Don Mueang queues due to 'staff shortage'

Plans in line to increase capacity

This photo taken in March shows what passes for queues at immigration at Suvarnabhumi airport. The head of the Immigration Bureau, Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn Prousoontorn, admits he lacks the staff to man the immigration booths at both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports. (File photo)

Immigration Bureau Chief Nathathorn Prousoontorn admitted Sunday that a staff shortage was behind the hours-long wait for foreigners entering Thailand through Don Mueang International Airport on Saturday.

Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn said the Immigration Bureau will station 48 more immigration officers at Don Mueang airport by next week to handle visiting passengers during rush hours, when the airport has to deal with delays and extra flights.

He said the bureau also has a long-term plan to reduce waiting times by recruiting 300 more police officers to increase immigration capacity at both Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports by the end of this year.

All new staff will be assigned to work at the airports for at least four years before they can request to be transferred to work in other departments, he added.

Moreover, the bureau will also expand the immigration area and counters for arriving passengers, which would increase immigration capacity at Don Mueang from 1,000 visiting passengers to 1,800 by next month.

''We will soon open more automatic gates to conduct passport control for some foreign nationals from countries that send a high number of visitors,'' he said.

"We will start using automatic gates for Singaporean and Hong Kong nationals first because we get the highest number of visitors in term of frequency from these places," he said.

Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn said the incident on Saturday at Don Mueang airport had occurred due to clogged flights as only 21 regular flights were scheduled to land at the airport between midnight and 5 am every day, but Don Mueang Airport was overloaded with four extra flights at the time.

Two delayed flights from Singapore, one flight from Hong Kong that landed behind schedule and a charter flight from China left hundreds of visitors jammed together at the terminal, enduring lengthy delays as they waited to clear immigration, he said.

Foreigners had to wait more than four hours to have their passports stamped by immigration police on Saturday. Many visitors took to social media to vent their anger and frustration over the long queues.

The foreign wife of Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, 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.

According to the Immigration Bureau, almost 5,000 incoming passengers were at the airport at that time, while immigration authorities can handle only 1,000 visiting passengers per hour.

However, Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn claimed incident on Saturday went viral because a passenger who had travelled from Singapore did not want to stand in line and demanded to use the special gate. When she was denied by immigration officers, she took to social media to vent her anger.

Meanwhile, an immigration police officer wrote a message on his Facebook page pleading with visiting passengers to sympathise with his burden at work, complaining that the number of immigration officers has decreased by 50% since 2013.

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