Suvarnabhumi International Airport has been receiving a lot of bad publicity lately. We all know very well about the taxi scam where the drivers refuse to turn on the meter or dump you in the middle of nowhere if you try to kick up a fuss. Even the airport officials who run the taxi queues are in on the scams. When I tried to catch a taxi there the lady on the desk insisted that I had to pay a fixed fee of 500 baht to Samut Prakan. She didn’t seem to care that when I came to the airport it only cost me 150 baht on the meter. Another scam that has recently come to light, but has been going on for a while, is the extortion scam in duty free. If you walk around duty free with a product in your hand and then step over an invisible boundary line you could get arrested for shoplifting. Other people have reported that the cashier put extra items into their bag without permission. They just presumed it was a free gift. They are then pounced upon and told to pay large sums of money or face a long time in prison. I have visited some of these people in Samut Prakan Prison. These are the unlucky ones as they didn’t have any money to pay the “high fees”. Every week, one or two foreigners arrive at the prison after being accused of shoplifting at King Power at the airport.
Things have got so bad that people are now being warned to stay away from any duty free shop at the airport. Even the British Foreign Office posted this travel warning recently on their website:
“You should also be careful to observe demarcation lines between shops and stalls, particularly in market areas and at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Taking items from one shop’s area to another is likely to be treated by shop staff as suspected theft. You may be arrested by the police and asked to pay a substantial fine and/or face imprisonment.”
In the letters page of The Nation recently, a reader reported that he was able to board a flight at Suvarnabhumi International Airport even though his boarding pass had expired two days previously. He was supposed to fly on the 18th June but actually flew on 20th June. His boarding pass had been issued to him in advance. No-one at any of the security gates checked his boarding pass carefully. He also mentioned that they weren’t very thorough at the x-ray machine before boarding. I have experienced this kind of lax security myself first hand. Recently I was able to walk through baggage claim, immigration and then beyond even though I didn’t have a passport or any form of identification on me. I was also carrying a bag that was never checked even though I was entering sensitive areas.
I had gone to the airport to attend a press conference. I registered at the desk as normal and was given a press pack and a temporary airport pass. They didn’t ask me for any identification nor any media credentials. At the time I didn’t know we were going to go through immigration to the other side. On the pass, where it says “name” it was just written in Thai “member of press”. After the conference was over, I just followed the crowd of journalists who were accompanying the Minister to welcome some foreigners off a plane. We went through a side door to by-pass immigration. No-one checked our passes. Anyone could have sneaked in with us. We went as far as one of the arrival gates where there was a small ceremony. I wondered off by myself to take some pictures. Then I followed the crowd of journalists and the Minister to the Immigration area where I took these pictures. I then split away from them again taking some pictures in baggage claim and then eventually left by myself through the Customs area and out into the arrivals lounge. No-one questioned me at any time even though I was the only foreigner among the journalists and cameramen. I could have just been a tourist.
What worries me the most about security at this airport is how easily it was closed down late last year for a week by a group of protesters. Some even gained access to the control tower. Then, after it was all over, the airport was speedily re-opened. Did they really have time to check everywhere for bombs or sabotage? Is Suvarnabhumi International Airport really safe?