International Airlift Begins for Stranded in ThailandBy Garry | December 2nd, 2008 | Category: Airlines, News Reports, Politics, Tourism, Tourists, Travel Warnings | No Comments »
by Garry Harbottle-Johnson
CHIANG MAI, Thailand, 1 Dec 2008 – Several countries are making efforts to evacuate their nationals stranded in Thailand after anti-government protesters closed down the Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in Bangkok.
Australia‘s Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, said his government was working very hard putting pressure on the Thai airlines and on the Thai tourism authorities to try and get some Thai airline flights out. He said Canberra had urged Thai airlines and tourism authorities to provide extra flights out and accommodation for the hundreds of luckless Australian visitors. Australian airline Qantas would provide extra flights to Thailand, but that is dependent upon getting access to the airports and getting flights in, Smith said. Sources in Thailand state Quantas has some flights scheduled to arrive and depart from the U-Tapao military airfield south east of Bangkok.
The UK‘s British Airways is said to have a flight from Phuket tomorrow (Tuesday).
The British Embassy is operating a crisis centre with online resources. They have advised all Britons in Thailand to let them know where they are. Resources offered online include -
China had provided seven charter flights to repatriate its stranded nationals by Saturday, and had further flights planned for Sunday, Xinhua news agency said. The first of the flights arrived in Shanghai early on Sunday.
Germany‘s Lufthansa flew into Phuket Sunday night and is due to return again Monday night.
Japan‘s two major airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways said Sunday they are organising flights from the U-Tapao air base to bring back tourists stranded by mass protests.
Philippines‘ President Gloria Arroyo has ordered her foreign department to account for hundreds of Filipinos among those stranded in the Thai capital and asked that they be brought home to Manila from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
Spain plans to send three planes, two military aircraft and a chartered plane, to Thailand to bring back some 300 of its citizens. “Considering the special circumstances in Thailand, the Spanish government has decided to take action so that Spanish nationals affected by the continuing closure of the Bangkok airports can return home,” said a foreign ministry statement.
The U.S. embassy in Bangkok said it has asked the Thai foreign ministry to provide “appropriate compensation” to U.S. citizens stranded by the closure of Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports. Belga Press / Reuters / Agence France Press (AFP) have reported there will be an emergency meeting of NATO/OTAN in Brussels on Tuesday concerning the situations in India and Thailand, and that on Wednesday after the meeting, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will travel to India, and maybe to Thailand.
Other airlines including Qatar Airways, TransAero, and Austrian are using U-Tapao.
Self mobilising to escape Thailand is becoming more difficult for the growing number whose flights are cancelled and not replaced.
Reports from various sources state that all trains south to Malaysia and the Kuala Lumpur International aviation hub, are fully booked through to 8th December. Alternatives such as the Laos capital, Vientiane, are an arduous journey from Bangkok with no guarantee of flights available from the far smaller airport there. Flights from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai to Singapore (another regional aviation hub) are also reported as fully booked through to the 8th December.
The official Thai News Agency, TNA, said that stranded aircraft, from both domestic and international airlines, began leaving Suvarnabhumi Airport last night without any disruption from the anti-government protesters, the People’s Alliance for Demcocracy (PAD) who stormed and seized the international airport on Tuesday last week.
There were 88 aircraft stranded at the airport, 12 belonging to foreign airlines with 76 from Thai-based airlines including Thai Airways International and Thai Air Asia.
Overnight (Sunday night) 30 of the 88 aircraft left Suvarnabhumi without runway lights and or lights on the aircraft, as the authorities were afraid that the move would be disrupted by the protesters. The empty aircraft would be used for flights at airports such as U-Tapao, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and other regional airports to help stranded passengers return home.
Thai television news has broadcast two telephone numbers for passengers in Thailand to call if they need information regarding what flights will be available where. The numbers are 02-749-3974 and 02-749-3982.
Unconfirmed reports are stating that the Thai Government is offering to fund emergency accommodation for stranded passengers up to the value of 2,000 Thai Baht per night, and Thai Airways have been said to offer double this if the passenger is stranded due to cancellation of one of their flights. Payments would be made direct to the accommodation operators, not to the passengers.
Announcements were also made over the weekend to the effect that stranded passengers would not be charged the visa overstay fine of 500 Baht per day, if they could prove the current protests caused them to be unable to leave the kingdom before their visa expired.
Up to Sunday, there were some 100,000 Thai and foreign passengers stranded in Thailand, and abroad, due to the closure of the two main airports, Suvarnabhumi last Tuesday and Don Mueang airport last Wednesday. One report has claimed Suvarnabhumi will reopen tonight at 6pm, but that is seen as impossible by most observers.
Reuters have a very good article covering a wide range of the issues and critical events due at many junctures this coming week, which could possibly see the protests (and the current Thai government) end, but still not allow full airport operations until a week after authorities resume control of the facilities.
Criticism is now being levelled at the world’s media for focussing to heavily on the stranded passengers in Bangkok without recognition of the many stuck in Thailand’s provincial regions due to being unable to move towards the capital whilst no flights are leaving the country. Although some are stuck in areas where the cost of remaining is cheaper than in Bangkok, others are stuck in the more expensive resort locations such as Phuket, and running out of money fast. Others have family emergencies they cannot return for, or jobs, contracts, or businesses that need them in place.