First person: Travelling in Thailand during Covid-19

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Thailand has gone through several phases of safety and hygiene protocols when it comes to domestic travel.

The country is now in the midst of its third and most intense wave of Covid-19, with safety protocols intensifying throughout the country on a provincial basis, as there has of yet been no countrywide mandate about domestic travel from the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), unlike during the lockdown in the summer of 2020.

Passengers entering the airport are diverted to a few doorways equipped with temperature scanning machines

Airport procedures
The protocols at the airports have remained mostly the same until now for domestic travellers – registration on the Mor Chana app for all travellers – but now in the midst of the third wave, some provinces have started requiring a Covid-free test result prior to travel, or a PCR test on arrival, whence if travellers test positive they will have to go into quarantine on the ground for two weeks at their own expense.

During my domestic travels, when I travelled through Suvarnabhumi Airport, I have observed that most entrances are closed. Passengers entering the airport are diverted to a few doorways equipped with temperature scanning machines.

All seats in the airport’s waiting areas are marked with stickers to encourage social distancing.

At the check-in, we are asked by check-in counter staff to fill a form on the Mor Chana tracking app with our travel details. We are also required to confirm that we are symptom-free. Staff will potentially ask to review the confirmation page from this form at the check-in gate, and also when we arrive in our destination province.

After the second wave of infections, passengers report being asked to fill out this form twice – once when checking in for their flight, and another when disembarking at the destination province.

Social distancing is enforced across Suvarnabhumi Airport

Previously, these additional checks have not taken up much time at the airport. But now with some provinces requiring Covid tests, and with all the additional documentation to be processed, passengers should prepare for longer processes. Some travellers report it is taking up to 20 minutes more per passenger to check in, particularly for international flights.

The queues are longer, but the airport is also relatively deserted as there are much fewer people flying.

Domestic flights
Airlines have gone back and forth with their safety protocols, intensifying them during each surge of infections and relaxing them in between.

When travel first resumed after the first wave of Covid-19, during September 2020, eating or drinking onboard domestic flights had been banned countrywide. Bangkok Airways served all its food covered, with its lounge meals presented in individual boxes and covered with cling wrap, and desserts wrapped in banana leaves.

The following month, Bangkok Airways began serving meals on planes again, but that was momentary.

With the onset of the second wave in December 2020, protocols intensified. By the beginning of 2021, Bangkok Airways had once again mandated that masks were to be worn at all times on board the planes, and ceased drinking or eating on board, instead providing a snack bag for passengers at disembarkation.

In February and March 2021, it also closed most airport kiosks, ticketing offices and lounges.

These restrictions have remained in place till as the third wave of infections emerged in early April 2021.

In mid-April, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) also announced harsher restrictions applicable to domestic airlines indefinitely, such as limiting flights between 23.00 to 04.00, social distancing for all flight seating arrangements, and a ban on eating, drinking and complimentary reading material in-flight.

The majority of Thai hotels have implemented several layers of hygiene protocols – firstly, the Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration (SHA) standard, originated by the TAT and the Ministry of Sports and Tourism, and then their own brand standards, each with their own defining characteristics.

Melia Koh Samui implements Stay Safe With Meliá – a safety and hygiene programme audited by Bureau Veritas, a global leader in inspection, certification and testing. Every room is sticker-shut after cleaning to ensure non-contamination. Meliá Chiang Mai will also implement the same standards when it opens later this year.

Many hotels have also assigned someone to oversee the hygiene programmes. For example, Kantima Chompoolad, the wellness manager at Meliá Koh Samui, is in charge of implementing Stay Safe With Meliá and compliance with its protocols. She also oversees the emotional well-being of guests – something the programme underscores.

Phakthima Naratthakit implements Banyan Tree Koh Samui’s SafeSanctuary Programme

Banyan Tree Koh Samui has hired Phakthima Naratthakit as its hygiene manager to implement the brand’s SafeSanctuary Programme, also audited by Bureau Veritas. The same programme is being implemented at Banyan Tree Krabi, which opened its doors in 4Q2020.

The SafeSanctuary Programme also emphasises wellbeing and nature-focused offerings with over 40 areas of enhanced protocols.

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