The story is here, and begins:
Runway repairs at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport are causing flight delays, and a global airline association says carriers and passengers could be significantly affected in the weeks ahead.
Here’s an announcement that will be welcome news to travelers:
The AOT says it’s expanding Suvarnabhumi international airport by one third.
Airports of Thailand Pcl is to spend about $1.9 billion over the next five years to expand capacity at Bangkok’s overcrowded Suvarnabhumi airport by a third, its president said on Wednesday.
AOT AOT.BK, which runs the country’s six main airports, aims to boost capacity at Suvarnabhumi by 15 million to serve up to 60 million passengers in 2017, Anirut Thanomkulbutra told reporters.
The $4 billion airport, which opened in September 2006 on what was once flooded marshland known as “cobra swamp”, is expected to serve about 51 million passengers in AOT’s fiscal year ending in September 2012, up from 48 million a year earlier and above annual capacity put at 45 million now, Anirut said.
Construction is due to begin in 2015.
The Nation has more details.
For what it’s worth: I understand that Suvarnabhumi’s immigration system has been streamlined recently, and that lines are much shorter now.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport has been the subject of several recent news stories about the facility’s long immigration lines and overall congestion:
When Bangkok’s futuristic $4 billion (2.5 billion pound) Suvarnabhumi airport opened six years ago, it was hailed as a model for the region.
Today, it is beset by two-hour immigration queues, passenger numbers far beyond capacity and a crisis over management.
Immigration queues have grown so long travellers have been told to arrive three hours before a flight, an hour longer than in most air hubs, threatening to damage Thailand’s tourist-friendly image.
The problems have become so acute in recent days that the government is trying to convince growing numbers of low-cost carriers to move operations to Don Muang, a domestic airport.
The immigration bureau has in the past blamed long queues on a staffing shortage. An official at Suvarnabhumi’s immigration division, however, said it had more to do with lack of space.
“There’s construction going on which is limiting the space we have available for security checks,” he said, declining to be identified.
But travellers grumble at the frequent site of empty immigration kiosks and lines for foreigner nationals stretching far longer than those of Thais. Others say kiosks designed to hold two officers are often manned by one.
Some airlines expressed concern and confusion on Friday over an announcement a day earlier by Thailand’s transport minister, Jarupong Ruangsuwan, to move flights to a different airport.
Thai Airways, in a memo this week to travel industry partners, said passengers should arrive three hours before their departure time. For arriving passengers, it noted that processing visas at immigration now takes two hours on average.
There is a shortfall of more than 200 immigration officers at Suvarnabhumi because many are reluctant to work at the overcrowded airport.
“It is a very stressful job — there’s no doubt about it,” said Imtiaz Muqbil, executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire, a trade publication.
He told The Straits Times: “Most of the officers are not very good in English. They get overwhelmed by the complexity and sheer scale of the traffic, and the risk of making a mistake.”
Earlier this week, Airports of Thailand (AOT), which runs the terminal, agreed to raise the overtime pay of immigration officers as an additional incentive.
(All emphasis mine.)
(Image: Bangkok Post.)
I wanted to point out, quickly, this intriguing AP story from Monday about a plan to revamp Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi International airport:
Baggage handlers at Thailand’s main airport now wear uniforms with pockets sewn shut to prevent pilfering. Police are hauling away illegal taxi touts. And cushions are being added to metal seats at departure gates derided as a “pain in the rear.”
An overhaul is under way at Bangkok’s $3.8 billion Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is virtually brand new but trying to put a scandal-plagued past behind and become one of the world’s top 10 airports — a goal senior officials concede might be a long shot for this year.
The campaign is partly aimed at addressing passenger complaints logged since Suvarnabhumi opened in 2006.
Free Wi-Fi will be in place by the end of the month and 126 Internet terminals have been installed for travelers without laptops, according to Airports of Thailand, the airport’s operator. Other upgrades include more restrooms, improved signs and the upholstery of all 19,000 cold metallic seats with turquoise, peach, green and purple cushions that brighten Suvarnabhumi’s concrete-and-steel design, panned by some critics as too monotone.
For reference, here’s some context regarding past problems with the airport.
Here’s the latest news from Bangkok:
– Yesterday (Tues.) a court ruled that Thailand’s governing party must disband. The prime minister has now been forced from office. (Demonstrators had said they wouldn’t leave the airport until the PM quits.)
– Anti-government protesters announced yesterday that they’ll cease their protests at the international airport today (Wed.). (Demonstrations at the domestic airport, Don Mueang, continue.)
– Local media reports says flights will resume at Bangkok’s international airport as early as today, though it’s unclear when normal operations will resume. Some 300,000 foreign travelers are still stranded here.
Following are some media reports with more info:
Nation: “THAI resumes flights at Suvarnabhumi”
Thai Airways International is flying six special flights from Suvarnabhumi on Wednesday, the first since the airport was shut down on November 25.
AP: “Thai airports reopening after PM ousted by court”
Victorious anti-government protesters lifted their siege of Bangkok’s two airports Wednesday while leaders of the ousted government named a caretaker prime minister to lead the politically chaotic kingdom.
The country’s immediate crisis, which virtually severed Thailand’s air links to the outside world for a week, appeared to be over and the People’s Alliance for Democracy said it was ending six months of daily anti-government protests. But the alliance warned it would be on the streets again if a new government tried to return to its past policies.
“The partial opening can be as soon as today,” said Serirat Prasutanond, acting president for Airports of Thailand Pcl, the operator. “It will likely be outbound flights from Thai Airways because they have aircraft parked here.”
Nation: “Suvarnabhumi to reopen in 1-2 weeks”
Airports of Thailand Plc expects to reopen Suvarnabhumi Airport in 1 week at the earliest and 2 weeks at the latest, said the company’s acting president Serirat Prasutanond.
AFP: “Well-heeled tourists flee Thailand on private jets”
As most grumbling holiday-makers wait frustrated in hotels after airport-based protests stranded them in Thailand, the wealthy are simply slipping out of the “Land of Smiles” by private jets.
Charter airline companies are seeing their bookings soar despite the enormous cost, after demonstrators seized Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi international airport and the smaller domestic hub Don Mueang last week.
Protesters began clearing out of the airport on Wednesday after the premier was forced from office by a court, but it will take weeks to clear the backlog of an estimated 350,000 people who missed flights.
For some perspective on what the protests mean for Thailand’s future, check out this WSJ story:
“Thailand Protests End as Prime Minister Is Ousted”
Antigovernment protesters promised to end a crippling weeklong siege of Thailand’s main airports after a court ruling forced Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to step down and disbanded his government’s key parties for electoral fraud.
The pledge to lift the airport blockades comes as a relief for the more than 300,000 desperate international travelers stranded in Thailand, which has suffered severe damage to its economy and its reputation as a global tourist destination.
But the political stalemate that has paralyzed the Southeast Asian country of 65 million for months is no closer to resolution — a troubling omen for it as well as some other developing countries around the world.
Thailand’s fundamental problem — mirrored to differing degrees in China, India and other emerging economies — is a seemingly unbridgeable divide between relatively well-off urbanites, including many of the protesters at Bangkok’s airports, and millions of poorer rural citizens who have long felt left out of the country’s power structure.
And this Economist story includes some details on the political landscape and what may come next:
“Ousting the prime minister“:
In the end it was Thailand’s Constitutional Court that sent the prime minister packing. Somchai Wongsawat resigned on Tuesday December 2nd after his party and two others were dissolved for electoral fraud. But the noose around his neck was the week-long seizure of Bangkok’s two airports by opposition protesters, who have plunged the capital into chaos and sown fear of wider unrest. They may leave now, allowing Bangkok’s airport to resume flights in time for a busy tourist season, and to start clearing a backlog of over 300,000 stranded foreign tourists. But the political upheaval is not over, and damage to Thailand’s battered economy and international reputation may well continue.
(All emphasis mine.)
And finally, newley.com has been receiving a lot of traffic over the last week as folks search for updates on the airport closure. A reminder: if you’d like to receive updates when I post here, you can subscribe to my RSS feed. In addition, I’ve been posting shorter snippets on Twitter here.
Bangkok’s international airport remains closed today, and it’s unclear when flights will resume. Yesterday I visited U-Tapao airport, about two hours southeast of Bangkok, where some international flights have been arriving and landing. Here’s an AFP story I wrote about the scene there:
AFP/Bangkok Post: “At U-Tapao: ‘They have killed tourism’“
AP/WSJ: “Protesters Force Bangkok Airport to Suspend Takeoffs”
Anti-government demonstrators swarmed Bangkok’s international airport late Tuesday — halting departing flights — as opponents and supporters of Thailand’s government fought running battles in the streets of the city.
Minutes after outbound flights at Suvarnabhumi International Airport were suspended, hundreds of demonstrators — some masked and armed with metal rods — broke through police lines and spilled into the passenger terminal.