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December 04, 2008

South Asia Air Travel Update

by Barbara S. Peterson

FURTHER UPDATEBBC reports that Bangkok's international airport has reopened. There is a huge backlog of 300,000 stranded passengers in Thailand, so it could take a while to get them all out. Check here for updates on the airport situation maintained by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

While international airlines serving South Asia are trying to convince the flying public that everything is back to normal in the region, the latest news from the Indian subcontinent is hardly encouraging. Flights are back to normal in Mumbai, where terrorists killed more than 170 in last week's attack on tourist sites, but Indian authorities reported today that a new threat has emerged targeting major airports in Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore. 

Just how credible this latest threat is is unclear, but the authorities, stung by sharp criticism of their handling of the Mumbai rampage, say they aren't taking any chances. Passengers are required to arrive at the airport three hours before their flight, reports say, and they are being subjected to far more invasive frisking than usual. Screeners are going through all bags, and every vehicle is being checked before entering the security cordon.

Meanwhile, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport reopens today after a weeklong siege by anti-government demonstrators. Flights are being restored gradually, though, and thousands of travelers are still without transportation out of the country. Some airlines are taking steps to rescue stranded passengers: Budget airline Air Asia, for example, has been operating extra flights this week out of Bangkok's U-Tapao naval base to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and other destinations in Thailand like Chiang Mai and Phuket.   

What if you have reservations for a flight to the region in the near future but would rather postpone until the picture is clearer? Chances are you won't get a refund: Delta, for example, offered travelers to Mumbai that option for only a brief window right after the attacks. For their policies, check out the Web site of the airline in question and then get on the phone if you're not satisfied. At the very least, you should demand a chance to rebook without penalty for a future date.

Further reading:
* Air India
* Thai Air
* On the Fly: The airline industry

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