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The great Don Mueang wait (Updated Monday)

Foreign visitors queue for passport control at Don Mueang airport during a four-hour wait that stretched into Saturday morning. (Photo from the Facebook page of Piyabutr Saengkanokkul)

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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.

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Monday morning update

Immigration chief admits staff shortage

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.

Sunday afternoon update

Don Mueang explains

Online reporters

Only 21 regular flights are scheduled to land at the airport between midnight and 5am every day but Don Mueang was overloaded with four extra flights during that period on Saturday, Don Meuang's airport general manager Suteerawat Suwnnawat said on the airport's Facebook account.

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 in the terminal, enduring lengthy delays as they waited to clear immigration, he added.

Almost 5,000 incoming passengers were at the airport during the period, the airport said, without elaborating on how many of them were foreign nationals.

Thais escaped the long queues by clearing passport control via automatic gates.

Gp Capt Sutheerawat said immigration authorities can handle only 1,000 visiting passengers in an hour.

The airport was seeking approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand to expand the immigration area and counters for arriving passengers, he said.

The plan is expected to be completed next month, and would increase immigration capacity to 1,800 passengers per hour, he added.

Sunday morning story

The great Don Mueang wait

Something went wrong at Don Meuang airport late Friday night and early Saturday morning. These complaints posted by unhappy travellers on the Skytrax website give you an idea of what happened:

"Immigration at this airport has become a disgrace. Last night we got to the terminal at 12.20am and it was after 3am before my passport was stamped."

"Terrible long immigration queues, waiting for 3 hours, there are no proper lanes, very poor air-conditioning, there are hardly any places to sit and no shops to buy refreshments."

Other passengers had worse experiences. Among them was Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, who posted photos of the packed queues on his Facebook account and described his experience.

He said his wife, a foreign national who had arrived with him from the award-winning Changi airport in Singapore, estimated that around 2,000 passengers were waiting in non-moving queues on Friday night. Two hours later he shared a similar image as the queues showed no sign of shortening.

An immigration official told him that problems had arisen because several flights landed at the same time, but the airport did not coordinate with immigration in advance so there were insufficient immigration officers to deal with the crowds.

He said it took his wife four hours and 20 minutes from the time she joined the queue at midnight to clear passport control.

Adapted from a story from our online reporters

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