Suvarnabhumi Airport, outside of Bangkok, has received a lot of criticism over the years. Of late, the complaint has been about the long queues at Immigration. Most of the complaints have been from outbound passengers, but inbound have also complained about grumpy and slow staff. They say that immigration officials seem to take forever. Although that may be true, you need to see it from their point of view. They are often understaffed and working long hours. They are sometimes faced with people trying to trick them with forged visas or just lazy people who haven’t filled out their arrival card.
Whenever something goes wrong, it is the officials that get blamed. But, that is not always fair. This morning, one of the teachers from my school had to go to the immigration office in Samut Prakan to have his annual visa renewed. His visa was due to expire on 31 May. Imagine his shock when immigration informed him that his visa had already expired on 28 April! Apparently there had been a mistake at the airport immigration. He had flown out of the country in March for a short trip abroad. He had paid for the re-entry visa in advance so everything was in order. But, the immigration official at the airport, on his return, didn’t notice this and just presumed that he was just another tourist arriving without a visa. So, he was given a 30 day stamp for visiting the country.
You would think that this would be a minor problem. After all, his passport had the proper re-entry visa that clearly says that he is allowed to stay in Thailand until 31 May. But, Samut Prakan Immigration said that they weren’t allowed to change the visa and that it must be done at the airport. I guess he should be lucky that they just didn’t arrest him for “overstaying” his visa. Anyway, this morning I took him to Immigration at Suvarnabhumhi (luckily we are only 35 minutes away) where they were more than happy to alter the visa with a Biro pen! No other record was made. We could have done ourselves that but then of course you can end up in prison for a minimum of six months for altering your visa stamps.
As far as queues go these days, it all seems to be a lot better. During my last five visits to the airport I have never seen long queues like they have had in the past. This is the picture that I took at the airport this morning. Anyway, the morale of this story is that you should always check your passport when they give it back to you. Don’t just presume that the officials have done what you expected. It is not unheard of for immigration officials to stamp the wrong date, even the wrong year at times. It is true that it would have been better if he had passed his passport to the immigration official open at the page of his re-entry permit. However, the official should have gone through his passport carefully checking for any irregularities.
What about you, have you had any good or bad experiences at airport immigration lately?
It has taken more than four years, but Suvarnabhumi Airport now has a fully functional Airport Rail Link. People arriving in Thailand can now take an express train from the airport to downtown Bangkok in just only 15 minutes. Also this week saw the official opening of the check-in service at Makkasan Station. This now allows people to check-in their luggage before boarding the train in Bangkok and they then don’t need to worry about it until they arrive at their destination country. Sounds great, but this service is not going to be ideal or even convenient for everyone.
The Bangkok Post reported that on the first day that only 11 passengers and four bags were actually processed here. Not surprising as the check-in is only available for passengers of THAI International and Bangkok Airways. So, no good if you are going to fly THAI to say Chiang Mai. However, there are plans to increase more airlines at a later date. A secondary problem is that there is no easy access to Makkasan Station. There is an MRT underground station nearby but you have to drag your bags along uneven sidewalks to get there. Again there is a plan for a skybridge but it won’t be completed until mid-2011.
Up to now they have been doing trial runs. I went for a ride back in June and you can see my report over at MyThailandBlog.com. There are basically two lines; the City Line which is for local commuters and takes 30 minutes and the Express Line that takes only 15 minutes. And that is fast! The prices have also gone up now that the trial period is over. The City Line is from 15-45 baht and the Express Line is 150 baht. You can join the City Line at Phaya Thai Station [see MAP] and I am told that the skybridge there from the sky train has now been completed.
The problem with Bangkok is that there isn’t really a downtown area or even a city center. So, if you take the Airport Rail link to either Makkasan or Phaya Thai, you will probably have to change to other transport like BTS Skytrain, MRT Underground or even a taxi. The same for going to the airport. Most people will have to take a taxi to Makkasan as the BTS and MRT are not really that convenient for suitcases. But, if there are two or more of you, then you might as well go all the way to the airport in the taxi as the fare will be less than 300 baht. What do you think? Will you use the Airport Link?
(Top photo: Bangkok Post)
Ask anyone about their first impressions of arriving in Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport and I am sure that many of them will comment about grumpy immigration staff. Thailand is supposed to be world famous for being the “Land of Smiles”. So, why don’t the airport staff live up to that promise? They say that there are hundreds of different kinds of Thai smiles. So, why can’t they use just one of them when welcoming tourists to Thailand? Can’t they at least pretend that they are pleased to welcome you to the Kingdom of Thailand?
The AOT have already tried to promote themselves as the “Airport of Smiles”. But, many people have commented that they have seen little change. Now comes their latest campaign. Passengers at the airport can now rate the smiles of employees in departments such as: Security, Information, Passport Check and Check in. All very well, but unless they follow up on this survey, it will just be a publicity stunt. What do you think about the smiles at the airport? Should they do more or is it good enough as it is now?
If you have ever arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand then you will surely know about the problem with the taxis and illegal tour guides. As you walk out of customs people would always come up to you asking if you wanted a taxi or go on tour somewhere. Things have got better over the last year or two but there isn’t much the authorities can do as the fines are so small. In the past one year, 5,454 illegal taxi drivers and 9142 guides at Suvarnambhumi were arrested & fined 500-1,000 baht. There are no statistics available, but I am sure many of them are repeat offenders. I am also sure that the fines are just a small part of their operating costs. But, according to a press release we received from AOT the other day, things could actually get better there now for the passengers.
The law has been amended to allow for stiffer penalties. Now illegal taxi drivers and tour guides can be arrested for trespassing at the airport. If illegal taxi drivers or guides are caught for the second time at the airport, under Section 364 of the Penal Code, they can be imprisoned for a period of time not exceeding one year and/or a fine not exceeding 2,000 baht. However, under Section 365, if they are arrested at night, or they attack a passenger, they could be imprisoned for a period not exceeding five years and/or a fine not exceeding 10,000 baht. Signs have been put up around the airport about this so let’s hope things will start to get better. I know a lot of people still complain about the official taxi rank, but I have never had a problem with them. They always turn on the meter without asking unlike at Don Mueang Airport.
Mr. Nirun Thiranartsin, the Suvarnabhumi Airport Director, presided over the opening ceremony of the “Smiling Fruits @ Suvarnabhumi Airport” this morning at the airport. The fruit festival is for promoting the various Thai fruits to international passengers arriving and departing from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Between 16th-30th June 2010, passengers and visitors will be able to experience the taste of a variety of different Thai fruits for free. This will take place at two different locations at the airport. For departing passengers on the 4th floor you will find the Thai fruit stand near Row D. For arriving passengers on floor 2, you will find the fruit stand near Belts 19-20.
In each season in Thailand, there is an abundance of fruit, but the month of June is when there are the most kinds of seasonal fruit. This in turn has created a fruit festival in various provinces of the country.
- “Fruit” demonstrates the abundance, freshness and happiness of Thailand and is one of the many characteristics of the country.
- “Smiles” displays happiness. The warm welcome is a symbol of the Thai people and shows the joy in all regions of the country.
- “Smiling Fruits” is an image that is exceptionally beautiful in the welcoming of passengers who come to Thailand through Suvaranabhumi Airport during the 2010 Fruit Festival.