Flight test: Thai Airways business class

THAI AIRWAYS INTERNATIONAL

THE ROUTE

Sydney to Bangkok

THE PLANE

Boeing 747-400

LOYALTY SCHEME

Thai's Royal Orchid Plus (Star Alliance), a smart program that doesn't limit points-redemption flights to family members.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END

Business (Royal Silk) class; window seat A14 upstairs in "the bubble".

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TIME IN THE AIR

Eight hours, 45 minutes; 10 am take-off.

THE SEAT STUFF

The so-called "shell seat" is roomy and supportive, reclining to a not-quite-flat bed. Upstairs window seats have big side bins for extra storage. All seats have 115V power outlets.

BAGGAGE

Checked baggage limit is 30 kilograms in business class (20 kilograms in economy) with an extra 20 kilograms for Royal Orchid Plus gold card frequent flyers. Business-class luggage is tagged priority and my bag and I arrive simultaneously at the carousel - rare for any airline, any airport.

COMFORT FACTOR

The cocoon-like top deck - my definite preference - always seems tranquil even when maxed-out with 32 passengers. (On this trip it is only half-full.) It feels like the first-class section of business class. Another 18 business-class passengers seated downstairs enjoy identical cabin service and facilities.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

The on-demand entertainment system includes touch-screen and handset controls. The system boasts 750 choices, including 100 movies, 150 TV shows, games and audio. Big, comfortable headphones minimise ambient noise and, once unplugged, aid reading and sleeping.

THE SERVICE

Thai promotes its service as "smooth as silk" and this trip matches the brag-line. Royal Silk passengers enjoy priority check-in and then can head to the shared Air New Zealand lounge, where it's easy to resist the basic buffet breakfast in anticipation of a better in-flight meal. Aboard, the upstairs cabin crew, all mature Thais, are responsive and friendly, though not intrusive, throughout the flight.

FEEDING TIME

A ritual gin and tonic after take-off is followed, about one hour out, by the first meal. There is a choice of four mains, including lamb, pork and fish, and a wine list that is strictly Francophile. Smoked salmon and fresh salad precede my main, a tasty panaeng gai (chicken curry) with rice. Topped off with a berry cheesecake, it makes a substantial brunch. The second, lighter meal — stir-fried noodles with prawns — is unremarkable but hits the spot. Passengers can order special meals prior to departure.

ONE MORE THING

Memo - the plane has been recently refurbished yet the stair carpet is already worn.

THE VERDICT

The original 747 "Jumbo" began commercial flights an almost unbelievable 44 years ago but, in frequently upgraded models, it remains a magnificent flying machine. More to the point, this flight was on time and with the cabin crew getting the details right without fuss.

FREQUENCY

Thai International flies Sydney-Bangkok 10 times a week, with morning and afternoon services. Melbourne has 12 weekly flights - afternoon and late-night departures - aboard Boeing 777s.

Tested by John Borthwick, who flew courtesy of the Tourist Authority of Thailand.

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