100,000 passengers miss flights in 3 days

BANGKOK: Nearly 100,000 passengers have missed flights since protesters shut down Bangkok’s two main airports on Tuesday and the total could hit 300,000 as the shutdown continues, Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said yesterday.

“The total number could hit 300,000. When Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports are cleared, it will take 24 to 48 hours to verify aviation standards. It will take time to send people home,” he said after a meeting with 14 airlines yesterday, including Japan Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines and EVA Air.

The ministry will set up an emergency centre to help stranded travelers, whose number is estimated to be about 30,000 a day.

Four hotels will be chosen for airlines to operate check-in counters, where passengers can reschedule flights and pick up new tickets and be transferred by coach to U-tapao International Airport, 190km southeast of Bangkok. The centres are expected to start operating in the next 48 to 72 hours, the minister said.

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The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is to gather travelers’ information. Those put in priority groups will be sent home first, while their baggage will be shipped on later flights.

The TAT’s overseas offices have been instructed to slow down their activities promoting air trips even if the airports reopen soon. The offices are to focus more on trips on other transportation and encouraging more Thais to travel to compensate for the lower income from foreign travelers.

Weerasak said the ministry would host a discussion with representatives of the Customs Department, the Immigration Department and related private and government agencies over additional assistance measures.

Thai AirAsia chief executive officer Tassapon Bijleveld says he expects no more than 10 aircraft – belonging to Thai Airways International, Nok Air and Bangkok Airways – to operate from U-tapao, as most aircraft and equipment are locked up at the two airports and cannot be moved out. But U-tapao will be useful for incoming flights, he said.

“We have no power to bargain for the aircraft as the government itself could not,” he said. He also urged airlines with aircraft to extend help to other airlines’ stranded passengers, to restore Thailand’s tarnished image.

Finnair is planning four more flights to Phuket to repatriate passengers stuck in Bangkok. For details, click here.

Patee Sarasin, CEO of Thai budget carrier Nok Air, expects the airport shutdowns to be extended. “This will affect our business plan next year, but I don’t know how yet in the middle of chaos like this,” he said.

– Nation/Gazette News Pool

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