After pandemonium at Phuket International Airport on Thursday night with a flight cancellation stranding 300 passengers overnight, airport and tourism authorities say they’re more prepared and it won’t happen again. It all started when budget airline Thai VietJet cancelled a flight from Phuket to Bangkok minutes before take-off last night because staff couldn’t find a seat for one passenger. But further details show the problems were compounded by maintenance that closed the runway overnight and an earlier flight cancellation from Bangkok.
The VietJet plane was already taxiing on the runway ready to fly to Bangkok on its scheduled 8.25pm departure. But over 300 passengers on board were then taken back to the terminal to deboard when an extra seat couldn’t be found. They sat waiting for a solution for three hours. Then the runway closed and Thai VietJet cancelled the flight, forcing passengers to stay in Phuket for an extra night. The airline rescheduled the flight which departed at 10.37am yesterday.
The runway closure that doomed the flight to an overnight stay was due to scheduled maintenance from 11.30pm to 7am. Phuket Airport had warned all airlines of the planned closure and instructed them to make special arrangements in advance if there was some need to use the runway outside the scheduled hours.
Airports of Thailand has received some flak for closing the runway as the High Season is ramping up, but they explained that the maintenance was ongoing during low season but needed more time. The overnight runway closing is expected to continue through April of next year.
More details emerged about why the flight was overbooked as well. An earlier flight had been cancelled after a plane at Suvarnabhumi Airport could not be flown to Phuket leaving the scheduled flight without an aircraft. All the passengers for that flight were bumped until the evening plane causing it to be overbooked and cancelled.
Thai VietJet has been experiencing operational problems causing delays. They blamed a lot of it on ground planning services being in short supply, causing baggage delays and flight operation confusion. The budget airline outsources its ground services to Thai Airways which has been struggling with staff shortages. Thai VietJet has comped passengers with 500 baht vouchers, hotel stays, full refunds, fee waivers, and even free meals to make up for the problems.
The advisory chairman of the Phuket tourism Association defended Phuket Airport while throwing shade at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
“Phuket Airport rarely deals with this kind of incident as the airport does not have ground-handling shortages like Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is causing a lot of flights to be delayed at the moment. Moreover, the airport also offers flexibility in terms of late-night usage, but airlines should inform the airport in advance if a delay is unavoidable.”