Capt Watchawuth Kitiatsawong, a senior-ranking officer at Phuket Airport Immigration, told The Phuket News this week that enough officers have been moved to Phuket Airport to cope with the heavy peak periods, but that the key problem was that there are not enough computer terminals available to process tourist arrivals.
“If all counters were open, it would help shorten the queues, but some counters still have no computer terminals installed,” he explained.
“We have enough officials to fill all the processing stations once they do open, but at this time we can only do our best to get the lines moving,” he added.
The inbound immigration desks are overloaded when more than one flight lands at the same time, Capt Watchawuth said.
“The queues to clear immigration are normal (sic) most of the time. The queues only get longer than normal if we get large numbers of passengers arriving at the same time from double flights,” he said.
“During this time we have more staff at the available counters to help out to get the line moving as quickly as possible,” he added.
“Normally we get about 300 passengers per flight, and this takes us only half an hour to clear them. The heavy load periods though are from midnight to 4am, when flights come from China and Russia, so we add more staff during this hours,” Capt Watchawuth reiterated.
The current wait to clear immigration during peak periods is about 2½ hours, travellers have consistently reported to The Phuket News.
“First time back in a year. What a ridiculous situation!” reported one visitor from the UK who landed at the airport early last Saturday (Dec 3) to rest in Phuket in recovery after surgery.
“The flight landed at 6:50am. It took 2.5 hours to show a passport and then 32 minutes to get out the airport after baggage check,” he wrote.
“I’ve travelled the world and this has to be the worst airport in the entire world. My partner landed a week before at 21. 55 – it took her 2 hrs 15 mins to clear Immigration,” he added.
The pandemonium leads to frayed patience and irate travellers in the Arrivals Hall.
“There was no cueing system. Everyone was allowed to push in. A nationality from an eastern bloc area wouldn’t wait… I came here for R&R to stand watching as they wouldn’t queue and walked up the ‘officials’ lane and were served – in my total amazement - by the immigration officer.
“The officer allowed over 30 people through right next to me. Shocking was understatement. I won’t be rushing back here!”
The ongoing bumbling of the Immigration Bureau, which is a division of the Royal Thai Police, being unable to sort out the immigration delays dates back to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha declaring the new International Terminal officially open on Sept 16.
In open acknowledgement of the howling delays tourists must suffer before they can begin their holiday in Phuket, Transport Minister Lt Gen Arkhom Termpittayapaisith in less than a week after the official opening “confirmed” more officers had been posted and that new immigration-processing computer terminals were on their way in a public declaration that the problem had been solved. (See story here.)
As recently as Dec 1, Immigration Bureau Chief Pol Maj Gen Nathathorn Prousoontorn was in Phuket in person to warn immigration officials to “be prepared” for a busy influx of tourists this tourism high season.
However, Gen Nathathorn made no mention of any measures taken to reduce the delays at the airport. (See story here.)