Qantas steals show at last minute
Kuwait Airways flight was due to be the last
Captain Meshal Alqattan was all smiles when he was approached by an army of reporters before he was to fly out KU414 — designated the last flight to leave Don Muang airport — in the early hours of yesterday.
‘‘It’s a nice feeling to be the last one to depart this airport,’’ said the pilot, who has been with Kuwait Airways for 27 years.
And he should have been the pilotwho flew the last flight out of Don Muang had a Qantas Airways flight bound for Sydney not stolen theshowat the very last minute.
The unannounced change baffled not only Kuwait Airways executives but also members of the press who covered Don Muang’s final hours. On the schedule, it was KU414, a stopover flight from Jakarta, that was to leave for Kuwait at 2.50am.
The airline held a small farewell ceremony and all the 49 passengers on board were each given a souvenir set of a snack and a traveller’s kit comprising a CD and a map of Suvarnabhumi airport.
Vichian Prom-ngarm, 52, an electrician who was going to work in Kuwait, said it wasthe first time hehad usedDonMuang. To his excitement, it happened to be the airport’s last day.
‘‘I’m evenmore delighted toknowthat my flight will be the last to leave the airport,’’ he said.
Sharing the excitement was Maitham Khraibut, a Kuwaiti mechanical engineer.
‘‘I frequently used this airport, starting in 1998, and had been familiar with the place. Usually it’s crowded with people but today it’s like I was home but nobody was there,’’ he said.
About 2am, the press and airline executivesheadedto gate 43, the exit forKU414 passengers. The press were also allowed to enter the cabin to capture historic scenes inside the aircraft and carry out more interviews.
At 2.50am, the press, onlookers and airport staff gathered inside the terminal building to watch KU414’s departure.
Its captain waved to them and slowly took the the aircraft to the runway. Those inside the building held their breath, waiting for the moment the plane would take off before the runway lights were turned off to mark the airport’s closure.
Itwasonly then that theysawthe Qantas aircraft sitting silently at the opposite gateway. All of a sudden, the plane turned on its lights and prepared for take-off.
Kuwait Airways ground staff became excited and hoped their captain would be a bit slower in taking off, but it was too late. KU414 was already ahead of the Qantasplaneontherunway, andinevitably had to leave first, making QF302 the last departure flight at 3.09am. The change was so abrupt that a Channel 9 TV crew, who were concentrating on the Kuwait Airwaysplane’s take-off, couldonlycapture the tail of the departing Qantas aircraft.
There was no clear explanation from airport staff. QF302 was not even on the official list of the last 10 departure flights from Don Muang. The incident also left airport executives baffled, but they had no time to check as all attention turned to Suvarnabhumi airport.
An airport officer said only that the QF302 flight had been delayed for an unclear reason.
Staff of Kuwait Airways light-heartedly referred to the incident as an attempt by Qantas to ‘‘steal the show’’.
However, the Qantas office explained that QF302 was an extra flight carrying 165 passengers from Bangkok to Sydney. Its last regular flight wasQF1from Bangkok to London, which left at 12.45am.
Airport staff wave at one of the last planes to leave Don Muang airport, a Thai Airways flight to Shanghai, at around 2am yesterday. Don Muang is now closed to scheduled air services.