The Business Times

Airlines cutting back on Bangkok flights

Some carriers giving refunds and waiving fee for flight rescheduling

Published Tue, Jan 14, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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[SINGAPORE] Tourist arrivals in Bangkok could be hit hard this month if the political stalemate in Thailand drags out, and some airlines are scaling back capacity in the face of weaker demand for travel.

Budget carrier Tiger Airways, for example, is cancelling six flights between Singapore and the Thai capital from Jan 20 to 27.

For passengers with travel plans between last weekend and this Friday, Tiger will waive the fee normally charged for changes made to destinations and flight dates.

The airline has also made contingency plans to move to another airport temporarily if operations at Suvarnabhumi Airport are affected, it said.

Thai Airways has cancelled some flights and merged others, as well as changed aircraft type, swopping the Airbus A380 for the Boeing 747-400 on some routes; these have been for the Bangkok-Hong Kong sector and domestic flights to Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen.

Singapore Airlines (SIA), which earlier announced that it was cutting 19 flights over a six-week period, may make further flight adjustments. For now, the carrier has not made decisions to axe any more flights.

A spokesman for SIA, which typically flies to Bangkok five times daily, said: "Generally, demand has been affected for flights to and from Bangkok in recent weeks."

Budget carrier Jetstar is offering passengers booked for travel until this Sunday the opportunity to change their flight to another Jetstar service departing within four days of the original booking.

Its spokesman said: "At this stage, Jetstar is planning to operate all services to and from Bangkok as scheduled. We will continue to monitor the situation and remain in regular contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

Meanwhile, SIA-owned budget carrier Scoot continues to operate normally to Bangkok. It is not offering refunds or waiving charges for changes to bookings, but said it will "review its policies accordingly" if the government advises against travel to Bangkok, said chief executive Campbell Wilson.

Anti-government protestors are lobbying for caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign ahead of snap polls slated for Feb 2. The demonstrations, which began back in October, have intensified, with the Students and People Network for Thailand's Reform this week threatening to block the entrances of the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai) and the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

Prajak Sajjasophon, the president of Aerothai, which coordinates air navigation services for the country's air space, has been quoted as saying: "Blocking us will have serious consequences for the country's safety and tourism image."

The Thai authorities have stepped up measures to ensure tourists have a hassle-free holiday. Thailand's Ministry of Tourism and Sports has set up a Tourist Care Centre at the Sports Authority of Thailand at Hua Mak Stadium and Tourist Care Units in both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports. These centres will work with agencies such as the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Immigration Bureau.

Airlines have been telling passengers to head to Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports at least four hours ahead of their scheduled flights, in case detours are needed to avoid the protests.

Rawewan Netarakavesana, the general manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport, has advised passengers to take the Airport Rail Link, which is running at higher frequencies, to Suvarnabhumi and to use the BTS SkyTrain and MRT Metro when travelling within the capital.

Meanwhile, some 6,000 airport taxis have been issued special stickers as a way of letting protesters know that they are ferrying tourists, said media reports.

Despite the ongoing protests, Thailand's tourism industry pulled in more tourists last year than in 2012, going by updated figures from the Thai authorities. Some 26.73 million travellers made their way to the Land of Smiles last year; this was a 19.6 per cent year-on-year increase; 936,477 visitors from Singapore went to Thailand, a jump of nearly 13 per cent over 2012.

Still, the rise in the number of visitors travelling to Thailand reportedly slowed to some 6.7 per cent in December, which was when the political stand-off started to heat up; the rise for November had been 18 per cent.

According to reports out of Thailand, some tourists had been unwilling to shelve their travel plans during the year-end for fear of incurring penalties or losing their deposits, but others had eschewed the troubled capital in favour of other parts of Thailand.

This month, a different story could emerge as the full weight of the protests is felt.

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