Monday, October 1, 2012

Back in Business

Nok Airlines employees celebrate the reopening of Don Mueang Airport Monday. 

This is not my first time in Bangkok. Nor my second or third. I first came to this amazing city back in 1966. My father was auditor for USOM (the forerunner to US AID) and Bangkok was our first post. 

The airport we flew in and out of then, and the airport that greeted millions of tourists, business people, and served as the hub of Thailand's air transport network for 94 years was Don Mueang. (Confusingly, also spelled Don Muang, DonMuang or DonMueang - sometimes all on the same sign.) 

Don Mueang has to be one of the oldest continuously operating airfields in the world. It opened in 1914 as a Royal Thai Air Force Base. It grew through the years as Thailand's economy and role in the world grew. Bangkok grew up around the airport, leaving no room for growth or improvement. So Airports of Thailand (AOT) built Suvarnabhumi (Swampy to locals), a new, state of the art airport in a swamp east of Bangkok. 

It's a huge sprawling place. Built to accommodate 45 million passengers a year, it's already over capacity and is expected to serve more than 52 million this year. So in the spirit of "Everything old is new again" Thai authorities and looked around and saw an underused Don Mueang airport calling to it. 

A few coats of paints, some new computers and Bangkok has a new airport. Today was its official grand reopening. Actually today was more like the 3rd grand reopening. It was closed in 2006 after Swampy opened and reopened in 2007 as a low cost carrier airport. Closed again in 2011 because of flooding that swept through central Thailand and inundated DMK, Don Mueang's IATA code. For a while the old airport served as a refugee center, until the refugees too were forced out by flood waters. After extensive repairs, it reopened early in 2012. Today marked its newest reopening as an international airport. 

Air Asia, the largest low cost carrier in Asia (and a nice airline to fly coincidently) had a huge presence at Swampy. Over the weekend they moved all of their operations from Swampy to DMK. 

Air Asia spokesmodels paraded through the terminal in outfits representing the countries Air Asia serves. Air Asia reminds me a lot of Southwest in the US. They have a certain cheekiness. 

I've flown in and out DMK a couple of times recently (though not yet on this trip). I always liked it. In 2010, when I used it, things were pretty spartan. 

Not many places to eat and not much to do but check in was easy and security was a breeze. Returning, bags were waiting for you when you got to the arrivals area. All in all a very nice experience. 

The new DMK is very modern. Lots of shopping (this is Thailand after all - shopping is an integral part of the Thai experience), lots of food. I fly out later this month - Air Asia to Hat Yai for a series of stories I want to work on in southern Thailand. It'll be interesting to see how the new Don Mueang stacks up to the old one.