International Airlines Return To Phuket, Thailand

After more than 16 months, international airlines have returned to Phuket. July 1st marked the beginning of the Phuket Sandbox, allowing vaccinated international travelers to arrive without quarantine. Etihad, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines are some of the few who have restarted flights under the initiative.

Etihad Airways 787 Phuket
Etihad’s first flight was greeted with a water cannon salute to mark its arrival in Phuket. Photo: Etihad Airways


Once one of the world’s most popular holiday spots, Thailand has been closed to visitors since March 2020. However, over a year later, the country has reopened its borders to allow visitors to enter the country. Starting from July 1st, vaccinated individuals from low- and medium-risk countries can enter the city of Phuket for tourism.

With the project kicking off yesterday, a host of international airlines have started flights. Etihad became the first airline to arrive in Phuket, landing at 11:00 AM local time. Soon after, Qatar Airways, El Al, and Singapore Airlines also joined the list on July 1st, according to data from

Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways became the second airline to arrive in Phuket under the Sandbox initiative. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

More carriers will join the Sandbox soon, which requires direct flights to Phuket with no domestic transit. Flag carrier Thai Airways will kick off its services with three flights from Paris, Frankfurt, and Copenhagen tomorrow. Emirates and Air Arabia will also launch flights to Phuket from tomorrow.

According to The Phuket News, only 25 passengers arrived on Etihad’s 787 yesterday. However, Qatar Airways’ flight saw 136 passengers, while El Al had 137 onboard and Singapore Airlines had roughly 100.

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For a tourism-reliant economy like Thailand, the pandemic has been crushing. With a loss estimated at over $68 billion, the Phuket Sandbox offers a chance for the country to carefully reopen its travel industry.

In total, nearly 400 travelers arrived in Phuket on the first day of the Sandbox. The government is hoping this figure will continue to rise in the coming weeks as more travelers begin traveling internationally. However, the entry requirements for the Sandbox are quite stringent.

Thai Airways is targeting European tourists for the Phuket Sandbox. Photo: Getty Images

Currently, passengers hoping to visit Phuket must be fully vaccinated using a WHO-approved vaccine. After that, travelers must book certified accommodation, purchase health insurance worth $100,000, and receive a Certificate of Entry (COE) from the local Thai Embassy. Only once these steps are complete can travelers get on a flight for their trip.

However, the arrival experience is complicated too. After a quick temperature check, travelers will have to use a given mobile SIM to download a contact tracing app. Following that, health insurance and negative COVID-19 test reports are checked. Once all of that is cleared, passengers can get their bags and proceed for their day zero COVID-19 test. Subsequent tests are needed on day six or seven and day 12 or 13.

While this is certainly not easy, one journalist in Phuket did mention the upside.

For now, vaccinated travelers from the EU, Australia, New Zealand, US, Turkey, UAE, Qatar, and dozens of other countries can enter.

What do you think about the Phuket Sandbox? Let us know in the comments!