Thai flights resume but thousands still stranded

Some Britons were able to return home from strife-torn Thailand today but thousands of tourists remained stranded.

While some countries laid on special planes to get their nationals home, Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell appeared to rule out using Government-chartered flights, saying the two main Thai airports were still shut due to anti-government protests.

Thai Airways and Dubai-based carrier Emirates were among airlines laying on extra flights from airports not affected by the protests that have rocked the country in recent days.

Aircraft stuck at the main Bangkok airport were allowed to leave but some were pulling away empty.

To make matters worse, the protesters - members of the People's Alliance for Democracy - stressed they would not allow airports to reopen until the government stood down.

A spokeswoman from UK travel organisation Abta said today: "It is hoped that some UK tourists might be able to leave from Utapao military airport, while Emirates are taking people to London from Chiang Mai airport in Thailand via Dubai."

Package tours to Thailand have been suspended, as have British Airways daily services between London and Bangkok.

Among those managing to get out of Thailand was the pregnant wife of England rugby league captain Jamie Peacock.

Faye Peacock and the couple's four-year-old son Lewis boarded a flight to Stockholm and were due to land in Manchester this morning.

The England and Leeds Rhino player said: "I am looking forward now to having a great Christmas with my family and the safe arrival of our second child in the New Year."

Mr Rammell said: "The key issue is the fact the two airports in Bangkok are closed and therefore you've effectively got planes stacking up and not being able to get slots."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The situation in Thailand remains tense and we are following events very closely.

"We regret the violence surrounding the protests and have reiterated to the government, the army, the demonstrators, and others in Bangkok that all parties need to work to resolve the crisis, respecting the rule of law and the country's democratic institutions.

"Bangkok's two main airports remain closed but airlines have been able to arrange flights and transfers to and from alternative airports. Some British nationals have been able to fly out but not in the necessary numbers.

"We have continued our consultations with airlines and Thai authorities today and action is being stepped up to enable people to travel in greater numbers, for example via Chiang Mai."

He added that British Embassy staff were regularly visiting British nationals stuck in Bangkok and providing consular help, such as refreshing supplies of prescription medication.

Australian carrier Qantas said it would operate a relief flight today between the Thai resort of Phuket and Singapore and another on Wednesday.

Qantas also said its subsidiary carrier Jetstar would operate its scheduled Melbourne-Bangkok service tomorrow via Phuket, with passengers bussed between Phuket and Bangkok, and continue to operate its scheduled three-times-a-week Sydney-Phuket services.

Qantas said the three flights would provide about 900 seats.