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Phuket airport on Saturday: long wait for travellers

Phuket Siege: All International Flights Diverted

Friday, August 29, 2008
Phuket Siege UPDATE

MORE than 30 flights from overseas were forced to divert today to other destinations after anti-government demonstrators took over Phuket International Airport.

At 8pm tonight Phuketwan was told that flights would not be allowed to land on Phuket before midnight at the earliest.

Peoples Alliance for Democracy protesters, who took over the airport during the afternoon, were still occupying the terminal and the tarmac into the night.

The General Manager of the airport, Wicha Nurnlop, told Phuketwan that incoming flights would not restart until tomorrow morning.

He said that there was a chance that one outbound flight would be allowed before then because all the passengers were stranded in the airport.

He had made a special plea on behalf of the passengers and was hoping that the PAD leaders would allow these people to leave.

Through the afternoon and into the evening, incoming planes were being diverted by air traffic controllers to Bangkok, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Crisis talks between the Governor and the local leader of the PAD during the afternoon failed to achieve an early resumption of flights.

Jetstar, the Australian airline, reported that a flight from Sydney, due to arrive at 8.20pm, would be going to another destination.

Earlier, a spokeswoman said she had been told the flight should be a normal arrival on Phuket. But later, a Jetstar spokesman said he had been told that the airport would remain closed until midnight at least.

With the formal closure of the airport at 4.50pm, the diversion of so many aircraft from Europe and other places will trigger a crisis for tourism on Phuket and in Thailand.

The new President of the Phuket Tourist Association, Somboon Chirayus, told Phuketwan that it was a black day for tourism on the island.

''What can I say?'' sighed the man who took over the role a couple of weeks ago.

''This protest has caused enormous damage to tourism on Phuket. It happened here, where we all depend on tourism for a living, not in Bangkok.''

The man he replaced as president, Maitree Narukatpichai, owner of the Phuket Hilton Arcadia, the island's largest hotel, said he felt sad about the airport invasion.

''In a democracy, people are free to protest peacefully at places like the Saphan Hin public park.

''The tourists were not causing problems for the PAD. Now they have been involved.''

Methee Tanmanatragul, president of the Thai Hotels Association Southern Chapter, told Phuketwan that this was a case of Phuket people damaging the interests of their own island.

''We all need tourists to be happy about coming here,'' he said.

The owner of a new resort on Phuket said that he had one billionaire businessman staying there who was due to fly out tonight.

''What will he think about all this? What will he tell everybody, if he eventually gets home, about Phuket?''

One tourist from overseas, trapped at Phuket airport for hours by the protest, probably spoke for many when he told a television reporter: ''What a way to start a holiday. I am not coming back.''

Phuket's international property industry, fighting to beat a global downturn, will also suffer.

Phuket is no place to base a business if flights in and out are subjected to surprise stoppages by protestors.

Until today, the daily demonstrations by the Peoples Alliance for Democracy had been mounted in Bangkok and only at government offices.

But the siege of Phuket International Airport from 1pm this afternoon eventually led to the cancellation of all flights in and out and took the the protests to a new and damaging level.

Day of Drama on Phuket:

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

Phuketwan COMMENT

THE PHUKET airport protest by the People's Alliance for Democracy will not win it any friends among the hundreds of people affected, or those island residents and visitors looking on.

To carry their action to a peaceful tourist destination outside Bangkok, where international visitors are inconvenienced and caught in crowded scrums, is to increase the scale of the protest dramatically.

The airport siege may get the PAD onto international television screens, but the reports are not likely to be favorable.

An unsightly protest at Phuket airport is a strike at the heart of Thailand's entire tourism industry, worth 90 billion baht to Thailand from Phuket alone last year.

Until now, the PAD has targetted politicians.

Today for the first time, it is clearly damaging Thailand's commercial interests and involving innocent bystanders.

Whether the protestors are right or wrong, that adds considerably to the level of danger.

If there is any positive to come from today's action, it is the unequivocal practical proof that Phuket does not have a large enough police presence for public safety, or national security.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Fantastic coverage of the airport invasion, you guys. Phuketwan rules OK! I logged in to your site often during the afternoon. The speed that your stories updated was amazing. Just glad I wasn't going to the airport today. Hope it's better tomorrow.

Posted by angelfire on August 29, 2008 18:46

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I am so glad I found this website. Excellent coverage and interesting articles. Keep up the good work. <b>Editor:</b> Thanks. We will try.

Posted by Mike on August 29, 2008 19:26

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Should have flown out at 2.50 local time, now at least in a hotel, but stranded for who knows how long, unable to contact airline office for information. We were many time visitors to Phuket, we will definitely not be returning should we ever get off the island, safely that is.

Posted by tourist on August 30, 2008 20:24


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