leaving one of the middle ones empty in hopes of nobody wanting to book a middle seat in a 4 seat section.  No luck.  The flight was full.

The meal service was not bad.  P’s kid’s meal was chicken fingers, tater tots and cheesecake.  Hubby and I had pot roast, carrots and mashed potatoes.  It really was a decent coach meal.  The service was not so good though.  It took them almost an hour to come around and collect the dirty meal trays.  This just made everyone more uncomfortable having a tray in your lap covered with dirty dishes.

P was starting to come down with some sort of virus that he brought along with him from school.  When we landed in Stockholm, he promptly vomited on the seat.  Of course I freaked out and tried to clean it up with tissues. (that doesn’t work)  I wanted to push past people and run off of that plane as fast as I could.  But having worked for the airlines, I knew we had to tell somebody so it could be safely cleaned up.  Hubby told the nearest flight attendant, who rolled and closed her eyes and shook her head.  Nice.  No “Ohhh I’m so sorry your baby is sick”, just irritation that it was something she would have to deal with.  And by “deal with” I mean “tell someone else to clean up”.

One other thing to be aware of – except for water and coffee, SAS charges for drinks outside of meal service.

Thai Airways

I was so happy to be greeted by the beautiful Thai flight attendants in the traditional silk Thai uniforms! The interior of the Thai 777 was larger, brighter and more modern than the SAS Airbus.  It actually inspired me to take pictures!


Settling in for the 10.5 hour flight!

This flight was probably the most pleasant of all the flights we took on this trip.  The flight attendants were friendly and attentive, the meals were good, the in-flight entertainment was good and there was even a footrest!

P’s kid’s meal was Swedish Meatballs (we departed from Stockholm) with mashed potatoes and carrots.  He was too sick to eat, so I can attest to the tastiness of the meal!


Sorry it’s blurry!

Hubby had Hoki fish (aka McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish) with potatoes and broccoli and I had Chicken panang with rice and green beans.


Thai Airways meals are delicious!

And no Thai meal is complete without Thai Coke!



I had planned to sleep on this flight, but unfortunately I couldn’t.  I just can’t sleep sitting up.  I  bought one of those SkyRest pillows, thinking that I could sleep leaning forward.  But I am either too tall or too short for the SkyRest pillow, I can’t figure out which.  Either way, it was not comfortable.

I passed the time watching 12 Years a Slave, Philomena and our approach to Bangkok.


Notice the handy USB plug!

Shortly before we landed we were served breakfast.  P’s breakfast was crepes with little hot dog looking sausages.


These types of sausages were common in Thailand. We never quite got used to them.

Air Asia

We used Air Asia twice: from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and a few days later from Bangkok to Phuket.

The flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was beyond unpleasant. No fault of Air Asia, just us.  It was a late evening flight, around 8pm, and we were still horribly jet-lagged and P was still sick.  P was seriously a zombie.  I felt terrible that I literally had to drag him through the airport.

The flight from Bangkok to Phuket was much better.  It was a morning flight. we were over our jet lag and illnesses, and we were greeted with the most beautiful view when we landed.


The Air Asia plane that took us from Bangkok to Phuket

The Phuket airport was rather small and easy to navigate.  We easily exchanged money after getting through customs and went outside to find our taxi.  Now…where is our taxi?

I booked a transfer from Phuket airport to the JW Marriott in Khao Lak with “Boss Cheaper Than Hotel Taxi” (yes that is the name) several weeks in advance.  Our flight landed at 9:30 am and I told him to be there at 10.  We were outside a couple minutes before 10 and he was not there.  We walked up and down for about 15 minutes looking for him, but he never showed.  I had not prepaid him, so if he didn’t show, I would not have lost any money BUT the rate he quoted me was 600 Baht (around $19) cheaper than the vans at the airport.

After a few minutes of pacing, the airport van drivers decided they needed to pounce on the stranded tourist.  I had about 4 of them following me up and down the sidewalk saying “Taxi Miss? You need a taxi?”  I kept telling them I was waiting for Boss, as I thought he was quite well known.  They acted like they had never heard of him.  I had no cell phone service and there was no wifi at the airport so I was unable to look online for his phone number.  I finally asked one of the van drivers to let me borrow his phone, but I couldn’t seem to connect to him.

I was just about to give up and pay the extra $19 when my Hubby shouted “He’s here!”  Only about 45 minutes late, but Thai time is almost like Island time in the Caribbean. He was late and I was stressed, but I would still recommend him if you need transport from Phuket to Khao Lak.


Boss operates new and clean SUVs! And his price really is cheaper than the hotels!

Asiana Airlines

Our flight from Phuket to Seoul departed at 1:30am.  I can tell you at least one person who wasn’t very happy about that departure time!


I wish I could do that!

The flight to Seoul was about 6 hours long.  I have virtually no memory of it, and I took no notes so I’m guessing I was able to sleep for most of the flight.

P was wide awake when we arrived in Seoul and fortunately they had a play area for him to run off some energy before getting on our longest flight of the trip.


P is a blur at the Incheon airport play area.


Our 12.5 hour flight from Seoul to Chicago was on an Asiana 747.  I think this was the flight where I decided I might have to change the theme of my blog.  It wasn’t horrible, but … yeah it was horrible.  No fault of Asiana, but 12.5 hours in those tiny seats is almost cruel.


Asiana kids meal


One positive thing I can say about Asiana is they sure feed you a lot.  Our meals were quite tasty and they were very generous with snacks and drinks between meal service.  At one point about mid-flight they came through with chicken burritos.  Those were SO good….even P ate one.  We asked if they had any extras and they brought us 2 more!

We survived the 12.5 hour flight to Chicago and retreated to the comfort of the Admiral’s Club (which has showers!) for our 4 hour layover.

Bottom Line

I am really going to have to reconsider my stance on “real family” travel.  If I have the means to book 3 business class seats, I should do it.  Although it can be hard to find 3 business class award seats on the same flight, it’s not impossible.  I also have to consider the value of the business class ticket.  Is it worth blowing the miles?  Maybe book business class only on flights longer than 8 hours?  Maybe.  There is something to be said about being on an 8 hour flight to Europe and arriving refreshed after getting about 6 hours of sleep rather than arriving like a zombie after a 45 minute, neck crushing nap.

In my opinion, it’s best to save your miles for the long international trips in business class.  Personally, I will spend money to buy domestic tickets because they are usually pretty cheap if you know how to find the deals and use your credit card companion passes wisely. Plus you are earning miles for taking the flights!

I recently earned 220,000 miles with the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card, in addition to about 75,000 miles we already had.  PLUS about 70,000 US Airways miles that will soon merge with those AAdvantage miles.  We are thinking about Australia in 2 years and I think that might be the perfect opportunity to use those miles for Business class.  Let’s not forget I still have 300,000 Delta SkyPesos, but their redemption rates are so high I don’t think I could swing an Australia trip using them.  I would LOVE to fly on Virgin Australia though! So I think I will use my SkyPesos for a couple coach trips to Europe…assuming I can find availability.

I’ve flown business and first class many times, both domestic and international.  Is it worth it? Yes.  It is.


I hope this post has helped somebody who was searching for the truth on what it’s like to fly coach class to Asia.  The Asian carriers are definitely far superior to any US carrier, but coach is still coach.  In the end, you have to decide what your miles are worth to YOU and what works best for your family.

Happy Travels!

9 thoughts on “What Is It Like To Fly Coach Class To Asia?

  1. We have traveled coach to Seoul and Vladivostok 4 times round trip for adoptions. The flights were awful, but we survived. Now we are a family of 5 collecting miles and points, and it’s hard enough to collect enough miles for 5 of us on coach. I don’t see business class flights in our future. 🙂

  2. i’m out of ORD and have done similar trips recently! BKK-BRU-ORD (thai then united) was my flight home and i just did a trip to istanbul where i first flew ORD-ARN on scandinavian with a stop there before heading on.

    what is unfortunate is that these united partners now cost a lot more points (actually i think economy is similar, business a bit painful, first ridiculous) – and one of the most fun things, i think, is experiencing someone else’s jet, staff, food, etc.

  3. Pingback: 6 Hours in Stockholm |

  4. Regarding Australia, I think it is an excellent use of SkyPesos. My family of 4 just went to Australia at the end of May for 3 weeks, burning up 620K miles in the process. You will laugh, but it was easier to find 4 business class award seats on Virgin Australia from LAX than the connecting domestic segments on DL. I’m from CVG and have been PM or DM for the last 12 years. Australia was always on my bucket list, but in the last 2-3 years my business travel dropped off and simultaneously DL began several actions to seriously devalue the program. I would have preferred to wait until my daughters (age 4 & 6) were older, but I figured I had to act before DL put the trip out of reach. They actually cost me 20K more miles because they bumped AU from 150K to 160K in biz a few days before my booking window opened. I was able to get the tix for 155K by booking the outbound before June 1 and returning in late June. It was incredibly frustrating to book, because even as a DM and DL Plat Amex card holder, I could only find coach segments at the low level to LAX on sporadic dates (even though the trans-Pacific segments were biz, DL would not allow you to marry it with a mid-level coach award from CVG-LAX since doing that would bump the whole pricing to mid). We ended up driving to IND and flying to MSP then LAX in coach and connecting to biz on VA. On the way back we got stuck with a 16hr layover in LA because DL switched the LAX-IND non-stop from a morning to a red eye flight. This was actually a blessing in disguise because we were able to relax a bit at an airport hotel. The flight from LAX-MEL was 15h50m and the return was surprisingly shorter, BNE-LAX was under 12h. We were all very thankful for the spacious, fully flat seat plus they give out PJs and install a decent mattress pad for sleeping. My family was fully rested upon arrival into AU. Food & service were good too. All-in-all the experience was way better than most business class products and I have flown biz on many different airlines during my corporate travels. If you ever change your mind, drop me a line and I can give you some good tips for family travel down under!

    • Change my mind about what? Flying business on long trips? I already have! I am planning Australia for 2016 in business on AA/Qantas. I would love to burn my SkyPesos on it and fly Virgin but I don’t have enough and no way to really earn enough. I have been racking up the AA miles the Citi AAdavantage Executive Card (330K so far) specifically for the Australia trip.
      But yeah I will definitely get with your for some Australia tips. Did you see where I took your advice and went to Hofbraukeller in Munich? It was soooooo good!!!!!

  5. Glad you liked Hofbraukeller! You seemed on the fence about going to Australia…good that you are planning a trip, you will enjoy it! We took 2 flights on Qantas within AU using minimal Avios and taxes/fees under $25/ticket. I was happy we did that instead of flying the LCCs Jetstar or TigerAir. Including car seats and stroller, we checked 5 bags which would have cost extra on those airlines plus you have to pay for every Coke, snack, etc. QF is full-service so everything is included in your ticket. They have iPads for on-board entertainment and give out coloring packs to the kids – it was quite a stress-free experience. The situation was quite obvious at the check-in counter: QF had a couple of people waiting while it was an absolute zoo over at the LCCs. Even though I had weighed our bags beforehand to ensure they were compliant, our big suitcase was about 2kg over the limit according to their scale. QF didn’t even bat an eye, they just slapped a “heavy” tag on it. A word of warning: start saving now for your trip. In my opinion, Australia was a more expensive destination than Hawaii or Europe. Restaurants, tours, attraction entry fees, etc. are significantly higher than what you might expect. I’m told this is partly due to the fact that the minimum wage is nearly $17/hr. We had done some budget research before our trip but were still surprised, particularly with the restaurants (an average place might easily be 1.5x to 2x what you pay for the equivalent in the US).

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