Thailand’s budget airlines: A quick guide

WITH new budget airlines opening up routes across Thailand, there are now even fewer places you have to endure the bumpy long bus journeys of old. The ease of access also means destinations across northern Thailand are opening up like never before.

With many offering free on board services such as refreshments and seat allocation, they also seem to be something of a hybrid between premium service airlines and true low-cost carriers. In any case, it seems there’s never been a better time to fly in Thailand.

If you are planning to take one of these new flights you will need to check carefully what routes are on offer. Some have pushed routes and launches back as they experience delays. Let’s take a look at some of the newest options on offer.

Nok Air

Nok Air

It’s been around since 2007 but if you haven’t heard of it til now you might just want to note down Nok Air. They fly to 25 destinations all over Thailand and are offering up new routes and new aircraft, all the time. This means they now serve the highest number of domestic routes in Thailand.

Nok Air is the budget arm of Thai Airways International. At one stage it experimented with routes to India and Vietnam before terminating those destinations. It now concentrates on the domestic market and even offers island destination tickets combining flight, bus and ferry tickets. The fleet size is 14.

Nok Air

Kan Airlines
Another domestic airline opening up routes across Thailand’s north is the 12-seater Kan Air operation. While you may feel a little buffeted about on such a tiny plane, apparently the views alone make it worth it.

Kan Air. Pic: Bangkok Post

Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang, Mae Sot, Nan, Pai and Phitsanulok are the current destinations with plans to extend to regions south of Bangkok as well such as Phuket, Ranong, Chumphon, Hat Yai and Betong. This would involve the acquisition of a second plane should the northern routes go well. Currently the airline offers a flat one-way fee for its northern destinations.

Orient Thai
Orient Thai serves 250,000 passengers annually to destinations such as Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai and Trang. They also plan to open up routes to Northeast Thailand. The airline has no charges for seat allocation, credit card payments and snacks. You get 20kg of free checked baggage with your seat purchase.

Orient Thai also offers charter flights and has been involved in humanitarian efforts. The fleet size is 15 with more on order for further expansion.

Be warned, this airline has a poor safety record. In September 2007, Flight 269 of now defunct subsidiary airline One-Two-Go crashed on landing at Phuket Airport, Thailand, killing 89 people. Subsequent investigations unearthed widespread corruption and, according to the British coroner, “a flagrant disregard for passenger safety”. The airline was subsequently banned from operating in the EU.

Orient Thai

P.C. Air
P.C. Air became infamous as the world’s first “ladyboy” Thai airline. They opted to employ transsexuals as flight attendants in a move to create a rather unique identity for themselves and equal employment opportunities. And it worked with more than 100 transsexuals applying for the four positions on offer.

The airline began in December 2011 from Bangkok to Vientiane and plans to offer routes to two Chinese cities in late January 2012.

Four transsexual flight attendants were chosen by new airline PC Air after hundreds applied for the positions. Pic: Reuters.

Crystal Thai Airlines
Crystal Thai Airlines was to have launched in early 2011 offering low fares that included meals. They aimed to target the leisure market and to become the third largest airline. While it is still not yet in the air, it is promising routes to Thimpu (Bhutan), Cochin (India), Muan and Seoul (South Korea), Clark (Philippines) and Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dubai (UAE) all from Bangkok. Connections from Phuket will go to Seoul and Mumbai. Check their site for updates.

Thai Smile
This airline will be launched in July 2012 from Bangkok and is to be operated by Thai Airways International, apparently to compete head on with AirAsia. Initially four aircraft, later to be joined by seven more, will operate on domestic routes of up to two hours duration such as Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen, Surat Thani, Ubon Ratchathani and Udoni Thani. The parent company will however cease operation on these routes as a result.

Thai Smile will later expand to other large markets in Asia such as Penang, Danang, Brunei, Amritsar and Medan with a plan to reach India, China and ASEAN states by 2013. Services are expected to include free seat selection, 20kg baggage and on board refreshments.

Thai Smile.

Of course other airlines to consider in Thailand include Bangkok Air which, while not operated as a budget airline, offers good prices on domestic and international flights while offering premium services. AirAsia also operates on 13 Thai routes. Sunny Airways is another carrier about to start operating focusing on Asian and European markets.