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Cleaners ready the empty departure hall today for a mass exodus

Touchdown! Flights Return to Phuket Airport

Sunday, August 31, 2008
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THE FIRST incoming flight since Friday, a Thai Airways Boeing 777 carrying 335 people, has touched down. The siege of Phuket International Airport is over.

A holidaymaker airlift into Phuket and a holiday-over exodus out are beginning.

The Boeing 777 took off on the return flight for Bangkok within 30 minutes of its arrival, and now the cost of an impotent and unnecessary protest is being counted.

Phuket's air siege lifted when leaders of the Peoples' Alliance for Democracy met Sunday morning and decided to stop the protest that brought a halt to all flights in and out of the island from Friday.

Soon after, airport General Manager Wing Commander Wicha Nurnlop called all 11 airlines and told them the airport was open, and that flights could resume as soon as possible.

The first flight to arrive was Thai Airways TG213 from Bangkok, which touched down on Phuket about 3.50pm and was in the air again about 4.20pm.

Wing Commander Wicha said flights from Bangkok were due every hour from now on so tourists can resume their holiday plans as soon as possible.

'We are doing our best to help tourists get out of Phuket, and for others to get in,'' Wing Commander Wicha said.

The exodus has been carefully planned. Airport officials met with the island's tourism industry leaders at the airport early this afternoon to plan a ''strategic airlift'' to get people moving fast.

When Wing Commander Wicha heard that one newspaper was saying online as late as 3.10pm that the airport was ''still locked down,'' he said: ''The airport is open.''

If there are diehard demonstrators outside, Wing Commander Wicha said the airport was prepared if necessary to carry passengers by minivan around them.

Phuketwan broke the news of the flights breakthrough about 11.30am.

As many as 20,000 people could have been delayed on the island unwillingly, but thousands have probably already made their escape by bus to Bangkok.

Skystar ST610 from Phuket to Korea was due out at 5pm this afternoon.

Silk Air MI757 to Singapore is due out at 8.10pm tonight, Phuketwan has been told.

Bangkok Airways has Bangkok-Phuket flights at 5.50pm and 10.10pm and Phuket-Bangkok flights at 8.40pm and 11pm.

Thai Air Asia Bangkok-Phuket flights are at 9.35pm and 10.40pm, with Phuket-Bangkok flights at 5.10pm and 9.50pm.

A Korean Air flight touches down at 12.30am Monday and KE636 departs Phuket at 1.55am, arriving in Korea at 10.05am.

Jetstar, the Australian airline, said that as soon as information is available, they will be contacting passengers via text message and email.

Later Jetstar said the Sydney-Phuket flight would arrive at 8.20pm Monday and the Phuket-Sydney flight would depart the island at 10.20pm Monday.

The Thai Airways website says Flight TG228 is scheduled to leave Phuket tonight at 9.30pm for Melbourne via Bangkok. Phuketwan was unable to confirm the flight with the airline.

As the exodus began, resort managers on the island and around the Andaman region were counting the huge cost to the island in lost revenue and a tainted image as a tourism destination.

The newly-appointed President of the Phuket Tourism Association, Somboon Chirayus, estimated that the cost to the island was at least 250 million baht a day.

Action by the PAD surprised many people on Phuket because the island and the surrounding region has always been a haven for the Democrat Party, which is in opposition to the government of Prime Minster Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

It appeared that the Phuket airport invasion came in retaliation for less than gentle police action against demonstrators in Bangkok, where PAD members have occupied government buildings for several days.

A blockade at Phuket airport and two other regional airports lifted the intensity and the consequences of protests to a new level.

But it did not force the PM to resign, as the demonstrators had hoped.

Over the weekend, it became obvious that tourists were the ones who were suffering, along with Phuket's reputation.

Phuketwan understands that there was a division within the PAD between those who wanted to lift the air blockade and others who wished to keep it going.

Some of those who wish to continue may even be reluctant to end their protest outside the airport.

Yet most of the demonstrators in both factions depend on tourism for their income, one way or another.

A Phuketwan reporter at the airport this morning found all vehicles being stopped at a protest control point about 300 metres from the entrance.

Two tourists were heading away from the protest, apparently the last visitors to be told there were no flights out of Phuket.

At 10.30am, with both main entrance and exit gates closed, the reporter was directed by protestors to a narrow gap beside the exit where he squeezed through into the airport grounds.

Inside the airport building, workers with ladders and cleaners made the most of the open spaces to give the airport an extra shine and polish.

Staff behind windows at the information desk and Thai Airways counter were busy answering telephones.

For once, there was plenty of space in the airport car park. But with the planes back in the air, that will not be the case for long.

Airport Siege Day By Day:

Friday 1pm: Hundreds of PAD protestors assemble around Phuket International Airport. Passengers forced to alight from vehicles and walk to catch flights. Protest comes as a surprise because Phuket is an anti-government heartland.

Friday 4.50pm: All flights from Phuket halted after protestors break into VIP rooms then invade the runway. The protest is non-violent except for broken glass. Police are present but as in Bangkok, choose not to react.

Friday 8.30pm: Lone flight carrying 137 stranded passengers and Phuket's Governor heads for Bangkok. Governor Niran Kanlayanamid has an appointment at a ceremony with the Crown Prince.

Friday night: Airport officials agree to further talks. Protestors and police go home.

Saturday morning: Protestors reassemble. Police are at the airport but Vice Governor insists there will be no violence. Stranded passengers arrive at airport in hope of flights resumption.

Saturday afternoon: Airport General Manager Wing Commander Wicha Nurnlop says that in some ways, the airport blockade is ''worse than the 2004 tsunami.'' He ceases setting potential times for flights to resume.

Saturday 9.30pm: Talks aimed at breaking deadlock resume between PAD, splinter group of resort unions and airport authorities.

Sunday 1am: Talks break up. One protest leader says protestors will vote on course of action later in the morning. Flights could be back Monday, he says.

Sunday 11am: Protestors prepare to continue blockade. Then the announcement comes: the protest at the airport is over, and flights are to resume later in the day.

Sunday 3.50pm: A Thai Airways Boeing 777 carrying 335 passengers from Bangkok touches down, first of the ''airlift.''

Next: The mass exodus, and a big welcome for incoming holidaymakers.

Phuketwan COMMENT


THE PROTEST is over. But why was it called in the first place? The only victims have been tourists, and Phuket's long-suffering tourism industry.

The People's Alliance for Democracy didn't so much as shoot itself in the foot as blow the whole leg off.

Before Friday's action, the PAD had the support of the vast majority of people on Phuket.

And now? Well, anyone who depends on the tourism industry for a living would have to wonder.

Please, next time someone makes this kind of suggestion, think again.

Tourists don't play politics, so it's best not to play politics with tourists.

Now get out there, slap a tourist on the back, smile a big smile, and undo all the damage as fast as you can.

Essential Reading:

Phuket Airport Unblocked: Smooth But Eerie
Phuket International Airport, perhaps benefitting from the post tsunami experience, was eerie but running extremely smoothly immediately after the blockade was lifted, a visitor to the airport says
Phuket Airport Unblocked: Smooth But Eerie

Phuket Air Crisis: Protestors to Consider Options
Talks break up early Sunday; Protestors to discuss an end to standoff; Flights may not resume before Monday; No time set yet for flights in or out of Phuket to resume; Stranded tourists running out of money.
Phuket Air Crisis: Protestors to Consider Options

Phuket Paralysed: No Sign of Flights As Deadlines Pass
Phuket Airport will not reopen; PAD wants Prime Minister to resign first; Police Chief joins crisis meeting; Tourist turn up for missing flights and ask: Why?
Phuket Paralysed: No Flights As Deadlines Pass

Phuket Siege Lifts For Lone Flights to Bangkok
With international flights bound for Phuket being diverted and the island's airport shut down, a special plea was made for PAD leaders to allow one flight to beat the blockade and carry stranded passengers to Bangkok.
Phuket Siege Lifts For Lone Flights to Bangkok

Phuket Airport Invasion: Night of Uncertainty
No flights in or out of Phuket until 6am on Saturday. Why is Phuket's tourism industry now part of a political dispute? That was the question being asked as anti-government protestors continued to occupy the island's international airport, forcing a halt to all flights.
Phuket Airport Invasion: Night of Uncertainty

Phuket Siege Latest: International Flights Diverted
Flights in and out of Phuket are not likely to resume before Saturday morning. Phuket airport was tonight in the hands of PAD anti-government protestors after 30 international flights were turned away.
Phuket Siege Latest: International Flights Diverted

Siege of Phuket Airport Blow by Blow
PAD protestors besiege Phuket International Airport; Thai Airways suspends all flights nationally; Reports of protestors on tarmac; All flights halted; Governor in crisis talks with PAD leaders; Phuket police chief calls in reinforcements.
The Siege of Phuket Airport Blow by Blow

Comments

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Thank goodness it's over. Who will make the apology to the thousands of tourists left stranded by the "polite" Thai people?

Posted by helen heffernan on August 31, 2008 15:51


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