[BANGKOK] Thousands of holidaymakers were stranded in Bangkok on Thursday after Thai Airways cancelled all flights over Pakistan after Islamabad suddenly closed its airspace in response to soaring tensions with India.
Twenty-seven flights, the majority to and from European routes, have been cancelled, the Thai flag carrier said, with three passenger jets forced to return to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport on Thursday.
The cancellations follow a snowballing crisis between nuclear armed neighbours Pakistan and India, which has raised fears of an all-out war.
Pakistan claimed it shot down two Indian Air Force planes in its airspace, although it later clarified only one Indian pilot had been captured.
India said its forces had also shot down a Pakistani fighter jet as Pakistan suddenly closed its airspace.
Thai Airways said nearly 5,000 passengers had been caught up in the cancellations.
"There are 4,000 from European flights and 700 to 800 from flights to Pakistan," a Thai Airways spokesperson said.
"We are waiting for permission to fly over other countries," she said, explaining Iran had rejected a request to fly over its airspace.
"Now we are contacting China," she added.
The carrier said stranded passengers were put up in hotels at its expense.
But frustration mounted on Thursday at Bangkok's main airport at the sudden delays.
"We have waited here for 11 or 12 hours already," Gerda Heinzel, 55, a German tourist flying back to Munich after a holiday in Phuket.
"We have not been given anything to eat, anywhere to stay. There are no German-speaking staff to help us."
Flights to London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Munich were all cancelled on Thursday, while 10 incoming flights from Europe were also scratched.
The cancellations are a blow to Thai Airways during one of the country's most popular travel periods.