Thai Airways International Public Company Limited (THAI) has unveiled plans to reintroduce nine domestic routes previously serviced by its subsidiary Thai Smile Airways, with the imminent merger of Thai Smile into the group.
The nine domestic routes that THAI plans to relaunch – utilising A320 aircraft ported over from Thai Smile – during its winter flight schedule spanning October 2023 to March 2024 will connect Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport to Krabi, Khon Kaen, Phuket, Narathiwat, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai, Udon Thani, and Ubon Ratchathani.
Thai Smile currently operates 55 routes, nearly half of which are domestic flights. The rest include unique international routes to connect secondary destinations in Thailand to primary and secondary locations abroad, such as Udon Thani-Colombo, Hat Yai-Colombo, or Penang-Chiang Mai.
However, the decision to cease operations on one of Thai Smile’s most popular routes on October 1, the Suvarnabhumi-Surat Thani route, has drawn backlash and raised questions about its potential consequences on local tourism, prompting Surat Thani governor Wichawut Jinto to appeal for reconsideration regarding the discontinuation.
He referred to Surat Thani International Airport as the “Suvarnabhumi airport of the upper South”, given the province’s key role in the local tourism infrastructure.
Surat Thani is key hop-off point to drive to nearby popular tourist destinations in the province such as Khao Sok National Park, and is a transit point to provinces with less connectivity such as Chumpon. It also is the nearest airport to several major piers from which travellers can take a boat to the famed islands Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao.
For now, the Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi)-Surat Thani route will continue to be serviced by Vietjet, as well as Nok Air, Air Asia and Thai Lion Air from Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport to Surat Thani.
Earlier in May, the merger between THAI and Thai Smile was approved by Thai Airways creditors. The move includes 800 Thai Smile staff being transferred over to THAI, to reduce operational costs, and aid with recovery from substantial debt and losses exacerbated by the pandemic.