Don Mueang clarifies four hours of immigration delay at airport on Saturday night

Don Mueang International Airport yesterday clarified why immigration process was delayed, stranding several thousands of incoming passengers for four hours.

The clarification came after a leading university lecturer posted on the social media complaining of the airport's immigration process on Saturday night.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, said on his Facebook page that his wife was among passengers lining up for passport control. She entered the queue at midnight and had her passport stamped four hours and 20 minutes later.

The post went viral on the social media with many calling the airport authority to overhaul its immigration procedure.

Meanwhile, some passengers also reflected their unpleasant experiences about the Don Mueang airport's immigration service on Saturday night via Skytrax which is the world airline and airport star rating website.

In the clarification announcement, the airport's general manager Wing Commander Suthirawat Suwanawat said that from midnight to 5.00 am on Sunday, the airport handled 21 normal inbound international flights, plus two delayed flights from Singapore and one from Hong Kong.

At the same time, it also handled a special flight of Air Asia from China, making total flights coming into the airport during that time to 25, with total incoming passengers rising to 4,977, while immigration officials could handle only 1,000 passengers an hour, he said.

With such high number of passengers, the delay was then unavoidable he said.

But he assured that the problem would soon be resolved if the airport's extension plan for immigration office is completed at the end of next month making it capable of handling 1,800 passengers an hour.

This would make immigration process faster and more convenient for passengers, he said.

Earlier a senior official of the Immigration Bureau said the delay at the Don Mueang airport for up to five hours did not happen frequently.

But it did happen because the Airports of Thailand did not notify the Don Mueang airport of the delayed late night flights, this resulted in the surge of passengers to almost 5,000 at a time.

He said normally immigration staff were adequate to handle visiting passengers of each flight for each arrival time.

He then asked that immigration officials should not be blamed for the delay.

However he admitted that in general the existing staff at the airport still was not much when taking into consideration the rising number of visitors yearly.

He added that beginning today, 50 more staff would be posted at the airport to work.

Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Watanvrangkul said the incident on Saturday night should be the last time and this would not have impact on the tourism sector.

She said the ministry has tried to promote the use of airports in the provinces to ease passenger traffic at Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports where are now beyond their capacities to handle.

The ministry's permanent secretary Pongpanu Sawetarun said as far as he learned the Immigration Bureau is now recruiting more personnel to cope with increasing passengers.

It is proposing the recruitment plan to the national tourism policy committee for approval on an emergency basis, he said.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)