BANGKOK, 29 January 2016: Seats that should be sold to genuine passengers travelling with Thai Smile are being sold to the owner’s of life-like dolls who insist on taking them on flights.
Thai Smile crew serve snacks to the dolls and insist they fasten their seat belts on take-off and landing.
Known in Thai as “luuk thep” (child angels), the pricey dolls, which can cost up to USD600, were first popularised by celebrities who claimed dressing up and feeding the dolls had brought them professional success.
But the local press focused on the bizarre decision of Thai Smile to sell a second seat to doll owners. A subsidiary of the national airline, Thai Airways International, Thai Smile allegedly offers ticketed seats and places the dolls next to windows with a view.
It has been suggested it may lead to a security breach as the dolls are not travelling with proper identification to support the passenger manifesto. A leaked airline memo described the plastic passenger as a “doll that is alive.” If they were not alive they would be considered cargo, or carry-on luggage. The airline has a rule that carry-on luggage is limited to just one item and cannot be stored on a seat.
By removing the doll’s head, the owner could conceal a weapon inside the torso and it might go undetected at security checks. Security officials are not asking passengers to remove the doll’s head to see inside.
Thai press claimed the memo said dolls should be given window seats so as not to disturb other passengers and that seat belts should be worn during take off and landing. There was no clarification on how a doll could disturb a passenger.
Thai Smile declined to comment when contacted by the international wire service, AFP.
Airlines make a point of telling passengers that their luggage must be placed, either under the seat, or in the overhead bins. Are dolls an exception? Do the dolls get a boarding pass for the purchased seat. Is there a supporting PNR (Passenger Name Record) created at the point of sale by the booking system?
Doll-mania is mainly a preoccupation of Bangkok’s spoilt wealthy Thais. They take the dolls to ceremonies, restaurants and when they travel on airlines.
A state-owned bus operator, the “Transport Company”, is charging half-priced tickets for the dolls, who will “receive full service, including food and drink,” a PR representative told AFP for its news report, earlier this week.
Thai anthropologist, Visisya Pinthongvijayakul, told AFP that while the angel doll trend only started last year, the practice has roots in the ancient occult worship of a preserved f0etus thought to contain a child’s spirit.
More than 90% of Thais identify themselves as Buddhist. But the country’s Buddhism is known for its syncretism, comfortably blending many animist and Hindu traditions into daily worship.
Visisya said he has seen many shopkeepers and vendors buy the new angel dolls in hope that the talismans will boost sales during currently bleak times for Thailand’s stuttering economy and ongoing political instability.
“From the perspective of Thais this is a very uncertain time,” said Visisya, citing the plunging price of rubber and the ruling military junta’s lid on dissent.
“I think this is a practice that reflects an unstable and critical moment in Thai society.”