Sometimes it is necessary to dig a little deeper. A story is not always what it appears to be on the surface.
It’s true. A Thai Airways captain demanded first class seats for his off-duty pilot colleagues on a flight from Zurich to Bangkok last week. It is also true that when initially refused, he delayed the flight. The flight landed 1.5 hours late in Bangkok, taking off only after two passengers agreed to move to business class.
Thai Airways’ president issued an apology on Facebook:
As the top management of the company, I am sorry and apologize to all passengers who have affected by this non-professional conduct and delay. I also apologize to the passengers who were forced to move seats. I am liable for the passengers on the flight in the incident, and now invite all involved to examine the facts and take appropriate action, including measures to ensure this will not happen in the future.
If that were it, boy would I come down hard on the captain of the flight. What gall. What arrogance.
But there’s more to the story. Lucky lays out the issue nicely and in great detail, but I’m going to use bullet points instead:
- Zurich is not a three-cabin route for Thai Airways.
- 777-300s and 747-400s used on this route have first class cabins, but are sold as part of business class and service levels are identical to business class.
- It appears the pilots’ contracts guarantee first class seating on dead-heading flights.
- The captain refused to take off because he did not want to set a precedent for seating off-duty pilots in business class
- Two business class passengers who had snagged first class seats eventually agreed to row 16, thus ending the impasse.
If You Give Them An Inch, They Take A Mile
As I get older, I’m realizing more and more that if you give an unscrupulous person an inch, he takes a mile. I cannot read Thai and and thus am going off Google Translate, but if Thai off-duty pilots are guaranteed first class seats, I cannot fault them for exercising that right.
Had the pilots just said, okay, we’ll take business class, a bad precedent would have been set. Thai Airways may have felt emboldened to require this more often. Perhaps this whole issue was an error by out-station staff that led to upgrades for passengers who should not have received first class seats. Or perhaps the pilots decided last-minute that they wanted to get back to Bangkok. I don’t know. I just think labor contracts should be respected by both sides.
For the record, I do not like to see pilots in first class. Business Class should be enough (though business class on Thai Airways leaves much to be desired…). But my personal opinion does not matter. If Thai Airways and their pilots agreed to first class seats, Thai Airways should respect that contractual right.
It is too bad that most passengers on the flight got caught in the middle of this snafu. This delay is also a poor testament of labor relations at Thai Airways. Even so, sometimes you just cannot roll over and be taken advantage of.
image: Thai Airways