PHUKET: The Phuket holidays of about 2,200 East Asian tourists got off to a slow start early this morning, when they were forced to wait hours to clear Immigration at Phuket International Airport (PIA).
Twelve flights landed in little over an hour, overwhelming the Immigration officers on duty. It took officials until past 4 am, some three-and-a half hours after the first flight landed, to process the crowd of holidaymakers.
The first of the flights landed at 12:30 am, followed by 11 more charter and scheduled flights from China and South Korea, landing at about five-minute intervals.
Weera Thippayathad, a PIA official, said that the delays at Immigration were exacerbated by most of the visitors not being able to speak or read English, hence unable to complete immigration arrival cards.
The usual per-person processing time took much longer than the usual 30 to 40 seconds as officers had to complete the forms for them, K. Weera explained.
The eight Immigration officers on duty were assisted by 10 PIA staff called in to help with the mammoth task.
“The problem lies with the landing slots allocated by the Department of Civil Aviation, which is responsible for flight scheduling. I don’t understand why they arranged for so many flights to land in such a short period of time,” K. Weera complained.
At 2 pm, Phuket Governor Niran Kalayanimit chaired an urgent meeting to discuss ways to prevent a recurrence and instructed PIA and the airport Immigration office to inform the Department of Civil Aviation of the problem.
At the meeting, Phuket Airport Immigration Office Superintendent Pol Col Surasak Atthapanyawanich urged the Tourism Authority of Thailand to make sure that tour operators assisted their customers with filling out immigration forms.
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