Aug 21 2012
This is old news to many out there, but we felt a one-month reminder was in order: All AirAsia flights from Bangkok — whether domestic or international — will depart from the old Don Muang Airport in Bangkok’s northern reaches beginning October 1. Whether it’s due to them being occupied by political demonstrators, flood waters or painfully long immigration queues, Bangkok’s two airports have consistently made headlines in recent years. Let’s take a closer look at the latest chapter in Bangkok’s tale of two airports.
Opened just six years ago, the city’s main international airport, Suvarnabhumi, has been increasingly riddled with problems ranging from discoveries of faulty initial construction, to overworked and understaffed immigration officers, to the airport already surpassing its current capacity of 45 million annual passengers by some 6 million. An expansion project has been approved to eventually up the airport’s annual capacity to 60 million, but many workers are currently being kept busy repairing the constant cracking and occasional sinkholes in the airport’s runways, which are built on wet, bog-like land east of Bangkok (hence Suvarnabhumi’s unofficial nickname, “swampy“, although the airport’s official website refers to it as “airport of smiles”).
Don Muang Airport, which first opened to commercial flights way back in 1924, was under more than a metre of water only 10 months ago during the floods of 2011. Don Muang was completely shut down after Suvarnabhumi’s opening in 2006, but after it became clear the new airport wasn’t going to sufficiently handle Bangkok’s needs, the old airport was re-opened in 2007 for domestic flights only. After already overcoming what once seemed an imminent closure, then being seized by protesters, then closing again due to last year’s flooding, the re-opening of Don Muang to international flights is an improbable comeback on the scale of Meatloaf’s 1993 return or George Foreman reclaiming the heavyweight title at the age of 45.
Beginning October 1, 2012, Asia’s largest budget airline — AirAsia — will join Nok Air, Orient Thai and tiny Solar Air in the old Don Muang confines after being coerced by the government with significant airport tax breaks. Other regional budget and small scale airlines like Tiger, Jetstar and Bangkok Airways will stay put at Suvarnabhumi, as will all Thai Airways flights. After an apparently disastrous trial run through Don Muang recently, the South Korean budget carrier, T’Way, will also resume operating only through Suvarnabhumi. Only time will tell if Don Muang will be ready for the eight million annual passengers that are estimated to fly with Air Asia to/from Bangkok in 2013.
Logistically, AirAsia’s move will make things considerably more complicated for many passengers. Arriving at Suvarnabhumi on any major international carrier and transferring on the same day to Phuket or Chiang Mai on AirAsia, for example, will require travelling the roughly 45 kilometres from Suvarnabhumi to Don Muang. The minimum for this trip by taxi is in the 45 minute neighbourhood though this can easily jump to upwards of two hours or more in Bangkok’s notorious rush hour traffic. Expect to pay between 300 and 400 baht if transferring by taxi.
Passengers could also take the airport link elevated train system from Suvarnabhumi and switch to the BTS sky train at Phaya Thai station. However, the sky train track ends some 15 kilometres south of Don Muang at Morchit station so going this route would still require a substantial taxi or bus ride to the airport. Other options include taking the 24-hour #554 local bus (around 20 baht) from Suvarhabhumi to Rangsit and requesting to be let off at Don Muang, or hopping in one of the #555 mini buses that run directly from Suvarnabhumi to Don Muang for 40 baht.
If coming from the south on the Don Muang tollway or Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, notice the enormous concrete supports with protruding steel wires that were built years ago as the first step of a planned rail link project to Don Muang Airport that was abandoned when the Suvarnabhumi project went forward. These have always been an eye-sore, but even more so now that a rail link to the old airport seems as necessary as ever. Until a shiny new train occupies these monstrous concrete columns — don’t hold your breath on that front — we recommend allotting at least a three- to five-hour window (more if relying on public buses) between your arrival to Suvarnabhumi and departure from Don Muang.
AirAsia has put an open offer on the table to accommodate customers who booked transfers with tight time frames before the move was announced. In the meantime, we would like to wish any guinea pigs flying with AirAsia from Don Muang in early October the best of luck.
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