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Bangkok Reopens Old Airport While Repairs Continue at New Facility

Bangkok's old Don Muang Airport has reopened for domestic flights. The move is meant to relieve pressure on the Thai capital's new $4 billion Suvarnabhumi International, while repairs and improvements are made there. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

Suvarnabhumi International, which opened in September, was supposed to put Bangkok at the forefront of air travel in Southeast Asia, and replace the nearly century-old Don Muang Airport.

But instead of becoming a showpiece, Suvarnabhumi was soon engulfed in problems and complaints. There were not enough toilets. The signs were impossible to follow. Worst of all, cracks began appearing on some of the taxiways, making parts of the facility unusable.

To relieve the pressure on the airport while repairs are made, the Thai government swallowed hard, and asked some airlines to reroute their flights back to Don Muang.

Most of the airlines refused. On Sunday, when Don Muang officially reopened to commercial traffic, only three domestic lines made the switch.

One of them is Nok Air, a low-cost subsidiary of national carrier Thai Airways International that shifted all of its daily flights to Don Muang.

Patee Sarasin, chief executive officer of Nok Air, says his company was happy to make the move.

"We believe it is absolutely essential for us to actually move back to Don Muang airport," Patee says. "We just started operating three years ago, and we attracted a lot of new customers. Another problem was the fact that Suvarnabhumi Airport was not originally designed for low-cost carriers. Congestion in there is horrendous at the moment already."

Another budget carrier, called One-Two-Go, also made the move, and Thai Airways has rerouted some of its domestic flights to Don Muang as well. The three carriers will offer 140 flights a day. Don Muang previously served more than 700 a day.

There have been concerns that passengers switching between domestic and international flights might be inconvenienced by the long distance between the airports.

There were stories Saturday of tourists arriving at Don Muang from the resort island of Phuket on one of the domestic airlines, and having to make a 45-minute taxi trip to check in for their international flights at Suvarnabhumi.

But reports in the local newspapers said the airlines will be providing shuttle buses between the two airports. John Koldowski, spokesman for the Pacific Asia Travel Association, says the biggest problem will be for the airline operators, not the passengers.

"If you look at it from an operator's point of view - yes it's going to be a headache, because logistically, you've got so many more complications creeping in," Koldowski says. "From a consumer point of view, generally speaking most wouldn't care as long as they get to their destination on time with a minimum of fuss."

Originally, the move to Don Muang was to be temporary. But airport officials say the move will allow them to delay spending a further $1.47 billion on expansion plans at Suvarnabhumi. Whether Don Muang might be closed again, and when, is not known.