15 August 2017
Changes are set to be made to the immigration procedures at both of Bangkok’s international airports. The news comes in the wake of problems last week at Bangkok Don Mueang airport which resulted in arriving international passengers queuing for hours to clear immigration. Thai authorities have attributed the incident to exceptional circumstances, but also acknowledged more still needs to be done to help passengers.
Long queues at Bangkok Don Mueang airport
Queues at immigration counters at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang have been a source of frustration for passengers in recent years. Thai authorities have made various attempts to try to improve matters, but the issue was back in the news last week with long delays at the Don Mueang immigration counters. A number of international flights arrived at Don Mueang airport much later at night than scheduled and there weren’t enough immigration staff on duty to cope with the numbers. Some passengers said they waited for more than four hours to clear immigration.
Immigration counters understaffed
Although it was Don Mueang in the news last week, there have also been problems in recent months at the main Suvarnabhumi airport with passengers venting their frustration on social media. Thailand is currently in the low season and the situation must be of concern for airport authorities and tourism officials.
Clearing immigration on arrival at Bangkok airport can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes or more. There is an element of pot-luck involved and it can depend on the time of the day and what other flights are arriving at the same time as you. Although it’s easy to blame the immigration officers, they are under pressure and aren’t happy with the situation either. The Immigration Bureau are part of the Royal Thai Police and there have been regular complaints about being understaffed. The immigration officers also have to cope with new technology and passengers not filling out their arrival forms which all adds to the delays.
The bottom line appears to be that there are too many passengers and not enough staff. Thailand is a victim of its own success and with a huge surge in visitors from China in recent years, there are now more direct flights than ever arriving in Bangkok. Both Bangkok airports are running beyond their capacity. Suvarnabhumi was deigned to cater for 45 million passengers a year, but experts say the airport is currently handling 55 million. And it is the immigration counters in the arrival and departure halls that are feeling the pinch.
Changes to immigration procedures
The problems with queues at Bangkok airports has been an on-off issue for a number of years. Different measures have been introduced with varying degrees of success. Thai authorities are currently considering whether to abandon the requirement for passengers to complete the arrival and departure form (TM6). In the meantime, a revised TM6 form is expected to be introduced on October 1. To speed up procedures, plans are also being introduced to allow passport holders from specific countries to use the automatic gates normally reserved for Thai people. Initially, the gates will be available to passport holders from Singapore and Hong Kong. However, some local observers have pointed out that the automated gates are often closed for repair and further investment in technology may be needed.
Be prepared for queues at Bangkok airports
The recent criticism means that there will probably be more immigration officers on duty at both Bangkok airports in the coming weeks so there’s a good chance passengers will breeze through and wonder what all the fuss is about. Hopefully, a long-term solution will be found, but if you are travelling to or from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi or Don Mueang on an international flight be prepared for potential queues at immigration counters. Apart from making sure your arrival/departure card is filled out before joining the queue, there isn’t too much more you can do. It can be annoying for passengers and it must be frustrating too for the immigration staff on duty. If you are departing on an international flight from Bangkok, be sure to allow plenty of extra time to clear security and immigration just in case.