Suvarnabhumi: Trial Run

The boondoggle that is Suvarnabhumi, the four decades in the making new Bangkok international airport, continues its wobbly course towards its “if-and-when” opening set for September 28th of this year.  You may recall that last year at this time, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra promised that the airport would be open by September 29th (2005).  Construction delays, cracks in the runways, and other problems conspired to keep that from being a reality, although to save face the PM constructed an elaborate public relations event in which two plane loads of journalists and political luminaries were flown from the existing Don Muang airport to the new airport, where they landed, parked at a gate, and were given a tour of the facility.  Then, complete with souvenir suitcases, they were “checked in” for the return flight to show that all systems were working, then they proceeded “through security”, boarding their flights and being flow thirty minutes around Bangkok and landing back at Don Muang.


Behind the scenes, I suspect that hundreds of young army conscripts were personally running each bag to the gate and ensuring that the system was flawless.  Of course, two PR flights for the PM does not a functioning airport make.


So this year there has been our share of political intrigue and new dates have been set by different government officials for the airport’s opening: July.  No, August.  No, September for sure.  October, guaranteed. 


The airlines responded by saying something to the effect of, “Hey, how about we don’t open it until we know it is really ready and how about you give us about six months’ of advance notice so we can prepare?”


Finally, Shinawatra, who at one point supposedly stepped down and then didn’t and is supposedly a “caretaker” PM awaiting new elections in October, announced that all flights would start using Suvarnabhumi as of September 28th of this year.  Additionally, he announced that six Thai airlines would participate in various test flights in advance of that date.


Well, some details were finally set on the test flights and it turns out that on July 29th, each of the airlines (THAI, Bangkok Airways, Orient Thai, Thai Air Asia, and Nok Air) will operate two or three domestic flights out of and into the new aiport, flights that are not usually timed to carry passengers connecting to or from international flights.


One of the airlines, Orient Thai, offered a special package that includes a morning departure from Don Muang landing 30 minutes later at Suvarnabhumi, a fully airport tour from Airports of Thailand officials, and a return flight mid-afternoon.  The price is 1999 baht and all proceeds will be donated to one of the King’s projects.


So I traipsed down to the Orient Thai (also known as One-Two-Go here in Thailand) ticket office which is about a half-kilometer away from the apartment and waited patiently as an agent made all sorts of phone calls to secure a ticket for me.  Her computer was showing that the outbound flight was full, but the return flight had available seats.  However, the flights were only sold as a package so there was no way I could just buy the one-way ticket!


I would imagine that several of the seats on the outbound flight are being held for various VIP guests who don’t want to be bothered with flying back into Don Muang.


After about twenty minutes of exploring options she apologized and offered to take my name and number if anything came up.  Oh, well.  And here I was all excited at the opportunity to be one of the first to see the new airport and to get to walk around before it was fully in operations.


If any of you have connections with one of the Thai airlines, let me know!

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