Up in the air: Lucky Air launches Phuket service

PHUKET: Good news for Phuket’s tourism industry came with the July 16 launch of thrice-weekly services between Kunming and Phuket by Lucky Air, China’s fastest growing airline.

Lucky Air, with its hub at Kunming Changshui International Airport (KMG), is 40 per cent owned by parent company Hainan Airlines Group. In operation since 2006, it has demonstrated phenomenal growth in recent years with an expansion of services inside China, where it provides services at 12 domestic airports.

Lucky Air’s growth has hardly been limited to its operations out of KMG, China’s seventh busiest airport through which over 33 million passengers transited last year.

Lucky Air launched its first international route from Guiyang, China, to Singapore early last year.
Its first routes to Thailand followed shortly thereafter with the launch of a thrice-weekly service from Kunming to Samui Island, making it the first Chinese carrier to offer a service to Surat Thani’s premier resort island.

The next step was the introduction in early February of midnight flights from Kunming to Krabi International Airport, putting it in direct competition with China Eastern Airlines, which also uses KMG as a hub.

The Phuket flights will operate three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. This route is also served by China Eastern Airlines, which likewise operates a service three times a week.

The flight takes off from KMG at 8:35am, covering a distance of about 2,000 kilometers in about three hours and lands in Phuket at 10:35am, local time. The return flight leaves Phuket at 11:40am and lands at 3:40pm. (Kunming is one hour ahead of Thai time.)

In addition to serving mainland Chinese tourists wanting to visit Phuket, the flights will make it easier for many ethnic Han Chinese in Phuket to visit Kunming.

To facilitate foreign air passengers wishing to transit through Kunming and see some of the local attractions, Kunming Airport authorities offer most foreign visitors with third-country visas a ‘transit without visa’ option, lasting 72 hours from the time of arrival.

This option is open to foreigners from 51 countries with clearly detailed departure information from KMG within the 72-hour time frame, which cannot be extended.

However, it cannot be used by people with round-trip flights and those using this option can only travel inside the administrative region of Kunming City.

Also important to note is that Thailand is not listed among the countries which qualify for the ‘transit without visa’ option.

However, the option might prove useful to Phuket’s legions of ‘visa runners,’ as Thailand has a consulate in Kunming City with a one-day turnaround time for most non-immigrant visa applications. There is also a Lao consulate there for those wishing to continue their travels in that country.

But Lucky Air appears to have a long way to go to tap into the Thai and expat markets.

For a start, the carrier’s website (www.luckyair.net) is in Chinese language only, and the airline has yet to establish much of a presence in popular online English-language booking sites. However, similar flights on rival airways, such as AirAsia, start at about 15,500 baht round trip, but they have very long stopovers – as long as nine hours – in Bangkok.

— Stephen Fein

Thai Life

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