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$1,500 flights

$1,500 flights

The Editor,

With reference to the article in the latest issue of the Phnom Penh Post (July 12-24)

by Mr Hurley Scroggins, page 9, which reported that "Journalists had to shell

out $1,500 cash at the airport to get on board Orient Airlines first flight from

Bangkok to Phnom Penh".

I think that it is necessary to clarify the matter.

On July 8, I was contacted by number of companies in Bangkok and Phnom Penh to charter

one of our L1011 (299 seats) aircraft to Phnom Penh for the purpose of evacuating

foreigners.

SOS International, based in Singapore, was the first company to confirm a charter

contract with us. The charter price was only US$71,760 for the trip. SOS chartered

the whole aircraft and we understood from their representative in Bangkok that we

would be uplifting passengers from Phnom Penh and on the outbound flight from Bangkok

there would only be approximately five of their representatives from Bangkok.

Meantime, I had received a call from Associated Press and two other press agencies

requesting to send their journalists on this first flight. Without hesitation, I

told them that they can come with us "free of charge". But they insisted

on paying, so I told them that in that case they should pay us $280 each. This is

the standard price that has been charged to the few passengers that we have had out

of Bangkok.

I came to Phnom Penh on July 9 by our own ferry flight from U-Tapao Airport, where

we base our aircraft. Originally I was supposed to return to Bangkok on the same

day. I was not aware that the airport terminal was destroyed and not functional,

and decided to remain on stand-by at Pochentong Airport to assist in handling the

flights. You are no doubt aware that the international telephone lines were not functioning

on the day and we had no way to contact Bangkok. I was surprised to see about 50

journalists arrive on that flight.

What we did know at the time was that SOS planned to sell the extra seats out of

Phnom Penh at $1,500 per seat. SOS even offered us a commission if we could help

them sell the extra seats at the inflated prices. Of course, we refused to participate

and strongly advised them not to do so as it would directly affect our reputation.

Unfortunately, SOS did not take my advice and prohibited the journalists and others

whom I had already promised could get on board the flight from Bangkok, including

my Ambassador, unless they agreed to pay SOS US$1,500 each.

The fare that was charged by our agents in Phnom Penh (US$280) is based on the standard

return airfare charged by other airlines. Taking into account that we had to ferry

the aircraft from Bangkok empty, and that the costs of setting up and operating them

is higher than operating a regular scheduled service, I do not believe this price

is unreasonable.

I think you should know my character well. I would never do such a stupid thing to

upset the public. This operation has been run by Orient Thai Airlines and the situation

is especially sensitive due to my status as the former CIA (Cambodia International

Airlines). I don't want to get into any more problems. I am quite happy to run my

operation in Thailand and have no plan to resume CIA whatsoever.

I shall leave Phnom Penh and I will be contacting the passengers who paid SOS on

the flight to gather more information on the matter so that I can take it up with

SOS. I don't think that SOS will bother about that but I will try to ask them to

reconsider the impact and convince them to refund the excess fare if possible.

I hope that my clarification gives you the full picture of the incident. Please do

not hesitate to contact me if you have any more questions on this matter or our operations

in general. I will be more than happy to answer you.

- Udom Tantiprasongchai, Managing Director, Orient Thai Airlines.

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