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Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt?

Tim Newton

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Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | The Thaiger
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PHOTO: Groovy air-hostesses from the late 1960s when flying was more glamourous. “Now everyone can fly” and that’s brought us to where we are now.

There used to be a time when flying was a pleasure, an expensive pleasure. The passengers were part of the ‘jet-set’, and they could smoke cigarettes and sit in wide, comfortable seats. They would dress up because it was ’special’.

It’s no longer special. In fact it’s really much of a drudge these days as the modern airline travel is more like sitting in a thin aluminium flying bus, than a magical flying machine. The pleasure has gone, the fares have dropped dramatically and now ‘everyone can fly’. It’s become a business and you are merely an entry on the account ledger.

Security and queues are now just a fact of life for the modern traveller. Urrggghhh.

But some of the conventions of modern flying are just plain silly.

Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | News by The Thaiger

Priority boarding

When you book your flight you either get to choose your seat or have one allocated for you when you check in at the airport. No matter if you get on board first or last, you’ll be sitting in the seat allocated to you.

At some airports, and especially with some of the low-cost airlines, you may end up with a short bus trip to your aircraft as the airline chooses not to pay for an air-bridge or traffic at the terminal means there are no gates left at the time. Either way, the bus trip is a real turkey-shoot as to which order you’ll arrive at the actual plane. If you’re not in the first bus you’re not going to be first on the plane. Yes, a priority boarding seat may allow you to get onto the plane first – whoopy doo! You’ll arrive at your destination at exactly the same time.

Of course priority seating often comes as a perk for a more expensive fares along with other nice add-ons which some fliers prefer.

But, some airlines proudly offer this ‘service’ as a one-off benefit, for a price. And people pay for it. Go figure.

Fastening your seat belt

Really? You need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt. You’ve navigated your way through seventeen cheap airline websites and been able to figure out a credit card payment, AND found your way to the airport. But you don’t know how to snap a seatbelt in place?

Flight attendants must wince every time they hold the demo-belt above their head and ‘snap’ the two pieces into place during the safety demonstration.

What did you do in the car on the way to the airport? Stare at that think hanging on the seat and the buckle tucked away on the other side and wondered what they do?

Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | News by The Thaiger

Mobile phones

“Please ensure that you’re mobile phone is switched off.”

Since mobile phones became a thing airlines and aircraft manufacturers have been trying to reconcile if the mobile phone signal can do anything to disturb the workings of the electronic and communication systems on the airplanes.

IF there was any possible reason that, indeed, the operation of your phone and the signals it emits could do ANYTHING to affect the workings of the aircraft, you would have them confiscated at the gate and that’s that!

As it is, when asked to turn the phones off, many don’t. Me, I’ve often just forgotten to turn it off and realised it was on all the time sitting in the bottom of my bag. The plane still managed to arrive at its destination.

Of course you should always comply with the instructions of the well-trained cabin attendants in their spiffy uniforms. I suspect there’ll be a day when turning off your mobile phone will be a thing of the past.

Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | News by The Thaiger

Safety demonstrations

The compulsory aircraft safety demonstration is little changed over the centuries. Some airlines have tried to sex it up a bit recently with celebrity video versions. The idea here is to get you to laugh whilst being bored sideways, instead of just being bored.

The bottomline is that the VAST majority of passengers will never need to know any of this information. And if the air masks drop from the locker above that will usually mean there is some sort of severe turbulence or cabin depressurisation whereby not a single person will be casually reaching for the mask and wondering if the bag is inflating or not. You’ll likely be just another of the screaming, terrified passengers shitting themselves.

Ditto for making sure I have the “tab safely secured around my waist” if I need to put on a life jacket. As for the whistle to ‘get attention’, I’ll be blowing on that bit of plastic LOUD AND CLEAR.

80s TV fitness guru Richard Simmons made a comeback for Air New Zealand hosting their safety demonstration.

Duty free

Has anyone ever bought anything at an airport duty free store, for less than you can get it outside the airport or online? If so, tell us what it was and which airport so we can witness the miracle first hand.

Certainly in Thailand, Duty Free is a cynical scam that nets the AoT (Airports of Thailand) billions of baht in profits every year. And not much less for the airport vendors, King Power. Guess who’s getting the good deal? It isn’t the passenger.

Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | News by The Thaiger

Airline food

No one ever flew on a plane because of the food. No one. There was a time, a LONG time ago, when your meal actually came on a plate with a stainless steel knife and fork. Those days are long gone (unless you’re up the pointy end of the plane) and now we have to put up with a stale sandwich, a piece of cake or nothing at all. If you fly on many of the discount airlines they actually have a menu and you can choose what you want, or don’t want, to eat (which I prefer).

Or take your own. Many airlines frown on people taking their own sandwich but I’m yet to hear of a passenger thrown out of the plane for this transgression.

Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | News by The Thaiger

Seat width

If you’re sitting on any of the single-aisle smaller jets like the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, the workhorses of all airlines for short-haul routes, then you are going to be sitting in almost the same seat, no matter what the airline. Of course, if you’re flying business or premium, or sitting in the front or an exit row, you will have more leg room.

Some of the larger planes have ‘slightly’ wider seats and the new Airbus 220 aircraft actually DOES have wider seats. But most of the time you’re packed in the same sardine can on the same seat.

Airlines are run by accountants and the bottomline means packing in as many seats as possible. There may be an inch here or a centimetre there, but the seats in economy are going to be much of a muchness. As far as the width of your seat is concerned, in the B737 and A320s, they are all exactly the same because the planes are the same width and there are six seats across. No fancy maths will make your seat any wider, no matter what the airlines tell you, or how you ‘feel’. You’re sitting in much the same seat, get over it.

Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | News by The Thaiger

Arrival

The plane has come to a stop. Quick, stand up immediately and open the overhead lockers.

And then wait for 5 minutes whilst the air bridge is brought across to the plane and the crew go through the process of opening the doors.

Apparently, you MUST stand up as soon as the plane comes to a stop at the arrival gate. Suddenly there are 100-200 people all standing up in the aisle. Waiting.

Why?

Perhaps it is a good idea to just wait until people forward of you have gotten off the plane then, when your turn comes, get up, grab your bag, and walk off the plane.

Absurdities of modern flying, and do we really need to be shown how to fasten a seat belt? | News by The Thaiger

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

Tourism

Record number of tourism firms quitting Covid-ravaged sector for good

Maya Taylor

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Record number of tourism firms quitting Covid-ravaged sector for good | The Thaiger
PHOTO: MGN

As the devastating economic effects of Covid-19 restrictions persist, a record number of Thai tourism operators are quitting the sector for good. The number of tourism firms surrendering their licences peaked last month, and around 70% of outbound agents have shut up shop indefinitely. The final nail in their collective coffin has been the Covid-19 resurgence, which originated in a seafood market in the central province of Samut Sakhon and has now spread to over 60 provinces.

The president of the Thai Travel Agents Association says around 10% of outbound tour operators have returned their licences to the Tourism Department. Suthiphong Pheunphiphop says 2,598 tourism operators have left the sector for good, unable to survive having no international tourists for nearly a year now. He says the last quarter of 2020 saw the highest number of companies de-registering, at 765. Of those, 293 quit last month.

Suthiphong says domestic tourism may pick up again by April, but this depends on how effective the government is at bringing the second wave of the virus under control. He adds that with the arrival of spring in many parts of the world in the coming months, global infections may fall, but it’s still a waiting game.

“Operators have to wait and see how things turn out in June The outlook for the outbound market is the most difficult to predict as the industry faces highly uncertain factors such as vaccine efficacy and policies in each destination to allow the flow of tourists.”

The TTAA says that in 2019, 11 million Thai tourists spent 430 billion baht on overseas trips. Last year, that plummeted to 1 million spending 50 billion baht. The association has postponed the Thai International Travel Fair, which was due to take place in February. It is now scheduled for August 26 – 29.

According to a Bangkok Post report, the Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn will meet Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin this week, in order to discuss a co-payment scheme to protect those employed in the tourism industry. It’s understood the proposal is to subsidise 50% of monthly salaries, up to a maximum of 7,500 baht per employee.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived.

The Thaiger

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Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived. | The Thaiger

OPINION

The Thai Government, flushed with the success of their containment of Covid-19, decided to market the Land of Smiles to the world as the safe place to travel. With the annual wet season starting to weaken the tourists would flock back to the S E Asian country that had such remarkable success containing, then almost eradicating, itself of the coronavirus.

They floated the Phuket Model – a chance to visit Phuket and do your mandatory quarantine in a luxury hotel with walks along the almost deserted beaches. But Phuket’s locals didn’t like that idea. It was floated again just before the annual Vegetarian Festival on the island, because piercing yourself with sharp objects and wandering around the streets in big groups isn’t dangerous, but a few foreign tourists in hotel quarantine is.

Then they came up with the STV – the tourist visa which would have the world’s eager travellers packing their sun cream for up to 270 days of Thai tourism.

There were promises of plane loads of tourists and even published flights and carriers. A few flights arrived, most didn’t.

In fact, since the start of the STV, the Special Tourist Visa, with its long list of restrictions and requirements, was floated, along with a re-vamped Tourist Visa, less than 400 people have arrived per month, on average, since the end of October. In the October and November of the year before more than 3 million people arrived in Thailand. Even the government’s limit of 1,200 new tourist arrivals per month was even slightly tested.

The government had bought all the streamers and a pretty new dress for the party but no one came.

For the Army generals and public servants who ran the country it was a devastating loss of face. But they had other things to worry about at the time as the Thai youth were revolting, literally. Anti-government protests, whilst modest in size, were inconveniently demanding democracy at the same time as the government was trying to figure out how to attract tourists. They were also targeting, for the first time, the country’s revered monarchy and the man who currently sits on the Thai throne.

Suddently it was high season, the annual onslaught of tourists from the end of November, but popular spots like Phuket, Samui, Krabi, all the other islands, even Chiang Mai, just remained mostly devoid of tourists.

Meanwhile the STV wallowed in its own failure – another failed response to the reboot of Thai tourism.

What went wrong?

Where was the much-anticipated pent-up demand and people banging on the doors of the world’s Thai embassies?

It was the European winter and the ‘snowbirds’ would surely be back to soak in some Thai sun rays. But no.

The first problem was there wasn’t much for them to come back to. They would have the beaches of the islands all to themselves, they wouldn’t have to wait in line for anything, the domestic airlines were still selling low fares to travel anywhere around the country.

But otherwise there wasn’t a lot for them to do. The tourism magnets were a shadow of their former selves. Walking Street, Bangla Road, tours and tour boats, all the tourist-strip restaurants. The buzz of the crowds was gone and more than 90% of the tourist-related business had closed up.

Their staff, their families, their bank loans, their stock and investments – all on hold and forced to find some other means to make ends meet. 931 of some of the larger official tourism operators have now gone out of business, according to Bloomberg News. There would be thousands more of the smaller family operations that have also been swept aside by the Thai government’s responses to the world pandemic.

The industry players wanted action, changes and some sort of stimulus to bring back the tourists. For a country that relied on up to 20% for its GDP, getting the tourists and travellers back was THE only thing on their mind. 2019’s tourism revenue of US$60 billion had vanished from their, and their employee’s, pockets.

But the government wouldn’t relax the quarantine rules and maintained the restrictions and paperwork that has turned off even the keenest Thai-ravellers.

An outbreak of clusters to the south of Bangkok and the nearby eastern coastal provinces since December 20 hasn’t helped. In less than a month Thailand’s number of Covid-19 infections more than doubled. Initially the latest outbreak was tracked down to the illegal import of Burmese migrant workers by greedy seafood businesses wanting cheap labour. Then it spread to eastern provinces – Rayong, Chan Buri, Trat and Chanthaburi – through illegal gambling dens. In both cases the practices were things the local officials turned a blind eye to. The use of cheap, illegal migrant labour and illegal gambling were both popular pursuits but ‘underground’. It was a rude awakening for Thai officials that, this time, the enemy was within.

Street after street in Pattaya is deserted, shops shuttered. Parts of Phuket’s Patong are a ghost town. The island’s ubiquitous tuk tuks, taxis and tourist vans have vanished (where?!). Most of Bangkok is ‘sort of’ back to normal but there are few tourists topping up the retail till or booking rooms in the tens of thousands of hotels. Average occupancy rates, even for the brave hotels that have re-opened their doors, has been less than 30% – bottomline, they’re losing money.

On the upside, if you are living in Thailand, the plane fares remain cheap, hotels have slashed their prices and, for the first time, many renters will consider a discount. The Thai government has been active in stimulating the domestic tourism but apart from circulating the local currency, the country’s tourism industry remains on-hold until the pandemic passes. And that, as we’ve seen, won’t be any time soon.

The world’s travellers, now a much smaller groups than the masses that fuelled the world’s aviation industry in the past few decades, are not heading to Thailand to front up to a 14 day quarantine. They’re going to the Maldives and Costa Rica, and a handful of other resorts who have thrown caution to the wind – some with greater success than others. Just about every survey indicates that tourists, even business travellers, are not willing to stare down 14 days couped up in a 20-30 square metre hotel room. For many of the hotels that rushed to be registered as ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) facilities, many have dropped out, some of them are now closed.

The stakes are now really high for Thailand and its tourism industry. The government, despite demands, is refusing to reduce the quarantine time or lessen the long list of restrictions and paperwork. The country has now lost it’s glossy veneer as the ‘safe country to visit’ and the annual high season will be coming to a close in a month or so.

Chinese New Year and the annual flood of Chinese visitors to Thailand? Won’t be happening in 2021, the Chinese year of the Ox.

The other ‘elephant in the room’ was the high value of the Thai baht against the currencies of some of the traditional feeder markets. Whilst the Thai baht has been relatively steadfast, many of these currencies have dropped in value against the THB. The perception was that Thailand as becoming too expensive to travel. But 2019 was still the biggest year for tourism on record, despite this often-wheeled out prediction of a tourism apocalypse.

The only hope on the horizon is the vaccine, or vaccines. The early global roll out is just that, early. It will take 6 – 12 months to see if the hard work of the world’s medical and scientific community will be the great saviour.Certainly, a risk-averse Thailand will be limiting any tourism in the immediate future to vaccinated customers. only, and (as stated policy) they will still have to do the 14 day mandatory quarantine, at least in the short-to medium term. Same with the world’s airlines. So Thailand’s tourism woes, especially in the hotspots – Pattaya, Phuket, the islands, Chiang Mai and Bangkok – will reverberate throughout 2021 as well.

Thailand’s economy contracted 6% in 2020 but some economists are predicting a positive turn-around to a 3.5 – 4.5% improvement in 2021. Even the ever-optimistic Thai Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, says that there will be 10 million arrivals in 2021. The actual numbers, even in the best of circumstances, will fall well below that prediction. Exactly where the tourists would come from, under the current circumstances and a global depression, is difficult to imagine.

In 2020 the buzz word in the tourism industry was ‘closure’. In 2021 it will be ‘management’.

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Drugs

Thai laws, how to stay out of jail in Thailand | VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Thai laws, how to stay out of jail in Thailand | VIDEO | The Thaiger

Thailand has plenty of laws, some of them applied more vigorously than others. Some not at all. But the ones they do apply can get you in hot water or, at worst, in a Thai jail. You DON’T want to end up there. Here’s a few of the better and lesser known Thai laws from The Thaiger. You can visit all our videos, and subscribe to our channel HERE.

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