BANGKOK- Bangkok Suvarnabhumi has a slogan “Airport of Smiles”. But beside the smiles of the board of directors looking at financial figures, there is little for now to provide a smile on passengers’ face. For now a month, delays accumulate at the airport due to the closure of a runway. On June 25, a radar problem due to deficient power supply delayed in the evening dozens of flights. The control tower was inoperative for a short time… On July 5, eight flights –including intercontinental ones- had to be sent either to Chiang Mai or to Pattaya U-Tapao airports as they were unable to land. Inaugural flight from new budget subsidiary Thai Smile was delayed some four hours. The airport’s authority AOT issued a media released on Monday to say that the situation was again under control. Authorities spend their time telling that they are no problems at the airport. They probably rarely stroll through the terminal to look at the reality.
In March, international media including CNN reported at increasing congestion at immigration counters for the only-six-year old facility. Four automatic gates have since been opened for Thai nationals equipped to read e-passport. But it has done very little to relieve congestion. Tuesday morning, queues at the immigration and security checks were spreading in the departure hall with a minimum waiting time of 45 minutes. A new security control check point has been opened and just its design gives doubt about the cleverness of AOT… People have now to climb an escalator to the airport’s third floor to screen luggage and then go through a narrow corridor to an escalator down to immigration. Then passengers will face a pleasant surprise of seeing hundreds of people waiting in front of immigration counters. At peak times, queuing can now reach two hours.
The airport is paying now the price of AOT incapacity to deal with crowding facilities due to the airport’s under-capacity. Opened with much fanfare in 2006, Suvarnabhumi airport has a theoretical capacity for 45 million passengers a year. However, traffic in 2006 reached already 37 million passengers and it was predictable that facilities will soon face asphyxia. Partial relief should come in October with the transfer of low cost carriers to Don Muang, allowing to release Suvarnabhumi of 10 million passengers yearly.
Travel agents should then better informed their passengers to go up to three hours before departure for check in and immediately process with immigration and security screens. In between Suvarnabhumi Airport has been sanctioned. Last May, Skytrax ranked Suvarnabhumi Airport's position as the 25th best airport in the world, down from rank 13 in 2010. The plunge might further deepen in 2012…