Phuket Airport Tossed Out Stranded Tourists onto Streets of Phuket at 1am

17 Feb

Stranded passengers on Phuket blasted Air Australia and Australia’s airline regulators as they struggled to find alternative flights home today.

In a blow to Phuket’s reputation for hospitality, passengers were forced to find accommodation at 1am this morning when Phuket International Airport closed its doors and forced out the people from cancelled flight VC 241.

Families with children were the most distressed when the budget Australian airline – formerly Strategic – went belly up with nobody at Phuket airport to help passengers find alternative flights home.

Phuketwan has yet to confirm reports that there had been unaccompanied children on the flight, cancelled because the airline could not meet its fuel bill.

Cancellations at Phuket resorts are likely with the flow of tourists to Phuket from Melbourne and Brisbane suddenly and unexpectedly halted.

Australian honorary consul Larry Cunningham, at Phuket airport, said about 200 Australians were there by late morning Phuket time, hoping for flights home.

”They are mostly in a good mood, relaxed after a Phuket holiday,” he said. The Australian Embassy was sending help from Bangkok, he said.

The drama will continue over the next few days as passengers from other Air Australia flights back to Australia discover they have to pay out for another return fare.

Chaos returned to Phuket International Airport this morning as passengers sought alternative flights, choked the internet cafe in search of alternatives, or sat waiting for LTU, the Air Australia agency, to open for explanations.

Phuket airport authorities are also likely to have some explaining to do as to why they forced out the Air Australia passengers at 1am.


All of them had to have their exit stamps cancelled. Some had bought duty free items that they could not take with them.

All had to pay large sums to get back to Australia on other flights, and some fear they will never be compensated because travel insurance does not cover an airline going into administration.

Phuketwan was at Phuket International Airport this morning to see the scramble for seats.

Some passengers questioned why Australian authorities had allowed Air Australia to operate short of the capital needed to stay in the air for more than a few months.

Amy Simpson, 24, a psychiatric nurse from Weribee, near Melbourne, and Chloe Cox-Haines, 23, a student, from the Gold Coast, were caught short of cash after spending seven weeks sightseeing around Asia before heading for home from Phuket.

They made it out today on a Jetstar flight to Singapore.

”It was absolute chaos last night,” Amy said today, in the checkin queue. ”The plane was due out at 7.30pm and we were told at first about 6.30 it would be delayed until 8pm due to ‘minor difficulties.’

”Every hour or so there were further delays. Eventually, close to midnight, we were told we would not be flying. Everyone then had to be reprocessed back through Immigration.

”We had four bottles from the duty free shop that we could not take with us. We managed to find a room for the night at the Airport Mansion.

”I guess we were lucky because we managed to get on an alternative flight. Lots of other people are still struggling. It’s cost us an extra $A1200 so far.

”There was nobody from Air Australia at the airport last night, and the Thais didn’t know what to tell us. All we were given was a free bottle of soft drink.”

Bill Tehan, travelling with wife Doris, sister-in-law Giselle Spiteri and daughter Amber, 11, joined the queue for the Jetstar flight to Singapore without tickets in the hope there might be a way home.

”It really is unacceptable,” he said. ”We’ve been left in the lurch. We had to catch a taxi each way from Phuket airport last night and again this morning, and the extra night cost us 3600 baht.

”The holiday on Phuket has been great. The flight home . . . we’ll let you know if we ever get one.”

The family comes from Seabrook at Point Cook, not far from Melbourne.

Simon and Kirstie Parker had had a great week at the Westin Phuket but were anxious to get back because their 14-month-old son is waiting for them.

”There were lots of little kids on the cancelled flight and some very upset families,” Mrs Parker said. ”We’ll be glad to get home. What worries us now is that travel insurance doesn’t cover this situation.

”We have a flight out on Jetstar but it’s overbooked.”

Elise Nelson and Rick Gregson are not due out until next Friday but the Air Australia failure means they and hundreds of other Phuket tourists are anxiously awaiting news from the authorities in Australia about alternative plans to get them home.

”We are enjoying our holiday,” Elise said. ”But we don’t want to be stuck here.”

The couple, from the Melbourne suburb of Frankston, were waiting for news and hoping the LTU agency would be able to give them some advice this morning.

Strategic – later to become Air Australia – filled the gap left when V Australia stopped flying from Australia to Phuket. The route is seen as a highly popular and potentially profitable one.

But until a reputable brand fills the gap, Phuket tourism may lose out as Australians opt to go somewhere with a reliable service.


Some passengers claimed today that other airlines were jacking up the price of fares out of Phuket because of the logjam caused by Air Australia going into administration.

Today’s chaos followed the same pattern as Strategic’s notorious Phuket standings last year, when passengers were left with no help and had to organise their own flights home.

But first, Strategic brought planeloads back to Phuket airport under the impression they were going home. The airline knew that repairs in Kuala Lumpur meant there would be no flights.

They just preferred to keep their captive passengers in the dark. Why did Australian authorities ignore the wakeup call presented by the Strategic strandings and allow the airline to relaunch as Air Australia?

It’s a question that should be asked at the highest level today as MPs contemplate the enormous damage done to Australia’s image by this failure.

Phuket resort managements with cancelled bookings are also entitled to question why the Australian regulators failed to perceive that this airline was heading into service-ending turbulence.


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