The blonde and blue-eyed air hostesses on board some Nok Air domestic flights are part and parcel of a jet lease
Story by BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA
The sight of European air hostesses on board some of Nok Airlines' domestic flights has drawn mixed reactions from passengers, particularly Thais who had never been served by foreign cabin attendants on local trips.
Some raise eyebrows while some wonder where all the familiar Thai faces who normally look after them are gone. Others welcome the change while a number of travellers said they did not really care.
Twenty ''farang'' crew, all properly attired in Nok Air's eye-catching yellow uniforms, are serving mostly on the budget airline's flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and on some services to Phuket.
The presence of the foreign crew has raised a question whether it is all right for the budget airline to employ them without breaching the laws on reserved professions.
But the answer is yes: there is no law that prohibits foreigners from working as cabin crew on commercial flights in Thailand, Nok Air executive vice-president Sehapan Chumsai pointed out.
These foreign attendants have been operating as part of the overall package of the lease contract for two Boeing 737-800s from the British charter airline XL Airways.
The so-called ''wet-lease,'' which lasts six months to April, also comes with foreign pilots and co-pilots from XL Airways.
There are 30 foreign cockpit crew specifically flying the two advanced jetliners, capable of seating 190, for Nok Air.
Unlike the cabin crew, the jobs of pilots and co-pilots are normally reserved for Thai nationals, unless there are no licensed Thai cockpit crew to operate the particular type of planes available.
That is the reason cited by Nok Air and another Thai budget carrier, One-Two-Go Airlines, which has been relying entirely on foreign pilots for flying its fleet of DC-80 series jets, for its domestic services.
Mr Sehapan said the foreign cabin crew were acting as pursers on Nok Air's flights, in conjunction with the Thai attendants or ''Nong Nok'', who number four on each flight.
These foreign pursers also help coach Thai cabin staff, especially with regard to flight-safety issues.
''Our Thai staff have actually learned so much about never compromising safety in cases like seat-belt fastening, just because of the 'kreng jai' mentality that is deep-rooted in the Thai culture,'' he added.
The two ''next-generation'' 737s each operate five flights a day, performing to the satisfaction of Nok Air. The planes had been in service for only a few years before joining the Thai airline.
The two aircraft, along with their cockpit and cabin teams, are due to return to their European homeland in May to serve the high travel season on the continent.
Nok Air will continue to be operated by Thais, now numbering 108 in the cockpits and 215 in the cabins.
Subject to the aircraft's performance evaluation and Nok Air's business plan, the airline would consider leasing the B737-800s from XL Airways again in the coming winter high travel season starting in November this year.