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Thai Airways ground staff help stranded tourists at Phuket airport

Phuket Airport Open but Tourists Trapped

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
MORE than 3000 Phuket-bound passengers are stranded in Bangkok as anti-government protesters continue to occupy Suvarnabhumi airport, airport authorities say.

All Phuket flights to Bangkok's main airport have been cancelled but flights bound for Don Meuang domestic airport are operating as normal.

Of the 57 flights scheduled to arrive to Phuket today, the 18 from Suvarnabhumi were cancelled. Thai Airways was forced to cancel seven flights carrying 1500 people, while AirAsia had eight flights with 1220 passengers cancelled. Bangkok Airways cancelled three flights for 412 people.

Phuket Governor Preecha Ruangjan and Phuket International Airport General Manager Wing Commander Wicha Nurnlop held an emergency meeting at PIA earlier today to brief some 40 airline, hotel, transport and other tourism representatives on the current flight situation.

Aside from the cancelled flights to Bangkok, service at the Phuket airport is operating normally. There have been no cancellations on international flights not being routed through Suvarnabhumi or to other domestic destinations.

Security personnel are on alert, but the airport has not increased its security presence, nor has it called in police.

Khun Wicha says that passengers unable to fly to Bangkok today may try to get on a bus. There are normally 37 buses to Bangkok daily, and more will be added if needed, he says.

Khun Wicha made a plea to anti-government protesters: "Please solve this problem with a creative, not a destructive solution."

Phuket resorts are getting an unexpected boon as international flights due to land in Bangkok are being diverted to other airports across Thailand.

A diverted Thai Airways flight TG994 from Sydney touched down to Phuket at 2:40pm, carrying 163 passengers.

Late this morning, an LTU Airline charter flight from Germany carrying 266 passengers was diverted to Phuket.

Phuket Merlin is transporting all LTU passengers to its Phuket City hotel and providing them food and drinks in its restaurants. So far 100 have arrived and the rest are due to come later this afternoon as soon as immigration stamps and transport have been arranged.

Phuket Merlin's Assistant General Manager Nilubol Tatichuphun says at this time they are unsure whether all the passengers will stay at the hotel as they wait to hear of updates on the flight situation. The Merlin, however, would be able to accommodate all if needed, she says.

A 70 percent discount on Thai Hotels Association member hotel rooms will be offered to all stranded passengers across the nation, says Methee Tanmanatragul, THA Phuket chapter president.

In an unprecedented effort to stem the damage to Thailand's crucial tourism industry, the Tourism Authority of Thailand will also cover all hotel and meal expenses incurred by passengers unable to return home as a result of the closure, says Khun Methee.

Other flights arriving to Phuket will be eligible for "lucky prizes", says Khun Wicha. Passengers on China Airlines CI847 arriving today at 4:35pm will each be given some 50 vouchers and gifts.

Phuket airport has set up a hotline for people to call for updates to the situation. Tel: 076 351595, 076 351593, 076 351561, 076 351152.

It is advised to also check with your airline before going to the airport.

Meanwhile, head of Phuket Watch, a group supporting the PAD, Natjarong Ekpermsap, says that nine busloads carrying 2000 people from Phuket have already gone to Bangkok to join the protests.

Since November 23, people have gathered at a car park near Satree Phuket School in Phuket City to catch PAD buses to Bangkok.

The PAD will continue its protests until the Prime Minister of Thailand resigns, says Khun Natjarong.

A representative of the pro-government PPP for 14 Southern Thai provinces, Suksan Kasetkala, says that there are no groups being organized to march in Phuket or elsewhere in the south.

Thai Muslims attempting to get to Mecca for the Hajj have been stranded at Suvarnabhumi as well, he says.

Due to the Saudi policy to close its airport to worshippers by a certain date, Khun Suksan says, if they don't get there by December 1, they will be forced to cancel their religious journey.

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