Former Thai Airways CEO Jailed For Using Position To Avoid Luggage Fees

The former chairman of Thai Airways has been sentenced for two years for failing to pay for excess baggage. The case found that Wallop Bhukkanasut, who was chairman of the board at the time, used his status to take bags weighing 300kg above the airline’s limit on a flight in 2009.

Thai Airways
A former Thai Airways chairman is facing two years in jail for not paying excess baggage charges. Photo: Getty Images

Wallop Bhukkanasut had one of the shortest tenures of any chairman of an airline board in history. He was appointed in April 2009 but resigned in December that year after details emerged of an abuse of power. Now, a decade later, Wallop is facing two years jail time for his misdemeanor.

The former chairman was found by Thailand’s Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct guilty of breaching Section 11 of the National Anti Corruption Act. His crime involved bringing a huge amount of excess baggage back with him from a trip to Tokyo and leveraging his status to avoid paying for it.

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What happened?

Mr Wallop returned from Tokyo on November 14th in 2009 with his wife. Flying back from Narita Airport, he held first class tickets for Thai Airways’ flight TG677 to Bangkok. Included in the ticket was up to 120kg of baggage allowance.

However, Mr Wallop and his wife brought with them baggage weighing at least 380kg in total. That meant he should have been liable to pay baggage charges on the 260kg of excess weight, something that would have cost the chairman hundreds of thousands of baht, or several thousand dollars.

Rather than pay the charge, Mr Wallop ordered airline staff to under-report the weight of his baggage. He avoided the charges and flew back to Thailand without paying.

Thailand airport baggage
The chairman used his status to avoid paying baggage fees. Photo: Getty Images

Thai Airways unions told staff to wear black

When news of the discrepancy began to circulate among Thai Airways staff, the workers’ unions were outraged. There were angry calls for the chairman to tender his resignation. At one point, the unions ordered airline staff to wear black in protest of his actions.

However, Wallop argued his case, saying that he was bringing back fruits and other items that he had planned to donate to local Buddhist temples. Whether that was what happened to the items is unknown, but when he was ordered later in the year to pay for the baggage, he resigned from his position.

Finding him guilty of abuse of authority, the court also heard a case against him for being in receipt of gifts and donations. The former chairman allegedly received more than ฿3,000 ($100) worth of ‘gifts’, including fruit and Kobe beef from an unnamed private firm.

The court sentenced Wallop to two years in jail, without suspension.

More bad press for Thai Airways

While it’s taken a long time to bring the former chairman to justice, it hasn’t come at a great time for Thai Airways. The company grounded most of its fleet early in the COVID crisis and is currently only flying a limited service under strict access criteria.

Thai Airways restaurant
The airline has even opened a plane-themed restaurant to raise money. Photo: Getty Images

The airline filed for business reorganization with a bankruptcy court in September and is expected to formalize its plan by the end of the year. More than 30% of its staff have already lost their jobs, with remaining workers functioning on severely reduced pay.

In a bid to raise funds, Thai Airways has been attempting to sell off up to 34 of its aircraft, as well as items from its Boeing 747s. It has also opened a restaurant and has been offering ‘flights’ in its A380 simulator to prospective avgeeks.

It is hoped that the airline’s restructuring plan will be approved in early 2021, after which time the future of Thai Airways will become somewhat clearer.