Contrary to what Thai authorities claim, Don Mueang airport appears not yet ready to resume international flights, as the South Korean budget carrier T'way Airlines says the problems it encountered has prompted it to halt service there.
Passengers wait in Don Mueang’s Terminal 2 yesterday. South Korea’s T’way Airlines has halted operations out of Bangkok’s original airport.
T'way, which said it was bombarded by "uncountable" complaints from Thai and foreign passengers alike, blasted Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) and Thai officials related to airport operations for failing to provide sufficient service and facilities to support international flights through Bangkok's old airport.
In a formal complaint submitted earlier this week to agencies including the Civil Aviation, Immigration and Customs departments, T'way regional manager Choi Byung-moon listed seven major deficiencies at the airport, which AoT earlier vowed would be ready by Aug 1.
"It is absolutely not ready. There is too much inconvenience for passengers," the frustrated South Korean executive told the Bangkok Post.
Among the problems faced by T'Way are too few check-in counters, no refund facilities for value-added tax (VAT), breakdowns of luggage carousels, lax security and a shortage of immigration officers.
The problems intensified between July 27 and Aug 8, part of the period of July 14-Sept 30 when the airline planned an additional daily service to Inchon through Don Mueang temporarily.
T'way was forced to introduce its second daily flight at Don Mueang after AoT denied it another slot at Suvarnabhumi due to the runway maintenance shutdown from June 11-Aug 1.
The airline has continued to operate its main daily Inchon service from Suvarnabhumi, where it has operated since last October using a B737-800 twin-engine single-aisle jet configured with 189 seats.
Mr Choi said that during the period specified in the complaint, only two check-in counters were available to serve the 270 passengers of both T'Way Air and PC Air, the Thai charter airline.
The counters opened only two hours ahead of boarding time, and the very slow check-in procedure did not leave passengers enough time to obtain their VAT refunds, he said.
That is, if there had been a VAT refund facility at Don Mueang, which there was not, a fact that further upset foreign passengers who had gone shopping in Thailand expecting the refund, said Mr Choi.
Most electric devices at Don Mueang were constantly out of order.
The luggage carousels did not worked properly, and bags had to be handled manually.
Luggage weighing scales seemed uncalibrated, while electronic signboards did not function.
Check-in counters had no operational computers, so boarding passes had to be printed in advance.
While seven immigration officers were promised, only two were provided for departures and two for arrivals, resulting in very long queues.
"So you had one officer serving 180 passengers, which is overwhelmingly unacceptable, and flights were delayed by one hour," said Mr Choi.
As well, he said the security checkpoint at immigration was "unreasonably reckless".
Whenever officials manning it were late, passengers would be passed through anyway without being scanned.
When their shift ended, they would just leave regardless of whether there were still any passengers waiting to be cleared, said Mr. Choi.
Aside from these hindrances, the South Korean airline found it cost 30,000 baht more to operate a flight through Don Mueang than Suvarnabhumi.
For example, Mr Choi said there is a 13,000-baht surcharge that T'way had to pay to have the flight's meals delivered from Suvarnabhumi to Don Mueang.
The additional costs apparently outweigh the incentives in terms of reduced landing and parking fees that AoT is offering in a bid to attract airlines to shift their bases to Don Mueang, he said.
Mr Choi said given the problems, T'way has decided to stop operating at Don Mueang and will consolidate flight operations at Suvarnabhumi alone.
Furthermore, the airline has no intention of ever returning to Don Mueang.
The problems encountered by T'way bode ill for AoT's attempts to attract airlines to Bangkok's original airport.
Many other international budget airlines have, in fact, not found the incentives offered by AoT in terms of discounted landing, parking and space rental fees enough to make the move to Don Mueang worthwhile.
So far, only one low-cost airline group, AirAsia, has committed to relocating entirely to Don Mueang, from Oct 1.
Thai-owned budget airlines Nok Air and Orient Thai already operate domestic flights out of Don Mueang.
Contacted yesterday, AoT president Anirut Thanomkulbutra declined to comment on the issue.
About the author
- Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business