THAI 'sorry' as pilots snag 1st-class seats

THAI 'sorry' as pilots snag 1st-class seats

Thai Airways International Plc (THAI) has launched a fact-finding probe into why two passengers were forced to give up their first-class seats to off-duty pilots deadheading from Zurich to Bangkok.

THAI president Sumeth Damrongchaitham said yesterday a panel has been set up to investigate the incident which has sparked a public outcry and affected the airline's image.

"I express sorrow and apologise to all passengers affected by the unprofessional action that caused the delay. And I apologise to the passengers who were directly affected by the seat changes. I take responsibility for the incident," Mr Sumeth said.

The incident reportedly involved THAI flight TG971 from Zurich to Bangkok on Oct 11. It was scheduled to depart at 1.30pm but the duty pilots refused to take off unless some first-class passengers agreed to give up their seats to two THAI pilots deadheading to Bangkok.

All of the first-class passengers initially refused to do so. After about two hours of delay, a couple finally vacated their seats so that the flight could depart and they later filed a complaint.

THAI sources said the incident happened after a Boeing 777-300 had an engine problem and could not fly from Zurich to Bangkok. As a result, another flight was sent to take the passengers and pilots of the first plane back. This resulted in insufficient seats in first class for the pilots.

A THAI pilot said under the company regulations, the airline used to reserve some first-class seats for pilots aimed at allowing them to have enough rest hours based on aviation safety standards.

But on this flight, all seats in first class were taken.

However, Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) director-general Chula Sukmanop said the reserving of first-class seats for use by pilots has nothing to do with the safety requirements of the CAAT and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and is a procedure adopted by the airlines themselves.

THAI labour union president Damrong Waiyakanee said yesterday the case has severely affected the airline's image and criticised the off-duty pilots.

He said the plane has a room for pilots to sleep but they did not want to use it.

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