BANGKOK - The dramatic congestion at Don Mueang Airport's immigration checkpoints on Friday night has prompted an urgent investigation to determine why thousands of visitors were kept waiting for nearly five hours.
The Immigration Bureau apparently only realised something was wrong after Thammasat University law lecturer Piyabutr Saengkanokkul posted on Facebook saying that his wife had spent four hours and 20 minutes at the immigration checkpoint at the Thai airport, which was much longer than her flight to Bangkok from Singapore had been.
Many visitors also experienced breathing troubles due to poor ventilation at the areas in front of immigration counters. Many others said they were hungry and thirsty as they had already been tired after a long flight.
Don Mueang Immigration officials have said that the airport authorities did not advise them about the flights that were arriving at around the same time.
They also said that the usual 45-second processing time for each passenger was taking longer because of increased security measures.
The airport authority admitted that Piyabutr's comments were true since many delayed flights had arrived at around the same time.
There were supposed to be 21 flights landing at Don Mueang between midnight on Friday and 5am on Saturday morning.
However, four additional flights from Hong Kong and Singapore and a charter flight from China arrived during the same time although they were supposed to have landed earlier, according to Suthirawat Suwanawat, general manager of Don Mueang Airport.
About 5,000 passengers therefore arrived at about the same time, he said, adding that immigration checkpoints at Don Mueang had the capacity to process 1,000 visitors per hour.
People in the queues posted pictures on social media of crowded arrival areas where passengers were waiting.
Some blamed poor management and a lack of flexibility as there were channels reserved for diplomats and airline crew that were not opened to ordinary passengers.
However, a female visitor posted that immigration staff had provided her with medical attention and took her out of the area after she became weak because of the poor ventilation - yet that staff had seen her waiting all night without opening more counters.
Four automatic passport reading machines were available for Thai nationals but many Thai passport holders waited in the queues as there were not any officials on hand to assist them to use the machines, Suthirawat said.
"We have to study why the automatic machines are little utilised," he said
Authorities at Don Mueang Airport are considering adding an additional eight immigration counters as international arrivals at the airport are growing, he said.
He added that more counters would be opened by next month, enabling the immigration to |handle at least 1,800 visitors per hour.