'Lessons learned' from Phuket airport chaos

'Lessons learned' from Phuket airport chaos

Passengers stuck in Phuket as airline misses deadline set for maintenance work on runway

Airports of Thailand issued a statement on Friday to clarify delays at Phuket airport that involved around 300 passengers on Thursday night.
Airports of Thailand issued a statement on Friday to clarify delays at Phuket airport that involved around 300 passengers on Thursday night.

Following confusion at Phuket airport on Thursday night, with flight delays and runway closures causing hundreds of passengers to miss their late-night departures to Bangkok, related parties have reportedly learned their lesson and should be able to avoid repeating such mistakes again, according to a local business leader.

Bhumikitti Ruktaengam, advisory chairman of the Phuket Tourism Association, said all passengers booked on flights delayed on Thursday were rescheduled to depart on Friday morning.

The incident provided a "teachable moment" for airlines and airport authorities on how to prevent any repeat problems, he said.

Airports of Thailand (AoT) issued a statement on Friday to clarify the situation that involved around 300 passengers. AoT said Thai Vietjet flight VZ309 bound for Suvarnabhumi airport was unable to depart because it was overbooked and the authorities could not handle the situation in time, meaning the runway had already closed.

The overcapacity on flight VZ309 was attributed to the airline helping to carry extra passengers from an earlier flight -- VZ2305 -- which was cancelled as another aircraft at Suvarnabhumi airport was unable to fly to Phuket.

The airline reportedly moved all passengers aboard VZ309 to the terminal and they stayed in Phuket that night.

Mr Bhumikitti said the airline did not inform the airport in advance that it would need to use the runway beyond operating hours.

The airport previously made an announcement regarding the closure, preparing for essential engineering maintenance from 11.30pm to 7am. All airlines were told to comply with the schedule.

He said tourism operators earlier asked the AoT whether it was necessary to close the runway during the high season, when air traffic is busier than usual.

The AoT insisted it had already begun maintenance during the low season, but some repairs still needed to be completed. The company said the runway closure from 11.30pm to 7.30am will continue through April 2023.

"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," said Mr Bhumikitti.

Prior to the incident in Phuket, Woranate Laprabang, Thai Viejet's chief executive, said during a press conference that ground planning services at the airport are struggling because of a manpower shortage amid increasing air traffic.

The airline received a lot of complaints from passengers about delays at the baggage claim area, as it used ground services from Thai Airways International, which also reported insufficient staff. The airline is applying for the right to manage its own ground handling and baggage loading at both Bangkok airports.

Thai Vietjet admitted yesterday in a statement that many domestic flight delays on Dec 1 happened for operational reasons. The airline offered compensation to affected passengers, such as hotel stays, meals, a full refund option, change of flight without a fee, and a goodwill voucher worth 500 baht.

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