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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
Hubby had Hoki fish (aka McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish) with potatoes and broccoli and I had Chicken panang with rice and green beans.
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.
Shortly before we landed we were served breakfast. P’s breakfast was crepes with little hot dog looking sausages.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.