Flying is much safer than taking a bus or driving, and of course is quicker and more comfortable for long journeys to the far north and south to places like Chiang Mai, Udon Thani, Phuket, and Koh Samui. However, medium distance trips are often better driven, considering the time spent booking flights on rigid schedules and at the airport waiting for the flight after going thru security. Also, you have a car for freedom if you drive, and you see more along the way.
Which airline you use may depend on where you are going. There are monopoly routes.
Thai Airways serves most of the country, and has a website at http://www.thaiairways.com , but it is usually the most expensive carrier. I've flown Thai Airways several times, both domestically and internationally, and have found their service to be quite nice in all other respects.
Budget airlines include AirAsia , Bangkok Airways, and a few others who seem to fly to niche locations in Thailand and/or neighboring countries. Routes and schedules change fairly often with budget airlines, and in fact some of the airline businesses tend to rise and fall such as Nok Air and Phuket Air. See also www.flybudget.com/asiavisit.html
With budget airlines, note the terms and conditions about booking on budget airlines, as they often won't allow any changes within a few days of the flight, and a fee before the deadline. Many of their offices run very limited hours, and they aren't as full featured. Open seating is common, and refreshments during the flight are sometimes at an extra charge, including the water they are lifting up into the air for you.
If you are needing to make a connecting flight, be aware that budget airlines more often run late.
Airports in Thailand
The main airport in Bangkok was changed in 2006 to a new airport called Suvarnabhumi (but pronounced like "Suwanapoom")and is located east-southeast of town. It handles all international flights and most domestic flights.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport is now ranked as one of the top 10 airports in the world, according to a global survey of 9.8 million passengers by the London-based independent aviation research institute Skytrax. This rating has climbed quickly over its 4 years of existence as passengers become familiar with it. (This paragraph is written in 2010.)
The airport is a breeze. Passport Control maintains many parallel queues in multiple convenient locations, baggage handling is quick and modern, and the airport guides you to well controlled and managed taxi and bus transportation. The big weakness is the airport link which has been delayed to the next scheduled opening date of August 2010. Expressway access is clear and easy, with big blue signs all over town pointing out the route to the airport from far, far away.
The Suvarnabhumi airport is located just east of the Eastern Ring Road, and is accessible from the Chonburi Motorway which is an extension of the expressway that runs above and parallel to Rama 9 Road. The location east of the city was chosen so it would also serve the eastern seaboard where most of the export industry exists as well as a biggest chunk of seaside tourism.
The Suvarnabhumi International Airport has quickly become one of the busiest airports in the world, being a major cargo hub (20th in the world) as well as for passengers (16th in the world) as of 2009. Most passengers are coming to/from Thailand but it also has many just transferring flights to other destinations. It has the world's largest airport control tower and the third largest single building airport terminal.
When going thru the airport, I recommend you do not enter the King Power duty free shops. Tourists have allegedly been accused of theft with horrendous consequences, as reported well in the mass media. There are also mafia gangs offering illegal taxis and tour guides. Despite complaints, they still exist due to being "protected" by mafia people. Stick to the official taxi queue.
If you plan to live in Thailand and need to access the airport often, and many Asia regional managers do, then the best place to live is east of town such as Bang Na and Bangkapi. Most expressways converge in the center of the city where there are jams during rush hour at the interchanges, so if you're east of the city then you can avoid the interchanges.
Traffic in the Bangkok city center is unpredictable and there are some very bad traffic days. If you're near any of the many expressway entrances then you minimize your risk. Ask my property company for advice along those lines (see the section on Housing for advice on houses, apartments, and condominiums).
The old Don Muang International Airport in northern Bangkok, which operated for many decades, closed entirely at that time in 2006, then was reopened after a few months for some domestic flights, but remains so to the date of this writing for only Nok Air and One-Two-Go airlines (March 2010).
If you plan to go to Phuket or Koh Samui from elsewhere in Asia, then check for direct flights to those destinations rather than going thru Bangkok. There have also been direct flights from Russia and some other places to Utapao airport near Pattaya and Rayong, which was previously a B-52 bomber airfield during the Vietnam War. It's a minimal airport but with a big runway.
Most airports in Thailand are quite decent. The Koh Samui airport is the most boutique. It is all outdoors with a natural architectural design, and it's somewhat exciting watching the airplanes land and take off fairly closeby.
Footnotes: The Suvarnabhumi airport was previously called the Nong Ngu Hao airport while under construction. Being located east of Bangkok, it's a little quicker to get to Pattaya and the eastern seaboard from the airport than it was before. Traffic around the old airport has reduced significantly.
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