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R.O.A.R.: Hotelier’s view on Bangkok airport closure

Andrew J. Wood  Nov 27, 2008

The present situation is the airport is now closed to all incoming and departing flights and THAI Intl (TG), the national carrier, has switched some of its flights to the old international airport at Don Meuang, in the north of Bangkok and to other provincial airports.

Anti-government PAD protesters hoping to block the return of Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, from the recently concluded APEC meeting in Peru, will be thwarted as informed sources have indicated the flight will be switched away from the Bangkok trouble spot to Chiang Mai.

All passengers are being asked to contact the airport information hot line [tel +66 2 131 1888] for updated information and to contact their local airline offices. Hotel guests and passengers can also check with the TAT office and for passengers worried about over staying visas, they can contact the Thai Immigration Dept.

Hotels are seeing many cancellations, particular group travel, as overseas tour operators remain uncertain as to when the airport will re-open. Up to last night all air traffic landing at Suvarnabhumi has done so without incident and passengers were able to leave the airport terminal.

Departure flights, however, were disrupted stranding 3,000 passengers in the terminal. Arriving aircraft are now being diverted away from Bangkok. Passengers due to travel in the next few days are being advised to contact their airline prior to departure.

Officials at the airport are hopeful that the airport will re-open quickly, however PAD demonstrators have yet to indicate their intentions after the arrival of the embattled Prime Minster to his homeland. One fear expressed by a leading Thai travel executive is that the 3,000 stranded passengers will become the latest pawns in a political tug of war.

The tourism industry is putting its best face forward in dealing with the travel chaos with help-lines and extra staff. November is the high season for tourist arrivals to Thailand, close to 15 million are expected this year. Many locals are also attempting to visit Mecca for the annual Haj. Pilgrims were reportedly camping outside airline offices in downtown Bangkok as well as those stranded at the airport itself. Airport sources have indicated that they are trying to get an Iranian 747 prepared to help pilgrims travel to Mecca.

As flights start to cancel from their homeports, airline managers are hoping extra flights can be quickly arranged to clear the back log once the airport returns to normal.

Many are hopefully that the political demonstrators will move away from the airport once they realize the PM will not be landing there. One airport official said if that was the case the airport could be operating normally within days, however the mood at the airport is not ‘friendly’. PAD demonstrators may well stay until the government takes action or as the demonstrators hope, until the PM steps down.

Newspaper reports that calls to the Army by the provincial governor Mr. Kwanchai Wongnitikorn, responsible for Suvarnabhumi airport, asking the army to provide back up support to the police, went unheeded. The demonstrators there were able to break through the police cordon as several thousand supporters marched to the terminal building, effectively blocking the main entrance and paralyzing passenger’s movements.

Army Chief General Anupong Paojinda continues to reiterate that there will be no coup.

Bangkok based tour operators visiting the airport since early this morning report that the hygiene situation at the airport is quickly deteriorating with limited toilets and washrooms. Food outlets also are struggling to keep up with demand with food supplies dwindling. This is likely to become critical if PAD supporters block supply routes to the 3,000 stranded travelers.

For the sake of Thailand’s battered tourism industry, already reeling from the economic downturn, manyhope that this new blow to the industry can pass peacefully, without further disruption and the mood at the airport does not deteriorate further.

Andrew Wood is the general manger of Bangkok’s Chaophya Park Hotel & Resort and is a vocal member of Skal InternationaL

R.O.A.R.:  Hotelier’s view on Bangkok airport closure
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