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Pattaya Daily News

30 November 2008 :: 01:11:14 am 39868

Scenes of Chaos as Pattaya’s U-Tapao Airport Arranges Flights for Stranded Tourists

There were scenes of chaos today at U-tapao airport, a 45 minute drive from Pattaya, as thousands of stranded passengers awaited their flights home from Thailand.
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On Saturday 29th November, PDN was at the scene where we witnessed an airport with a capacity of just 4000 passengers struggling to cope with more than 20000, according to estimates by a staff member of Thai Airways.

There was a 2 km long queue of traffic into the airport compound and we witnessed many passengers, worried about missing their flights, abandoning their transport and walking with their baggage the final kilometre in the afternoon sun. At the airport they were greeted with the sight of an enormous throng of people and baggage everywhere.

Access to the departure facilities was restricted and for those having to wait outside, a lucky few were resting on the limited seating available, the rest were sitting or laying on the grass. Many were asleep.

Authorities had laid on extra toilet facilities and refreshments but for those with a long wait, camping outside the airport building was just one more of a long series of inconveniences, especially for those who had been stranded in Thailand for the last 4 days or more. Many told us they just wanted to get home.

With its handful of check-in counters and immigration desks, together with the lack of additional logistical support the airport and its staff were totally overwhelmed. Apart from the enormous task of facilitating the departure of many thousands of agitated passengers there was the additional burden of handling several large incoming aircraft which had been diverted from the Bangkok airports, now closed down for several days. Customs control had given up for the day.

Airlines had hastily set up make-shift check-in facilities on tables outside the airport with boarding cards and documents blowing in the wind. Flight announcements were made by word of mouth or by airline staff running around with flight numbers written on pieces of paper.

Inside the airport building there were several displays of frustration as tempers flared, especially at the entrance doors to the departure hall.

Air-side we witnessed piles of baggage awaiting collection outside on the tarmac. There were clearly not enough vehicles or personnel to handle them though staffs were coping as best they could under the circumstances. Security checks, both of passengers and baggage, were minimal.

We found a group of Muslims on their way to the annual Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia who had been placed in a corner of the arrival hall, with no access to food and water. They had to wait several hours before one of their parties was allowed through immigration to arrange supplies.

We must give credit to the staff of the airport and the airlines, which as far as we could see remained calm and collected and were clearly having to cope with exceptional circumstances. U-tapao airport is at least trying to alleviate this unprecedented situation and with its limited resources is allowing many tens of thousands of tourists to return home.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Thailand News

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