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AirAsia, Lion Air resume Thai flights as coronavirus under control

Airlines to implement strict social-distancing rules on planes

An information board at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok shows cancelled domestic and international flights on April 17. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

BANGKOK -- Some Southeast Asian airlines, including Thai AirAsia, will resume domestic flights as soon as this week after signs that local governments have managed to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Thailand and Malaysia will be following the lead of Vietnam in reopening domestic routes by the beginning of May, although at least one airline has said tickets would be more expensive than pre-pandemic levels to cover additional hygiene measures and more rigorous cleaning.

In Thailand, budget carriers Thai AirAsia, part of AirAsia Group, and Thai Lion Air, a local unit of Indonesia's largest private airlines, will resume flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, among other routes, from May 1.

The companies had grounded all flights since the Thai government declared a state of emergency at the end of March. Although the state of emergency will be extended until the end of May, the government is allowing the resumption of some flights as one of the first steps toward relaxing restrictions.

"[A]fter closely monitoring the pandemic situation and a relaxation in government controls, AirAsia has decided to resume domestic operations from May 1, 2020, providing services for guests who need to travel, whether for personal or business reasons," Thai AirAsia CEO Santisuk Klongchaiya said in a statement.

But it will be some time yet before international flights will be resumed, as governments continue to be cautious against imported coronavirus cases. Thai Airways International will suspend all flights until the end of May.

For the domestic flights that will be resumed, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has ordered airlines to implement strict measures to curb any spread of the disease. For example, passengers must not be seated next to each other and the rear section of each aircraft must be left empty to quarantine passengers who show symptoms.

Airlines will have to charge more for each ticket as they will only be able to sell about 60% of seats, according to a spokesperson for Thai Lion Air.

In Malaysia, AirAsia will resume key domestic routes on April 29. The airline will equip its aircraft with air filters similar to those used in hospitals. The company will also step up measures to disinfect the cabin after each flight.

The company plans to restart flights in India, the Philippines and Indonesia as soon as it is allowed to. 

Vietnam resumed domestic flights after the government lifted the lockdowns of most regions on April 23. There are now 13 flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, its commercial hub, about 30% of the normal level.

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