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Best Airlines to Bangkok (From US: either Chicago or NYC areas)

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I'm taking my first trip to Thailand in January (yay!) and I'll be departing from the NYC area while my travel partner will be coming from the midwest/Chicago area. We'd like to join up and fly the long flight(s) together which will mean one of us adding an additional leg to get to NYC or Chicago.

Any advice on which airlines to target for the most comfortable trip? I see Cathay Pacific offers several options out of Chicago (connecting Hong Kong), in some cases with a very long layover in HK (10-12 hours). Is this enough time to leave the airport and do a whirlwind city tour?

There's also a Lufthansa option which would "offer" a 12-hour layover in Frankfurt on the way out and break the flights into two more manageable lengths (again, same question, can we leave and see some of the city)?

And Japan Airlines offers well-timed flights from JFK to BKK via Tokyo (JFK to HND leg operated by American).

In general, which airlines do you prefer for a US to BKK flight? I'm guessing that decent food, entertainment options and comfortable seats (economy), could make a difference on such long flights (I've never flown further than Europe so I'm a little apprehensive about a 17-hour flight). Of course I want the best price, but I'm not willing to fly a crappy airline or bad route just to save a couple hundred dollars (and conversely, I'll pay a bit more for a good airline with more comfortable economy section). Any advice or additional factors to consider are much appreciated. I'll cross-post on the Asia forum.

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