Pattaya Daily News

02 December 2008 :: 22:12:36 pm 2049

Stranded in Paradise

On the 26th November anti-government protesters (the PAD) took control of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport and effectively closed it down. For many thousands of travellers leaving Thailand on that day, and every day since, their journey home has been a series of frustration and delay, often by several days. Many have been transferred to local hotels as temporary staging posts before catching flights from Pattaya’s U-tapao airport.
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PDN went to one of these hotels, the Ambassador City Hotel in Jomtien, and to the U-tapao airport itself to assess the situation and speak to some of the stranded travellers. For Per Nielsen and his wife it should have been one of the happiest journeys of their lives. They had travelled to Taiwan to be united with their newly adopted son and to bring him home to Sweden. Unfortunately, whilst waiting in the transit area of Suvarnabhumi airport the People’s Alliance for Democracy closed down the airport and the Nielsen’s nightmare began.

Following a prolonged stay at the airport during which their son became sick, problems with a visa for their child resulted in all their passports being confiscated when they were finally transported from the airport. 43 year old Mr. Nielsen berated airline and government officials for their unwillingness to help and lack of information. We found him at the Ambassador City Hotel in Jomtien, where he had been for 2 days, waiting in a line hoping to eventually find out when his family could return home. Their passports had disappeared.

Estimates vary as to the number of tourists and other travellers stranded in Thailand. But there is no doubt that the apparatus put into place for their repatriation is totally overwhelmed. Consequently airlines are forced to make priority decisions as to who gets to leave first.

  At the Ambassador City Hotel we met a group of Indian businessmen who claimed they were being blatantly discriminated against by their airline. They said that so far there had been several flights to European and other Asian destinations but not to India. They had to report to the temporary Thai Airways desk at the hotel three times a day where they were repeatedly assured a flight the next day only to find out later that there were no available aircraft. They were particularly distraught considering the situation unfolding in Mumbai at the time.
At the U-tapao International Airport we spoke to a group of Muslims on their way to the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.They also complained about their treatment at the hands of the Thai authorities, including lack of access to food and water, though they were among the fortunate few to be leaving Thailand that night.
Finally, we managed to corner a tired, overworked but a still pretty composed Thai Airways staff member, Mr. Pongrit. He had been transferred from his usual role of welcoming VIP guests at Suvarnabumi to the chaos of U-tapao, where he had been working for 3 days, with no change of clothes, helping with arrivals, departures and baggage.

 

  Back at the Ambassador City Hotel, Michael & Alice from South Africa are on their honeymoon. They had been stranded in Thailand for 4 days, 3 of them so far spent at the hotel. At Suvarnabhumi airport they were the guests of the PAD for 18 hours, during which time they were treated well and supplied with food and water by a crowd which was generally good humoured. When asked if they would be returning to Thailand they had no reservations about Phuket, where they had spent their holiday, but Bangkok would no longer be on their list of favourites.
   

Australians Fiona and Monica (with hew newly wed husband) were on their way back from Phuket via Bangkok, when their holiday became unexpectedly extended by several days. Had they remained in Phuket they would both be home by now. They were irritated by the uncertainty and lack of information during their 4 day stay at the hotel but were relieved that they’d be leaving that night. They would both like to holiday in Phuket again though in Monica’s case it would be without her husband who has vowed never to return.

Englishman Piers had been transferred from the Suvarnabhumi airport and had been staying at the hotel, at Thai Airways expense, for the last three days. He seemed to be pretty content with the situation and in no particular hurry to go home.

 

And nor was his compatriot James (picture 7), from London, who was quite happy to have an extra free week in Thailand Duncan from Scotland also seemed to have accepted his predicament, and had only good words for both the service from Thai Airways and his treatment at the hands of the PAD in Bangkok who, he said, kept him well informed and well fed. He would be returning to Thailand in February – assuming, of course, that he would be back home before then!

We decided to check out the arrivals hall of U-tapao airport and gauge the reaction of passengers. We found two Norwegians Oddvar and Arild who had had a relatively problem free trip, apart from the fact that their luggage hadn’t arrived. We all agreed this wasn’t the best time to be losing luggage in Thailand, and begged the question whether they would ever see their bags again…

The number of those stranded in Thailand continues to increase, but since the day of our report U-Tapao airport has been receiving deliveries of more equipment, systems and personnel. Check-in facilities have also been organised at several hotels around the country. It could be many days, if not weeks, before Suvarnabhumi Airport can offer a normal service, and the likes of Michael and Alice and all those whose stories we have related here will continue to rely on the efforts of U-Tapao International Airport and the other regional airports across Thailand.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : DCman   Category : Travel

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