Thai Airways ensures grounded flying fans can still take off

BANGKOK (AP) - Did you imagine piloting an airplane in world airports? Are you missing airline meals or would you like to try some first class food? Thai Airways has found a way to offer these experiences despite being grounded from the coronavirus and ending up in bankruptcy court under crippling debt.
The airline sells time with its flight simulators to would-be pilots, while the catering department serves meals in a flight-themed restaurant, airline seats and attentive cabin crew. The airline is trying to improve employee morale, improve its image and cash in a few coins, even as it prepares to resume international flights, while also making a plan to restructure the business.
If you're into aviation, it doesn't get much better: a handy half hour at the controls of an Airbus A380 simulator, yours for 20,000 baht ($ 640).
As the pandemic cut the airlines off the wings, Thai Airways developed the packages to motivate the flight crew. It offers a four day "Pilot Experience" package that includes the simulator, or access to the simulator can be purchased on its own.
So far, almost 100 customers have enjoyed the thrill of a virtual take-off and landing at an airport of their choice. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport was featured in a meeting last week, despite pilots saying Tokyo was the most popular choice.
The oldest trainee was 77 so far, the youngest 7.
The cockpit is an exact copy, the pilots said, except for the feel of the buttons.
For aspiring aviator Chawanrut Suttiworrapong, one of a group of 11 booked last week, it was an enticing glimpse at her dream job.
"I'm very excited, especially when you see something so close to real flying," said the 25-year-old student from Bangkok. “I realize what a nice place to work this job is. I hope that one day I can be in this position. "
The pilot who manages the project says it's the praise, not the money, that counts.
“Income is secondary. The real goal is to maintain the relationship with Thai Airways passengers, ”said Captain Chaisupatt Mulsrikaew. "We also miss our passengers."
Although Thai Airways is often one of the world's leading airlines, it is in great financial trouble.
The losses have piled up since the pandemic forced them to all but cease operations. As of May, it had an estimated debt burden of nearly 300 billion baht ($ 9.6 billion).
Only when the restructuring plan is approved will the airline's costs for staff, routes and reputation become clear.
But judging by the excitement in his new restaurant, you would never know that something was wrong.
The Royal Orchid Dining Experience opened in September and transformed the old canteen. Managers say 800 people dine there a day.
For those who want to dine above the clouds, everything is there: cabin crew bringing cold drinks on Thai Airways trays and first-class airline food on Thai Airways dishes to be eaten with Thai Airways cutlery in seats that everyone can enjoy Aircraft passengers are familiar.
There are three classes of food and service: First, business and walk-in, price accordingly.
The atmosphere is so festive that it's easy to forget why it's there. Like simulator access, it involves employees and generates income.
"When COVID-19 spread, I don't think flights have dropped dramatically until March 2020," said restaurant manager Thanida Israngkul Na Ayudhya. “So we have nothing to do. We have no income. So we have to turn to do the business locally. "
For guests, it's about more than just food: it satisfies the need for distant places and happier times.
“It reminds me of my memory of being on board, on the plane, and I enjoy the time. I feel like I'm even walking down the aisle, I feel like I'm on a plane and I have so much fun, ”said 58-year-old businesswoman Namphon Rassadanukul.

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