Thailand has a number of low cost carriers (Orient Thai, Lion Air, Air Asia) plus two popular “Premium Low Cost” airlines: Bangkok Airways and Nok Air, both of whom I have flown in the last year. In 2011, THAI Airways board began THAI Smile to compete in this market. The name came from a competition with 2,229 entries.
For this flight, I was keen to discover the distinguishing marks of Thai Smile? Is the brand distinctive?
THAI Smile flies to about 13 domestic and one international destinations and is reportedly planning to expand international services. Confusingly THAI Smile use both Bangkok airports for their services. THAISmile’s parent seems to use Smile to feed passengers into its international networks through Suvarnabhumi International (BKK). THAI Smile also has some routes using Bangkok’s low cost Don Mueang Airport (DMK) in direct competition with Nok Air. This strategy is not only unhelpful for passengers, it seems unwise to have a split hub in Bangkok for operational, staffing and economies of scale reasons.
One frustration reported to me is that passengers with fully flexible tickets to one of the Bangkok airports cannot change to the other even when their fight has been cancelled or delayed.
THAI Smile have their own straightforward (and groovy looking) website but I found that you can also book their flights on the main THAI Airways website. NB Booking through the main system means passengers cannot manage their booking or choose seats on THAI Smile.
The carrier allows 20kg of free luggage (more than Nok’s 15kg)
THAI Smile customers are supposed to get THAI Airways points but many have reported to me that this is haphazard.
Check in: 6/10
THAISmile only offer online check for its two Bangkok airports and Chiang Mai. Nok and Bangkok Airways allow this facility for all airports so a black mark here against Smile!
The check in lines were not too bad at Phuket and there were plenty of staff working. I was only in line for a few minutes.
There was nothing in the Check In process to differentiate THAI Smile from regular Thai Airways or to be honest, many other airlines. Branding on signage was not consistent.
Security arrangements at Phuket required me to follow international liquid rules i.e no liquids over 100ml (3oz). It means a heck of a lot of passengers were throwing away almost full bottles of water that they had bought in the airport, only to buy new ones on the other side of security.
I had no lounge access.
Boarding was down a very hot airbridge. Phuket is definitely tropical! Very few passengers had hand luggage so there was plenty of spare carry on space and boarding was pretty rapid.
On Board: 7/10
THAI Smile uses 14 Airbus A320-200s. They have orders for six more and options for another five. The all Economy Class configuration of 172 seats includes 16 “Smile Plus” seats in the first three rows of the plane. These guys get an empty middle seat and 33″ of legroom.
The remaining 156 seats are arranged 3/3 and get between 28″ and 31″ of legroom (except at the emergency exit seats). After Nok’s 30″, I appreciated the extra inch.
I thought the interiors were rather dull, especially after the vividness of their website. The airline have partnered with a cartoon company and are adding themed exteriors and more colourful interiors.
Staff were not as exuberant as Nokair or as friendly as Bangkok Airways.
The low key safety announcements were made in Thai and English read out by a member of the crew while the other attendants demonstrated seat belt, life jacket etc
Most passengers ignored the whole process. The people behind and next to me didn’t seem at all keen to put on seat belts.
This was one of the roughest and most turbulent take offs I have had for a long time. It even earnt a scream from a passenger and gasps from others.
As soon as the seat belt sign went off, the guy next to me unbelted himself. After the turbulence we had been through, I would have thought he had a clear indication that he should keep it loosely fastened!
At last a distinctiveness!
The snack bag was a very attractive plastic bag with draw strings and an encouragement to re-use. I souveniered it along with half the passengers, I estimate.
Inside was a dried up Danish and a 350 ml (10oz) bottle of water (branded “a smile drink”). Did not really make me smile. Nok Air’s snack was much tastier and Bangkok Airways serves a full meal!
A drink service with fruit juices and sodas (but no alcohol) followed.
THAI Smile recently added their own magazine (We Smile) to their seatback pockets. Previously, they were using the main THAI Airways magazine.
A Canadian comedy show played without sound on overhead monitors. The passenger next to me commented that this same video has been playing for two months now.
There are no plans to have wifi, in contrast to Nokair’s aggressive plans.
As the plane came in on final approach, the child behind me unbuckled his seatbelt and began dancing on the seat. I must admit, I have never contemplated doing this but it sounded like fun! Unfortunately, to my mind, also incredibly dangerous. I turned around and mimed seatbelt to the enraptured family.
Luggage was very rapidly returned at Don Meung airport.
My Flight Rating: Overall 59% (3 out of 5). I am not frowning but I was not broadly smiling either!
Negatives: Entertainment, Meal,
Would I fly them again? No. I would choose Bangkok Airways first (I rated 81%), followed by NokAir (I rated 67%) followed by mainline THAI Airways with THAI Smile coming in fourth place.