October 1 is a remarkable day for Thai AirAsia, the giant low-cost airline. It will move its operation base from Suvarnabhumi airport to Don Muang airport. The relocation will bring about 10,000 more passengers to Don Muang airport per day, according to Airports of Thailand (AoT). At present, Don Muang services flights for Nok Air, OrienThai, Solar Air and charter flights. AoT expects more low-cost airlines to follow suit. With the move, Don Muang then will be known among passengers as a low-cost airline hub.
The move of the airlines has quickened airport development, including an increase in the number of immigration officers at passport control, food outlets and the return of duty free shops. Transport Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat was satisfied Don Muang would be ready for full commercial operation on Oct 1.
But what is it like from a passenger's point of view. I checked the airport facilities to find out.
Let's start with a passenger drop-off area at the departure hall of Terminal 1. The area is congested with traffic although I was there at 6am. The cause of the bad traffic was that the AoT allocated a left lane of an elevated road for VIP parking. Thanks to the privileged few, suddenly the two-lane road is good for only one car at a time. When another vehicle approaches the Y-junction from the Tollway exit, each car has to wait its turn.
Furthermore, there are more cars parking in front of the terminal with a line of plastic traffic cones. These cars do not pay parking fees and cause trouble for passengers who cannot get off at the first few gates. The situation is worse if you take a taxi because you are forced to get off at later gates at the end of the terminal.
My checklist moves on to the transportation between the two airports. The minister ordered the AoT to prepare for the link.
The AoT shows its readiness by running four to eight shuttle buses hourly from 5am to 10pm.
Did I mishear something?
The number of buses is too low and the bus will leave the station every hour. Who will benefit from this service? What if you happen to be on a late flight? You have to catch a taxi.
When Don Muang was Bangkok's only airport, there was an airport bus service linking the airport to downtown areas. Although the schedule clearly showed a bus would leave the station every 20 minutes, I remember that I sometimes had to wait 30 minutes or more without hope of boarding the bus on time. The main reason for the delay was the traffic congestion in town and also on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, especially when it rained, and the situation has never improved.
When the shuttle bus service between the two airports is operating, I wonder who will be patient enough to wait for the hourly departure.
The AoT will also limit the passenger seats by offering the service to those who already have tickets to show that they really need to go to either Don Muang or Suvarnabhumi. Because the shuttle bus is free and the AoT is afraid that someone will take advantage of its kindness. Really?
An alternative service for connecting flight passengers, which has been offered since Aug 1, is to take public bus No. 555.
The bus drives inside Don Muang airport and picks up passengers at the arrival hall. However, it is a little complicated for foreigners to take the bus from Suvarnabhumi to Don Muang airports because the AoT does not allow passengers to board the bus at the arrival hall. They have to first board an airport shuttle bus to go to the bus terminal, 20 minutes away, then take bus No. 555 to Don Muang.
Tired yet? If not, prepare for more. The public bus does not have a luggage area and it stops at every bus stop requested by the passengers. The travel time between the airport and downtown areas is at least two hours.
Although a light traveller may take a public van operated by private companies, the service does not extend to the arrival and the departure halls of both airports.
Do not even think about taking the Airport Rail Link service because the convenient transportation has not yet been extended to Don Muang airport although we all know that the express rail link is the best option.
The project was raised five years ago and is still a plan. The minister has the ambitious hope that this link will be complete in 2016. We will see.
If there is a passenger survey on the top 10 worst cities for connecting flights, I think Bangkok will surely join the list with Manila and Delhi. You know what I mean.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe