When planning a holiday, people usually focus on their destination, hotel accommodation and attractions. Let’s face it, time at the airport isn’t a highlight of a trip, but we also know the facilities at the airport are important to travellers with a disability. It’s good to be informed and prepared so you know what to expect. The last time I visited Bangkok airport was prior to having kids, so a long time ago. At that time, I remember a stopover in the wee hours of the morning. I wanted to buy a stamp for a postcard and had to wake up the guy taking a snooze behind the counter to do so. He didn’t get off his camp stretcher bed, just handed me the stamp whilst rubbing his eyes. Things have changed, and on my most recent visit to Thailand I found a modern, clean facility which caters well to passengers of all abilities. So here’s what I discovered about accessibility at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Check in is the same the world over. Arrive early and you’ll be rewarded with shorter queues, check in staff who are less frazzled and a better chance of snagging an extra seat for additional space. I will warn Hand luggage seems to be the focus of staff these days and I find it’s being weighed fairly diligently by check-in staff. In Bangkok, passengers received a compliance sticker to display once hand luggage was weighed. Check the hand luggage weight limit when booking your flights.
It’s fantastic to see security is taken so seriously in Thailand but it does mean you need to allow plenty of time to check in, clear security and get to the gate. For my return flight to Sydney I cleared three separate security screenings before I boarded my flight. At each security point I needed to remove my lap top and mobile battery pack from my hand luggage. The final security clearance was before entering the gate and water bottles were removed. So unlike Sydney where you can purchase a water for your flight once you’ve cleared security, in Bangkok, the water can be taken at the gate.
We understand it’s important to have access to good bathroom facilities before and after a flight. I didn’t find a Changing Places facility at Bangkok Airport but there is good stand-alone accessible bathroom facilities throughout the terminals. I travelled both domestically and internationally and the facilities were good in both areas of the airport.
Many of the accessible bathrooms are at the front of either the men or women’s toilets. They are literally at the right or left before you get into the main cubicle area (see photo 2 down). Other stand-alone facilities are scattered throughout the airport including at, or near, the gate. Most of the facilities are large rooms with good space for transferring from a wheelchair, grab rails which move out of the way for transferring and accessible bathroom sinks. Not all are as colourful as the one pictured above.
Rails at the sinks seemed to be in a fixed position.
Many of the accessible bathrooms are labelled as being available to families, pregnant ladies and wheelchair users.
NAVIGATING THE AIRPORT
Service/concierge counters are located around the airport or you can use the touch screen, self-service information boards. I was particularly enthusiastic about the accessibility feature on the board which allows a wheelchair user to change the location of the touch-screen buttons. When I touched the wheelchair symbol, all the touch buttons were moved to a lower level for easier access for anyone using a chair. Such a simple enhancement to a board but extremely useful.
I travelled to Bangkok with Thai Baht (cash) from Sydney which I obtained from a local shopping centre’s money exchange. As a general rule, you won’t get as good a rate exchanging money at an airport. But, if you get caught short, you can exchange money in the terminal. Remember, unlike many places, cash is handy in Thailand. Particularly if you like to shop at the markets or street vendors, like me!
Bangkok Airport is home to many international food outlets including Burger King, Coffee Club, Krispy Kreme, McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks to name a few. For kids, or even adults, who may not fancy the airline fare, it’s good to know there are options at the airport.
And even if you don’t partake, make sure you check out the unusual options at Krispy Kreme shop.
And if you are wanting to pick up some snacks (chips, chocolates, fruit, sandwiches) my pick is the Family Mart which is located at the far right (as you look from the front of the terminal towards the check-in counters) of the terminal behind the check-in counters. I picked up a range of chocolates and chips to bring home to the kids. Ham and Cheese Sandwich Lays chips seems fairly novel but we are yet to try them. I also grabbed some fruit for the flight.
An array of shopping is available at the airport from high-end brands like Guuci to stores selling local Thai souvenirs and products. If you remember that one person you forgot to buy a present for you have one last chance at the airport. You will pay more for the privilege of course. Scarves sell for a third of the price at the local markets but at the airport they know you can’t shop around. The airport stores all take credit card unlike the markets though.
And if you need a pharmacy item, Boots may be able to help with general medications available.
Throughout the airport there’s clear access signage and priority entry to security. For people needing wheelchair assistance, airport staff seem to be assigned to assist you to the gate. Wheelchairs are available to borrow from the airport and as previously mentioned, accessible toilets are positioned throughout the terminal.
As usual, I noted wheelchair users, families and those needing assistance boarded the aircraft first. Priority seating was offered both near check-in counters and at the gates.
The airport in general is modern with easy wide thoroughfares. Airports are now huge though and the majority of the time it is a long walk to the gates. If you have a mobility restriction or find walking long distances difficult, I recommend seeking assistance to get to the gate. The big modern airports are wonderful but they do mean vast areas needed to be covered to get to a flight.
Bangkok Airways seem to be the only airline who offer a lounge facility which economy passengers can use. It seemed popular with families for the play area it provides. I couldn’t see any pay per visit lounges.
Walking around I did find some areas were less populated and therefore quieter but it’s just a matter of hunting them out when you get near your gate. There are no dedicated quiet zones for families with a child with Autism.
The only thing Bangkok Airport is missing is a Changing Places bathroom facility but otherwise I think you’ll find all you need to keep you comfortable and happy for a few hours while waiting for a flight. It’s also not every airport you’ll find huge floral displays throughout the terminal.
You can read more about Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok Airport) here.