A Druk Air aircraft, Airbus A319, along with scores of passengers was stranded at the Suvarnabhuni International Airport in Bangkok after hundreds of Thai anti-government protestors stormed the buildings and blocked the airport terminals in a bid to topple Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.
Druk Air, meanwhile, has temporarily suspended, since November 26, all its flights to and from Bangkok. The blockade occurred before the check-in counters were opened, so the exact number of Bhutanese stranded in Bangkok is still not known, according to Druk Air officials.
About 200 Druk Air passengers bound for other destinations from Paro were also stranded at Paro international airport since November 26. However, Druk Air’s general manager, Tshering Penjore, told Kuensel four relief flights bound for Katmandu and Delhi, including one today, have been facilitated by Druk Air and around 150 passengers will be flown out of Paro by today.
“With one of the airbuses stranded in Bangkok, the flight capacity is limited,” he said, adding that the total cost for relief flights amounts to around Nu 3.2 million. “Tourism Authority of Thailand had also informed the embassy to facilitate or accommodate the stranded passengers in Bangkok.” Druk air officials are waiting till November 30 for the situation to improve.
Meanwhile, around 50 passengers destined for Bangkok still remain stranded at Paro Airport.
While many tour operators were lucky to see off their guests before the crisis, those having incoming guests have been hit hard. Druk air officials said that a total of around 250 foreigners have cancelled their trips to Bhutan because of the Thai crisis.
The association of tour operators presently is coordinating with Druk Air the routing of passengers through Kolkata, Delhi and Nepal. “We’ve also requested immigration about visa extension for foreigners who’ve been stranded”, said ABTO general secretary, Sonam Dorji.
However, for the official guests who attended the Gross National Happiness conference earlier this week, being stranded meant more happiness to them. Most are sightseeing in the interiors of the country after their flights got postponed.
According to a Thai press release, the campaign by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which began in earnest in May, has paralysed the Thai government.
The group, a loose alliance of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class, claim that the government is corrupt and hostile to the monarchy and also accuse it of being a proxy for the country’s ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains very popular among Thailand’s rural poor.
The anti-government protestors have also forced the closure of the second airport in Bangkok, the Don Mueang airport. Reports add that the protestors have brought in food and blankets and appear set for a long stay at the airport. A major hub in Asia, averaging 700 flights a day, the airport the 18th busiest in the world, handling more than 40 million passengers last year. There was no word on when flights might resume.