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Suvarnabhumi Airport : Flight Status

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

180 fume over 28-hour delay in S'pore flight

HE thought it odd that his flight details were not flashed onscreen at the check-in counter of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

But since people were still being checked in for Tiger Airways' 8.10pm flight to Singapore on Sunday, Mr Seng Ngee Kiang did not ask questions.

But it turned out that flight TR109 was cancelled. Its 180 passengers ended up waiting 28 hours for another flight, at 1am this morning.

Upsetting them further was the manner in which they claim Tiger Airways treated them - no airline official spoke to them till the next morning.

One passenger alleged he couldn't get through to the airline staff when he called for information.

Mr Seng, 33, a network engineer, had gone to Bangkok last Thursday with his wife and her 14 relatives, with a return flight booked for Sunday.

They sensed something was amiss when they remained at the boarding gate 30 minutes past flight time with no announcements.

Another passenger, sales engineer Glenn Tan, 29, told The New Paper that by 9.15pm, five airport staff appeared.

He said: "Some passengers were frustrated and yelled "What is going on?". It did not help that the Thai staff had communication problems as they spoke limited English."

Mr Seng described the situation as "chaotic", with babies crying.

Eventually, airport staff called out each passenger's name to return their departure cards and boarding passes.

All they were told was that the aircraft had a "landing gear" fault, said Mr Tan.

Passengers were instructed to return to immigration counters to void their departure chops and reclaim luggage at the arrival hall.

It was only when they were taken to buses and vans that they realised it could be an overnight delay.

They were taken to the three-star Alexander Hotel, about 20 minutes away.

A hotel employee told The New Paper that 70 of its 305 rooms were taken up by these affected passengers.

The receptionists told the passengers to assemble at the lobby by 8.30am the next day for an update.

Mr Seng's brother-in-law, Mr Lim B Y, 28, said none of the family members ventured out as they were on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Said Mr Seng: "When 8.30am came, we were told to come back an hour later. When we gathered again at 9.30am, we were asked to return in an hour's time. It was getting frustrating."

According to Mr Tan, an impatient passenger rang the Singapore embassy which was unable to help them further.

Then he rang the Tiger Airways office in Singapore.

Mr Tan claimed no information was made available.

At 12.30pm, two officials from the Thai airport arrived at the hotel.

By this time, one of Mr Seng's relatives booked a Swissair flight to Singapore that afternoon as he could not miss important meetings on Tuesday.

Mr Seng recalled: "It was while we were having our catered buffet lunch in the function room that we were given updates. The two Thai officials were speaking so softly and seemed overwhelmed by people near the front who badgered them with lots of questions."

The passengers learnt that a special flight had been chartered at 1am, Singapore time.

When contacted, a Tiger Airways spokesman confirmed the delay.

She said passengers were updated via a letter to their hotel rooms around noon once a new flight time was confirmed.

The letter said: "Tiger Airways apologises to passengers affected by the delay of TR109 (Bangkok to Singapore) on 15 June 2008. Upon landing, the aircraft experienced a technical problem with its nose gear. We are now in the midst of repair to rectify the problem. In the meanwhile, we are making alternative travel arrangements for affected passengers."

It also notified them that as it is a peak travel period, an extra flight had to be added.

She added that the Thai airport officials handling the situation were representing the airline as they were "contracted ground handlers" of Tiger Airways.

The fault with the "nose gear" was only realised when the flight from Singapore landed at Suvarnabhumi half an hour before it was due to take off back to Singapore, she said.

Mr Lim felt that at least a middle-management airline employee should have met the passengers earlier on to keep them informed.

Mr Tan said: "It was really about how they managed uncertainty. Technical faults may not be anticipated and safety should never be compromised, we understand that."

But he expected a backup plan for such situations to be ready.

All three men paid more than $250 in air fare. All had to take two extra days of leave.

Mr Tan said his wife, an accountant, was not as lucky as she had to return to work on Tuesday morning - about five hours after the flight was to land at 3.30am.

The airline spokesman said that Tiger Airways would be investigating how the ground handlers managed the situation before commenting further.

She added: "The safety of Tiger Airways passengers is top priority and we will ensure the aircraft meets airworthiness standards before operating any flight.

"We regret that there may be incidental delays during which we endeavour to keep passengers informed when updates are available and do our best within our means to make alternative arrangements to minimise the inconvenience caused."

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