Photo shows Thai Airways advert from 1968 -- not 'elephant towing plane at Thai airport'

·3 min read

A photo has been shared thousands of times in social media posts that claim it shows an elephant towing an aeroplane at Thailand's Ubon Ratchathani International Airport in 1960. This is false. A spokesperson for Thai Airways told AFP the photo was part of an advertising campaign for the airline in 1968, adding that the pictured elephant did not tow the plane. A Thai aviation expert separately said elephants have never been used to tow aeroplanes in the kingdom.

The photo was shared on Facebook here on September 6, 2022. It has been shared more than 2,700 times.

The post's Thai-language caption translates to English as: "The image was taken in 1960 at the Ubon Ratchathani International Airport.

"An elephant was being used to tow the aeroplanes on the runway. What a cute image. Only in Thailand."

Ubon Ratchathani International Airport is an airport in northeast Thailand, around 300 miles (482 kilometres) from the capital Bangkok.

Screenshot of the misleading post, captured on September 8, 2022

The same image was shared alongside a similar claim in Thai on Facebook here and here; and on Twitter here. It was also shared alongside a similar English-language caption here.

But the claim is false.

Advertising campaign

A reverse image search on Google found this tweet published on July 20, 2016.

"The advertising campaign that went viral during Thai Airways' early years. P.S. the elephant was not used to tow the aeroplane," reads the Thai-language tweet.

Thai Airways is Thailand's national airline.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading Facebook post (left) and the image shared on Twitter in 2016 (right):

Screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading Facebook post (left) and the image shared on Twitter in 2016 (right)

Thai Airways told AFP that the photo was from an advertising campaign for the airline from 1968 and that the elephant was not really pulling the plane.

"It was an advertising campaign. The elephant didn't tow [the aeroplane]," the airline's spokesperson said.

The photo was included in the book "Smooth As Silk: The Story of Thai" released in 2010 to mark Thai Airways' 50th anniversary.

The airline sent AFP a scanned copy of the photo on page 20 of the book, as shown below:

A scanned copy of the photo as it appears in the book "Smooth As Silk: The Story of Thai"

 

The photo is captioned: "An elephant hauls a Caravelle in a 1968 publicity photo."

French-built Caravelle SE-210 jets were added to Thai Airways' fleet in 1964.

Somboon Sooksamsri, a guest lecturer at Kasetsart University's Department of Aerospace Engineering, also told AFP that the claim about the photo was "rubbish".

"This is totally fake," he said. "An elephant was never used to tow an aeroplane in history. An aircraft tractor is required to move the plane on the runway."

According to Thailand's Department of Airports and the country's Civil Aviation Authority, Ubon Ratchathani International Airport officially started operations on September 1, 1991 -- more than three decades after the misleading posts claim the photo was taken there.