Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
It’s candlelit lanterns versus planes during northern Thailand’s annual Loy Krathong festival.
On the evening of the first full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, people in the northern city of Chiang Mai release lanterns.
Loy Krathong, the festival of lights, is traditionally celebrated in northern Thailand by the construction and then skyward departure of bamboo, paper, and candle creations. The candle heats up the air inside the wooden cylinder, which propels the whole contraption into a gentle flight into the ether. Celebrants are meant to load the lanterns, or “Khom Loy,” with their worries and cares, then wave goodbye as they float away.
But this is 2015, so the lanterns these days are a little more high tech. Some are powered by fuel canisters; others are loaded with fireworks and explosives that ignite with a violent bang. No wonder officials at two northern Thai airports—the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai International Airports—no longer want to share their airspace with the ethereal Khom Loy.
Chiang Mai has canceled 84 flights and Chiang Rai six during the three-day Loy Krathong festival, which this year runs between November 24 and 26, the Associated Press reports. Airport officials have reminded residents that they are only to release lanterns at the appointed times; otherwise, lanterns could be sucked into an airplane’s engine.
Last year, the Bangkok Press reported that pilots had spotted lanterns at 20,000 feet, a typical altitude for passenger planes.
For those in northern Thailand, take it as a sign: You’re meant to spend another three days on vacation.