Bangkok’s primary international airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), first opened in 2006. I have used this airport on four occasions: two arrivals on Delta Air Lines from Tokyo-Narita, a departure on Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur and another on Kenya Airways to Hong Kong. Both of my Delta flights were examples of what could go wrong with disability services at BKK, while my Malaysia Airlines and Kenya Airways flights showed me what could go right.
Personal and powered wheelchairs can be taken to the gate, through security and passport control. On my arrival at Bangkok, Delta Air Lines’ contracted ground staff refused to deliver my wheelchair to the gate – in both 2014 and again in May 2016. In 2014, the Delta staff claimed that the airport did not have aisle chairs, which was not true. The flight crew kindly assisted me off the plane using the onboard aisle chair, but I was then faced with an hour-long wait at baggage claim for my power wheelchair. Delta later admitted a violation of my rights under the Air Carrier Access Act. Had my flights (in 2014 and in 2016) not arrived late at night, I would have insisted on receiving my chair at the gate.
My departures from Bangkok were on Malaysia Airlines and Kenya Airways. Both carriers allowed me to take my wheelchair to the gate, and I did not have to fight for this right. That is, admittedly, odd in Asia! Kenya Airways chose to board me via a high-lifter truck, rather than through the jetway. Malaysia Airlines allowed me to board using the jetway. Both were equally efficient. Both of my flights departed on time, and was evidence to me that the facilities do exist to both check and return personal wheelchairs at the gate.
The airport terminal itself is large, modern and beautiful. This is typical of recently constructed airports in both Europe and Asia. Wheelchair accessible bathroom facilities were available in both the terminal itself and the airline lounge I used prior to departure.
The security screening was efficient. I received a light pat down, my bags were screened by the X-Ray machine, and I was sent on my way. The pat down is not nearly as thorough as a wheelchair user might expect to receive in the United States.
Transportation to/from the Airport
The only wheelchair accessible public transportation option from BKK airport is the Airport Rail Link, or ARL. This train service connects to the BTS elevated train and MRT subway system. More information is available in the Public Transportation section of this guide.
Standard taxi sedans are available on demand outside of baggage claim. These taxis will only accommodate those who can transfer out of their collapsible wheelchair and into the car. Adapted taxis with ramps, for the accommodation of powered wheelchairs, must be reserved in advance, through a private company specializing in wheelchair transportation. More information is available in the Bangkok Wheelchair Taxis section of this guide.
Your Rights and Check-in
If you have arrived to Bangkok on a direct flight from an airport in the United States or were a passenger on a U.S. carrier (American, Delta or United), file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation for a violation of your rights under the ACAA if you have any problems or are made to wait more than 30 minutes for the return of your mobility equipment.
All passengers, especially disabled travelers, should arrive at the airport for check-in two hours prior to the departure of their flight. If you will require a loaner wheelchair to traverse the airport and terminal or need another type of disability assistance, contact your airline directly. For more information, or to read frequently asked questions about air travel with a mobility disability, consult my Wheelchair Users’ Guide to Air Travel.