BANGKOK, 10 August 2021: Thailand’s Nok Air continues to offer domestic flights to and from U-Tapao airport until 18 August to serve travel from so-called tourism pilot project areas.
The airline is flying the services following Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand approval, and it is possible services will extend beyond 18 August. According to CAAT guidelines, up to three airlines could request to establish “by-pass” flights to U-Tapao, an airport that has less than 100,000 passengers a year under normal conditions. The provision is on the table until 30 October, but only Nok Air has established limited services so far.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports are located in deep-red zones that come under a domestic flight ban imposed by the CAAT. Rayong too is now in the deep red zone, but U-Tapao airport gained special permission to accommodate special flights, particularly for leisure travellers participating in the Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus projects to ensure ‘escape’ routes remained open.
U-Tapao airport is located on the Rayong province coast, approximately 44 km southeast of Pattaya and 146 km south of the country’s main gateway Suvarnabhumi Airport located on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Travellers who are resident in cities in the south northeast and north of Thailand can use the Nok Air special flights to transfer to U-Tapao, where they can book a taxi for around THB3,000 one way to get to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Nok Air is promoting flights to U-Tapao from Phuket, Surat Thani, Trang and Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north and Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani in the northeast.
Phuket is served by a one-way flight from the island to U-Tapao due to Covid-19 rules that force Nok Air to fly empty to the island.
Chiang Rai and Surat Thani were added to the city list served on 7 August, and at the same time, the airline halted its service to Hat Yai.
There are other restrictions imposed by the CAAT. The airline can only sell 50% of the seating capacity, which inflates the fare for passengers. The cost of a ticket from Chiang Mai to U-Tapao one way is just under THB5,000.
Ground operational support is expensive, with the airline committed to housing 200 staff at the U-Tapao airport owned and operated by the Thai Navy.
Bookings on Nok Air flights to U-Tapao can only be booked through www.nokair.com or the airline’s app. Passengers should check the airline’s Facebook page for updates on the availability of flights.
The airline’s Facebook page has a mixed bag of comments, some reflecting irritation on the lack of advance information on whether the flights will extend beyond 18 August.
One Thai traveller complained: “Can you make an announcement in advance? Will we be able to plan life properly? What should I do next? The original flight was open for reservation but cancelled one day before departure. The money has already been paid and has not been returned, still being dumped in a confused way, very troubled.”
Another asked: “What happens after 18 August 2021? According to the flight schedule, reservations can be made.”
Nok Air responded: “The airline is waiting for another announcement from the government If there is an announcement, it will be publicised via our Facebook page or www.nokair.com again.”
On refunds and rebooking, Nok Air says that for passengers who faced travel between 3 to 31 August 2021 says cash payment will be refunded within 14 working days. Credit card payment will be refunded within 45 working days.