PM turns screws over airport queues

PM turns screws over airport queues

This scene broadcast around the world last Friday morning came from the Don Mueang International Airport's arrival hall, where it took more than four hours to get a passport stamped.  (Instagram/Han Lian)
This scene broadcast around the world last Friday morning came from the Don Mueang International Airport's arrival hall, where it took more than four hours to get a passport stamped. (Instagram/Han Lian)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed authorities to come up with a contingency plan to tackle inordinately long waiting times at Don Mueang International Airport, after a backlash on social media from miffed passengers.

Gen Prayut said such long waiting times happen only once in a while, yet he wants those responsible, in particular immigration police, the Transport Ministry and Airports of Thailand (AoT), to have a plan ready in times of unexpected traffic.

According to the prime minister, passengers arriving at the airport normally spend up "three to five minutes" to clear immigration.

The premier's remarks follow a wave of caustic comments directed at the airport's management by exasperated passengers who were left to endure waiting times of up to five hours before getting their passports stamped between Friday night and early Saturday morning at Don Mueang airport.

Past reports by the AoT showed passengers had filed complaints from time to time about huge queues at the Don Mueang immigration counters, particularly during the busiest times of the day, from 5am-7am and 3pm-7pm.

Gen Prayut said the chaos was due to an unusually large number of delayed flights.

"I've told authorities to next time be prepared for a situation like this, which only happens once in a while. Normally it takes three to five minutes for passengers to clear immigration," he said.

According to Wing Commander Suthirawat Suwanawat, general manager of the airport, the long waiting times were caused by an influx of passengers from four unscheduled flights on top of the 21 anticipated ones.

The airport was scheduled to deal with 21 scheduled flights between 11pm and 3am but an additional nine flights -- which had been delayed -- landed just before 11pm.

Gen Prayut ordered immigration authorities, the airport, and the Transport Ministry to join hands in addressing problems experienced by passengers at the airport.

"There have always been transport problems, be it to do with immigration or taxi services, which are part of travelling. We have to deal with them the best we can. We're doing better but we're still not at our best," he said.

He said authorities concerned have also been asked to look into the requirement that all foreign visitors and Thai citizens fill out an immigration form when arriving and leaving the country.

According to Gen Prayut, completing immigration forms can sometimes cause delays because some passengers do not know how to fill them out properly.

He told authorities to see whether something can be done about this problem and if it's possible for Thai nationals to bypass this procedure to ease the queues.

Following the chaos, AoT president Nitinai Sirisamatthakarn said the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand is expected to approve a plan to install eight more immigration counters later this month, which will almost double the passenger-handling capacity from 1,000 people per hour to 1,800, he said.

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