Thai Airways Eyeing Bangkok To Seattle Flights In 2018

Last July I first wrote about how Thai Airways is considering adding flights to the US in the near future. Thai used to fly nonstop from Bangkok to both Los Angeles and New York, though they cut those routes in 2012, due to high oil prices and the inefficient planes they were flying.

It’s not unusual for airlines to make claims about adding new flights and then not follow through on them, so I didn’t read too much into it at the time. After all, there are quite a few airlines that claim to be considering new ultra longhaul flights to the US, though I’d be shocked if a majority of them ever happen

While still nothing is finalized, here’s a further update on Thai’s proposed flights to the US, based on a quote from a Thai Airways executive last week.

Orient Aviation quotes Thai Airways’ vice president of network and fleet planning as saying that Thai Airways is considering adding nonstop flights to Seattle, and definitely wants to add flights to the US by the fourth quarter of 2018. The flight from Bangkok to Seattle would cover a distance of just under 7,500 miles, which isn’t actually that long — it’s a full 1,500+ miles shorter than the world’s longest flight, between Doha and Auckland. Bangkok to New York would be quite a bit longer, at ~8,700 miles.

Per the story:

“We are looking at building partnerships with airlines that are not necessarily Star Alliance members,” Chaiyong said. “We are open to cooperation on many levels.”

The THAI top executive also revealed flights to New York or Chicago could be feasible. “Actually, the distance from Bangkok to New York is almost the same as Bangkok to Los Angeles, which is possible with the B787-9,” he said. THAI is still studying its options in the U.S. with plans for a return to North America set for the fourth quarter of 2018.

Thai Airways just took delivery of their second Boeing 787-9, which is the type of plane they’d likely use for their flight to the US.

On one hand, Seattle is the closest destination in the continental US to Thailand that they could serve, so in that sense it makes sense. Seattle is also an Alaska Airlines hub, and Alaska is known for having partnerships (including codeshare agreements) with a wide variety of airlines, so this could actually make some sense. While Thai Airways is in Star Alliance, alliances as such are less important than in the past, and Thai and United were never especially close partners anyway.

I remain skeptical about whether or not such a route is economically viable. With more fuel efficient planes it’s certainly more viable than in the past. Thai used to fly the A340 to the US, which is a gas guzzler, so a 787-9 would have much more attractive operating costs.

Even so, Thailand is a notoriously low yield market. While there’s certainly demand between Los Angeles and Thailand, the question is whether the demand is high yield enough to warrant the ultra longhaul flight. With longhaul airfare as cheap as it is (I’m seeing roundtrip tickets from Los Angeles to Bangkok for ~$460 right now), they’d have to be able to command a significant price premium to make the route work. Then again, the motivation here might be more about prestige or politics than about profits, in which case I could still see this happening.

Do you think Thai Airways will resume flights to the US, and if so, do you think they’ll pick Seattle?

Comments

  1. If Thai gets in, I doubt they are expecting profits from the route. EVA recently cut their TPE-SEA route because the yield was terrible, and BKK is worse in terms of yield.

  2. Thai partnering with Alaska would make me love both airlines that much more. I wonder how Alaska’s recent partnership with SQ would affect this though. I don’t know what the relationship between SQ and TG is like; they’re both members of Star Alliance, but they’re two of the largest airlines in Southeast Asia and I imagine competition between them is fierce.

    Is it possible that Thai would partner with Delta in Seattle instead? You said United and Thai were never close partners, and inter-alliance partnerships are becoming more common (e.g. Air Canada/Cathay Pacific).

  3. @David Where on Earth did you get that? Eva still fly to Seattle daily with a 77W and have flown here for years! For a while they were flying 12x a week, however I think you mean to say they cut their second flight.

  4. Why not SFO? It’s not that much farther—789 has the legs—and SFO seems like a higher yield potential than SEA? While United and Thai aren’t particularly close, they’re both *A and presumably its easier to tie up with United than Alaska. Alaska also already partners with CX, KE and JL. Other than access to 3rd tier cities in Thailand, what does TG give them?

  5. it could easily be a ploy and trap – (1) make UA worry TG will start becoming BFFs with AS, or worse, defect to oneworld, and (2) trick UA into pre-emptively launching SFO-BKK even when the math doesn’t work out on paper

    except that … both of those will backfire badly. UA’s respectable showing in SFO-SIN and now LAX-SIN is already good indication they have a strong hand to play. TG will end up burning cash once again.

    (Remember those trolls who insist SQ will eat UA’s lunch on that route??)

  6. Re: EVA… *A connections to SEA are not going to work since United has not been a good feeder to Seattle for awhile (but I used it being located in Seattle). If Thai partners (and markets) with Alaska, they have a chance… In fact my last trip to BKK was EVA SEA-TPE-BKK as a United award.

  7. SEA is IMO a poor choice. If I have to connect to get to BKK, I’d rather connect in HKG, TPE, or TYO than have a domestic connection on AS. SFO or LAX would make way more sense.

    Not surprised though they are considering codesharing with AS. TG and UA do not currently codeshare at all.

  8. I’ve seen fares between LAX and either Bangkok or Chiangmai Mai at $403 r/t, if you can tolerate flying China Eastern. I would originate from Kansas City, and have enough Southwest points, so it wouldn’t cost me much more than what China Eastern charges. The flights listed from several cities to Bangkok for $300 r/t were very attractive price wise, until all the dates only allowed one full day in Bangkok. I’m still looking for an April trip of about 2 weeks and will continue to check my Facebook account for postings.

  9. @Henry LAX I don’t see TG leaving *A as they are a founding member.

    I’d love to see SFO/LAX but it will be tough for TG to get feed from UA due to the JV with NH. I’m assuming UA would rather get a cut of the revenue from a JV than code share with TG.

  10. In theory it makes sense geographically. It opens up the entire country for connections whereas SFO would lose connecting travel to the Northwest. A partnership with Alaska would be crucial in this and if created would prove a very worthy gateway. I see for example a perfectly timed DCA to BKK codeshare that would make my life easy with an Alaska/Thai partnership. SEA is also a great airport to connect to INTL and, should I want a layover, a much more affordable and pleasant city for a night (imho) than SFO which can be exorbitant. Even if originating in LA I would much rather connect in SEA given the horrific weather delays and misconnects that plague SFO. Perhaps in time Thai will regain its prestige and famed service it was once known for. It was such an amazing experience back in the day and if they can come back to an SQ level New York may also work well. The only downfall is BKK and its odd positioning as a hub. Only locations like SE China or Vietnam make it practical and in line. And, of course, beach destinations in Thailand but which have fallen out of favor over the years to high yield passengers.

  11. Thai would do well to stay away from “bragging” routes, and just do what is small and profitable. I know that’s tough to resist as a political/state airline, but it would be more sensible.

    Korea/Japan is about as far as they should go in radius. Not enough business travel going to Thailand to warrant farther.

  12. Everyone and their mother is visiting Thailand these days, so theres HUGE demand thats for sure. But Seattle???? Has to be LAX.

  13. Hat tip to VillageFlyer, whose comment I was going to make, though s/he made it with a brevity of words I simply don’t possess.

    Seattle is TG’s “first relationship” in the USA.

  14. I remember the New York to BKK flights some time ago and would absolutely love to see that route make a come back as I am constantly flying between either ewr/phl to BKK. No stopover is worth a few hundred.

  15. Yes I remember those routes and flew them.

    If TG codeshares and has joint fares with AS, they can offer 1-stop routings to a ton of cities: PDX, SMF, SJC, OAK, SFO, LAS, LAX, SNA, SAN, PHX, DEN, DFW/DAL, IAH, ORD are all high frequency connections, and depending on flight times potentially many others like BOS, DTW, MSP, EWR, PHL, DCA, ATL, MCO, FLL, RDU, BNA, OMA, STL… Maybe it could pencil out

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