Thai Airways ensures grounded flying fans can still take off

The airline is selling time on its flight simulators to wannabe pilots while its catering division is serving meals in a flight-themed restaurant complete with airline seats and attentive cabin crew. (AP)
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Updated 08 October 2020

Thai Airways ensures grounded flying fans can still take off

  • The airline is trying to boost staff morale, polish its image and bring in a few coins
  • It offers a four-day “pilot experience” package, of which the simulator is a part, or access can also be bought to the simulator alone

BANGKOK: Have you imagined piloting a plane into world airports? Do you miss airline meals or want a taste of first-class food? Thai Airways has found a way to offer those experiences despite being grounded by the coronavirus and landing in bankruptcy court under crippling debt.
The airline is selling time on its flight simulators to wannabe pilots while its catering division is serving meals in a flight-themed restaurant complete with airline seats and attentive cabin crew. The airline is trying to boost staff morale, polish its image and bring in a few coins, even as it juggles preparing to resume international flights while devising a business reorganization plan.
If you’re nuts about aeronautics, it doesn’t get much better than this: a hands-on half-hour at the controls of an Airbus A380 simulator, yours for 20,000 baht ($640).
Since the pandemic has clipped airlines’ wings, Thai Airways devised the packages to keep its air crew motivated. It offers a four-day “pilot experience” package, of which the simulator is a part, or access can also be bought to the simulator alone.
So far, almost 100 customers have savored the thrill of a virtual takeoff and landing at an airport of their choosing. A session last week featured Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, though the pilots say the most popular choice has been Tokyo.
The oldest trainee so far has been 77, the youngest 7.
The cockpit is an exact copy, pilots said, even down to the feel of the buttons.
For aspiring flyer Chawanrut Suttiworrapong, one of a group of 11 booked in last week, it was a tantalizing glimpse of her dream job.
“I am very excited, especially when you get to see something that looks so close to real flying,” said the 25-year-old student from Bangkok. “It makes me realize what a beautiful workspace this profession has. I hope one day I can be in that position.”
The pilot managing the project says it’s the kudos, not the cash, that count.
“The income is secondary. The real objective is to keep the relationship with Thai Airways passengers,” Capt. Chaisupatt Mulsrikaew said. “We miss our passengers, too.”
Despite often ranking among the world’s top airlines, Thai Airways is in deep financial trouble.
Losses have piled up since the pandemic forced it to all but suspend its operations. By May it was carrying an estimated debt burden of almost 300 billion baht ($9.6 billion).
Only when its reorganization plan is approved will the airline’s cost in staff, routes and reputation become clear.
But to judge by the buzz at its new restaurant you’d never know anything was amiss.
The Royal Orchid Dining Experience opened in September, transforming what was the old staff canteen. Managers say 800 people dine there a day.
For those who pine to dine above the clouds, it has it all: cabin crew bringing cold drinks on Thai Airways trays and superior airline food served on Thai Airways tableware to be eaten with Thai Airways cutlery in seating familiar to every aircraft passenger.
There are three classes of food and service: First, Business and walk-in, priced accordingly.
The atmosphere is so festive it’s easy to forget the reason it’s there. Like the simulator access, it engages staff and brings in revenue.
“When COVID-19 spread, I think just since this March 2020, the flights dramatically decreased,” said restaurant manager Thanida Israngkul Na Ayudhya. “So we have nothing to do. We have no revenue. So that’s why we have to twist to do the on-ground business.”
For diners it’s about more than just food: It satisfies a craving for faraway places and happier times.
“This recalls my memory of being on board, on the plane, and I enjoy the time. I feel like even walking the aisle, I feel like I was on the plane and I enjoy so much,” said 58-year-old businesswoman Namphon Rassadanukul.


Tower of London ravens re-adapt to life after lockdown

Updated 19 October 2020

Tower of London ravens re-adapt to life after lockdown

  • The 1,000-year-old royal fortress was closed due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions
  • This raised fears the birds — known as the guardians of the Tower — would fly away to find another place

LONDON: Chris Skaife has one of the most important jobs in Britain. As Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, he is responsible for the country’s most famous birds.
According to legend firmly rooted in Britain’s collective imagination, if all the ravens were to leave the Tower, the kingdom would collapse and the country be plunged into chaos.
Coronavirus lockdown restrictions saw tourist attractions across the country close their doors, including the imposing 1,000-year-old royal fortress on the banks of the River Thames.
That left Skaife with an unprecedented challenge of how to entertain the celebrated avian residents, who suddenly found themselves with no one to play with — or rob food from.
It also raised fears the birds — known as the guardians of the Tower — would fly away to try to find tasty morsels elsewhere, and worse still, risk the legend coming to pass.
There are eight ravens in captivity in the Tower of London: Merlina, Poppy, Erin, Jubilee, Rocky, Harris, Gripp and George.
A royal decree, purportedly issued in the 17th century, stated there must be six on site at any one time but Skaife said he keeps two as “spares,” “just in case.”
They are free to roam the grounds but to prevent them from flying too far, their wings are trimmed back slightly.
Back in March when lockdown began, Skaife — who is in his 50s and a retired staff sergeant and former drum major in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment — was furloughed.
But he still came to work to look after his majestic feathered charges, rotating feeding and caring duties with his three assistants.
“During that period of time, the ravens didn’t actually see anybody,” he told AFP.
“There were slight changes that I noticed. For instance, I had to keep them occupied without the public being there (and) there were less things for them to do.
“So I gave them enrichment toys that would help them enjoy their day.”
With no people around, he put balloons, ladders and even mirrors in their cages to keep them entertained, and hid food around the Tower grounds for them to find.
Breakfast time involves Skaife, in the distinctive black and red uniform of the “Beefeaters,” distributing a meal of chicks and mice, which the ravens cheerfully devour.
Skaife’s favorite is Merlina, he reveals with a smile.
She has become an Internet favorite from his frequent posts and videos of her on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, which have more than 120,000 followers.
Once feeding time is over, he opens the cages on the south lawn to allow them to stretch their wings.
The Tower reopened its doors on July 10 but the pandemic has had a devastating effect on visitor numbers.
Some 60,000 people visited the Tower every week in October 2019 but it is now only 6,000, according to Historic Royal Palaces, which manages the site.
During the three-month national lockdown, Skaife said the ravens were given more freedom to explore other parts of the Tower.
But to be doubly sure they didn’t fly off completely, their wings were clipped back further.
The birds are now kept in their cages more often to make sure they eat enough, as there are slim pickings from the Tower’s rubbish bins because of the reduced footfall.
“I don’t particularly like doing it,” said Skaife.
He says the ravens may be kept in cages but the Tower is their real home.
“So, I would never want to keep a raven in an enclosure.”
Now, as life returns to a semblance of normality, the ravens are re-adapting to seeing more humans again and their old routine.
Skaife has looked after the ravens for the last 14 years, tending to their needs out of clear affection but also out of a sense of historic and patriotic duty.
“Of course, we don’t want the legend to come true,” he said.