On Friday, I took my first business trip within Thailand that required a domestic airline flight. My flight was scheduled to leave at 7:10 a.m., so I figured that I should be at the airport by 6 a.m. since I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get through security. I actually arrived at Don Muang airport about 5:45 a.m. — traffic was far lighter than I had expected — and within 10 minutes I was sitting at my gate. Looks like I woke up at least 45 minutes too early!
On today’s flight back to Bangkok, a group of us arrived at the airport at 7:50 a.m. for an 8:20 flight. By 8 a.m. — one of the two times each day when all TV and radio stations play the Thai National Anthem (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_National_Anthem for several English translations of the words) and everyone stands politely in a show of respect — we were at the gate waiting to board. The speed of the check-in and security processes that I experienced on Friday were repeated today as was the speed of the boarding process.
So what’s the difference between flying domestically in Thailand and in the U.S.? To begin with, the Thai airlines have plenty of counter people to make the process of getting a boarding pass and checking luggage quick and efficient. Most airlines in the U.S. now seem to rely predominantly on internet check-in and on airport kiosks with a skeleton crew to manage them. Even though most people avoid the check-in counters, there are still too few airline personnel to service those who must use them.
Second, since the Thai airlines let you check bags for free, most people do. When airlines charge separately for bags rather than bundling them into the overall cost of flying, people will act to avoid the extra cost, but in doing so they impose costs, as set forth below, on all other travelers. I was one of only a handful that took my roll-on bag with me to the plane, a practice that I will surely abandon during my flights next week. Unlike U.S. airline passengers who seem more like Sherpas getting ready to scale Mt. Everest, the Thais carry very little onto the aircraft.
The passage through security is also far simpler, in no small part to the intelligence of the Thai government in not emulating the dreadful TSA with its Security Theater and ridiculous screening policies. Your computer can actually stay in its bag as it goes through the X-ray scan (if the purpose of the X-ray to see what is inside your bag, I really don’t understand why I need to take it out of the bag — maybe Big Sis or one of her minions can explain how this idiocy makes the public safer!) Next, you can keep your shoes, belt, jacket, and all other items of clothing on when you walk through the metal detector, so the lines before and after the detectors do not resemble the fitting rooms (without the privacy, of course) at your local clothing store. If the metal detector beeps, an officer does a quick scan with a metal detector wand and he is able to figure out that the belt buckle (or whatever metal you might have on your person or in your pockets) caused the detector to beep. There are also no naked X-ray scanning booths nor inappropriate groping by government agents. Finally, since most bags are checked, far fewer bags need to be screened at the passenger checkpoint. Net effect — easier to get through a security screen without the invasive and demeaning processes that travelers in the U.S. meekly submit to on a daily basis.
Boarding is also a far simpler and efficient process. On the domestic Thai airline that I flew (Nok Air — great looking planes as you can see in the picture on the left; BTW — Nok means bird in Thai), there was only one priority boarding group — families with small children — and no boarding zones. Everyone else — frequent flyer members, first-class passengers, and economy passengers — were invited to board at the same time.
Now this worked for several reasons. First, each boarding pass has a small piece of paper stapled to a larger one. When you get to the gate agent, she simply pulls the small piece of paper and you are free to proceed to the plane. When possible, both the front and rear doors of the aircraft are used for boarding and deplaning; those seated further back enter or exit from the rear door while those seated nearer to the front use the front door. Since so few people take bags onto the plane, there is plenty of overhead storage space and thus no need to jockey for position to get on early. In addition, there are no flight attendants imploring you to place your second bag under your seat, and no people blocking the aisle way as they search for somewhere to cram their bag. People simply get on, find their row, and sit down.
The flights were fine — nice Boeing 737 jets that were pretty much full. During the 45 minute flights, the cabin crew provided snacks — a brown paper bag that held a container of water and a small pastry — to all. They then came down the aisle with beverages — soft drinks, beer, and alcohol — that could be purchased.
I flew to Phitsanulok, a city in northern Thailand. The local airport was used by the U.S. during the Vietnam War and today it hosts a wing of the Royal Thai Air Force. What I found most interesting was that the planes that I saw through the window looked like DC-3s. When I was able to do some research, I found out that they were indeed DC-3s that had been modified by a company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basler_BT-67). These planes are now used to seed clouds and induce rain in times of drought.
The second interesting feature of the airport was the two old 747 jets that were parked there. These jumbo jets had no engines and all identifying markers — airline name, tail insignia, and registration numbers — had been painted over. From what I could find on the internet, it appears that the Thai authorities are looking into whether parts from these planes were sold without the proper taxes being paid. In any event, it was an odd site to see two non-functional 747s sitting at a relatively small airport that services a largely rural, agricultural region.
Happy Easter and Go Sabres!
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.