Gates of Hell: Staff shortage causes four-hour queue at Don Mueang immigration

Facebook user Piyabutr Saengkanokkul shared this image of the immigration queue on Facebook in the morning of Aug. 5, 2017.
Facebook user Piyabutr Saengkanokkul shared this image of the immigration queue on Facebook in the morning of Aug. 5, 2017.

Don Mueang International Airport blamed staff shortages for a whopping four-hour wait at immigration on Friday night, after four unexpected landings threw the airport’s delicate scheduling out of whack and left travelers venting their frustrations on social media.

From Friday night through Saturday morning, foreigners entering Thailand through Don Mueang had to spend as long as four hours clearing passport control. Not surprisingly, a raft of one-star reviews and angry diatribes made their way online in short order.

Immigration Bureau Chief Nathathorn Prousoontorn said the incident was caused by four unplanned flight landings in addition to the 21 regular flights scheduled to arrive between midnight and 5am every day.

He said two delayed flights from Singapore and one from Hong Kong that landed behind schedule and a charter flight from China caused the overload of passengers at immigration, and that there were insufficient officers to handle the long queues, Bangkok Post reported.

Australian travel blogger Natalie Marie shared a video of the crowd at immigration on Friday night. The caption said she had traveled “from heaven on earth in Laos to the pit of hell at Don Mueang Airport, Bangkok,” and that she had to wait three-and-a-half hours at immigration before then spending two more hours queuing for a taxi.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, said his foreign wife had to wait a total of four hours and 20 minutes to get through the passport control early Saturday morning. He shared an image of the immigration queue on Facebook, which went viral.

“The total wait time was four hours and 20 minutes. My wife said there were two to three thousand foreign passengers. They had difficulty breathing. Some of the passengers were tired, dehydrated and fainted. Some of the lanes were not in use.”

He added there were two priority lanes, which were staffed and empty, but instead of allocating passengers to those lanes, staff were busy with finding out “who are entitled to use these lanes.”

“We have to call this country ‘Terrible Land’. It sucks,” Piyabutr wrote.

Don Mueang has long had a reputation as an airport for foreign travelers to avoid. While Thais can use the electronic lanes that minimize their waiting time to five minutes, foreigner travelers face long queues regularly.

“This so-called airport must be avoided at any cost as it is a shithole of the highest order! On July 10, 2017, it took two solid hours for my wife and I to finally beat the queues and get through the passport control! And don’t think for a moment that was a one-off, because this seems to be common practice at this sewer!” wrote Facebook user Steinar Madsen, one of the foreigners who gave the airport a one-star review.

Pol. Lt. Gen. Nathathorn said the Immigration Bureau will have 48 more immigration officers working at Don Mueang airport by next week when the airport has to deal with delays and extra flights.

He added the bureau also plans to recruit 300 more officers to station at both Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports by the end of the year.

As that plan suggests, these issues are hardly to Don Mueang. Ongoing issues with staffing and lines at Suvarnabhumi International Airport made headlines earlier this year and led to a rating from one website that airport official decried as unfair.

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