First Sandbox flight arrives in Phuket

PHUKET, 2 July 2021: The first Phuket Sandbox travellers arrived on an Etihad Dreamliner Boeing 789 that touched down at the island’s international airport 1100 on Thursday, bringing hope to the island’s travel industry that recovery could be just around the corner.

Landing 40 minutes behind schedule EY430 was given the traditional water cannon welcome at the Airports of Thailand.

Credit: Bill Barnett, C9Hotelworks.

It’s been nearly 15 months since tourists arrived in Phuket and the media and local tourism officials turned out in droves to welcome what they called the new dawn of hope.

Airport facilities and terminal buildings were cordoned off to restrict access making it difficult for local media to assess just how many foreigners disembarked on the first sandbox flight.

Etihad lands in Phuket, 1100, 1 July, to start the Sandbox travel scheme.

Thai PB World News counted 25 foreign passengers, not 46 as claimed by earlier media reports. The most accurate travel industry estimate stood at 37. The low count was blamed on the slow turnaround in issuing Certificate of Entries. Embassies are now speeding up the process to issue the CoEs within 24 hours. Streamlining data fields in online applications would ease the booking process for travellers.

Thailand’s popular travel blogger, Richard Barrow, posted a graphic showing the foreign arrival estimates for the four flights due to land on Thursday. It indicated the EY430 flight had 37 foreign passengers, Qatar (QR840) 116, El Al (LY87) 101 and Singapore Airlines (SQ736) 46.

But a travel executive posted on the Phuket Sandbox Facebook Group home page that they had been told “a significant percentage of the early arrivals were overseas travel agents, journalists, and travel influencers – all sponsored and invited by TAT… Let’s hope they like what they see and experience in Phuket during the two weeks.”

Credit: I Asia Facebook Page Welcome to Phuket.

Unfortunately, travel agents and travel influencers journey in a luxury bubble of hospitality and shielding care on so-called “fam trips” that are technically supposed to show what their customers and readers will encounter in real-time. Facebook comments show that bonafide travellers may face a far more daunting experience than fam trip participants who will enjoy Phuket as guests of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. However, some family groups were seen disembarking from the Etihad flight, who were obviously not hosted media or travel agents.

I Asia, a leading inbound tour company operating out of Phuket, handled the fam trip from Israel that flew in on the E Al flight later in the day. The tour company’s welcome team and bus was parked at the airport. The company’s ‘welcome signboard’ made a comeback after 15 months in storage reflecting the renewed optimism of the island’s travel industry.     


  1. I would love a Phuket trip, but the prospect of getting all the documents together ( sounds daunting), and then arriving on Phuket to find everything closed , well ! Plus the worrying fact of encountering non vaccinated Thais . Also, I’d like to know the truths of what is open, what is not, and do you have to wear a mask on the beach ? Nothing is published about this.

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