Don Mueang passengers suffer in four-hour queue

Foreign visitors queue for passport control at Don Mueang airport during a four-hour wait that stretched into Saturday morning. (Photo from the Facebook page of Piyabutr Saengkanokkul)

Understaffed immigration clearance at Don Mueang airport resulted in a wait of more than four hours for hundreds of passengers — and an online complaint from a Thai man whose foreign wife was among them.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, shared images of packed queues for passport control at the airport on his Facebook page early Saturday.

He said his wife, a foreign national who had arrived from the award-winning Changi airport in Singapore, estimated that around 2,000 passengers were waiting in non-moving queues on Friday night. Two hours later he shared a similar image as the queues showed no sign of shortening.

After three hours of waiting, he asked airport officials what they were doing to solve the problem but they just acknowledged the issue. An immigration official told him that problems had arisen because several flights landed at the same time, but the airport did not coordinate with immigration in advance so there were insufficient immigration officers to deal with the crowds. 

Mr Piyabutr said his wife informed him that an immigration official wanted to open a new counter but the boss objected so there were two unused lanes.

He said it took his wife four hours and 20 minutes from the time she joined the queue at midnight to clear passport control. His wife said there were two priority lanes for flight crew which should have been used to speed up service, but officials kept telling passengers to stay in their original queues. She noticed that some passengers were weak and needed water as conditions were stuffy with little ventilation.

Another passenger who was at the airport commented on “I was in this queue last night. Four hours and 15 minutes to get through. The issue is with queue management. There isn’t any. You have 2,000 people filtering from 9 lanes into 3. Not a single member of staff outside of immigration desks were to be seen.

“But when a lady fainted near us around 4am, more staff than I had seen all evening including what looked like extra immigration officials appeared, and carried her away. 

“This was the worst immigration experience I have had in 30-plus years of travel, and I fly most weeks.”

A source from the immigration police said that generally, immigration clearance should take only about 45 seconds per passenger. But the increased emphasis on security means that extra time is needed to verify the authenticity of passports and whether any passport holders were on blacklists. 

The source said that even with up to 1,000 passengers arriving at the same time, it should not take more than an hour to clear the immigration queues. However, landings are a matter of coordination between the airlines and the airport. 

He said the busiest times for flights landing at Don Mueang each day were between 5am and 7am and around 9pm.

Mr Piyabutr said his wife heard from several tourists who told her it was their worst experience with passport control. He said he wondered if any first-time visitors experiencing such problems would return to Thailand in the future. 

On Saturday afternoon he also posted a link to customer reviews on the international website  complaining about their bad experience at Don Mueang.

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