Waiting for nearly three hours to complete entry procedures and pick up luggage while receiving an unfriendly welcome from immigration officers are what foreigners are experiencing at Vietnam’s busiest airports.
After landing at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in March, Spanish tourist Antonio felt eager about his return to Vietnam, but overcrowding at immigration checkpoints in the country’s largest airport made him exhausted.
“I waited for dozens of minutes but the line of people moved at a snail’s pace,” he recalled. “I felt tired and nearly exhausted.”
Only a few check-in counters were open, leaving him stuck amid long lines of people.
When it was finally his turn to check in, Antonio greeted custom officers and wished them “a good day” but they did not smile back, he said.
“I didn’t expect to have a friendly chat with them but at least they should smile so that I feel as if I was being welcomed,” he added.
After completing immigration procedures, he continued waiting for one hour to pick up his luggage.
“I didn’t think waiting for my luggage could take so much time.” He said. “That was an awful day for me.”
When he finally got out of the airport, he could not catch a break because he still had to struggle to get a taxi to travel into the city.
“I had traveled often in Southeast Asia, and I got used to using the Grab app,” said Antonio. “However, booking Grab service at Vietnam airport was really not easy. That was still a nightmare for me.”
Antonio was one of many foreign tourists who have been complaining about the long waiting time to complete immigration procedures at Vietnam’s largest airports.
Soo-Min-Hee, a South Korean tourist, could not forget her unsatisfactory experience at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi as she had to wait for two hours to get out of the airport.
She and her son landed at Noi Bai Airport at around 7 p.m. and it took them nearly 20 minutes to complete entry procedures.
Then they had to wait for an hour to get their baggage while a sea of people flooded the baggage claim area, screaming at airport employees due to the long waiting time.
It was 9 p.m. before they finally took a taxi to their hotel in downtown Hanoi but they failed to get a fair price.
The taxi driver initially told them the journey from Noi Bai International Airport to their hotel would cost VND350,000 (US$15) but later he demanded they pay VND700,000. They said they reluctantly agreed to pay the money as they were too exhausted to argue.
Tourism industry insiders have several times called for the government to improve passenger handling at major airports, especially in Hanoi and HCMC. They want the number of immigration officers and scanners increased and special lanes introduced for business travelers and families with children.
Eurocham representatives said at the Vietnam Business Forum last month that they received many complaints from visitors about unsatisfactory experiences at Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCMC, as they had to wait for hours at immigration counters.
Despite being the country’s busiest airport, the airport has no special lanes for business class passengers, investors, or participants at MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events, they said.
Ho Chi Minh City officials admitted that many foreign investors and overseas Vietnamese have also complained about the long waiting time to complete immigration procedures at Tan Son Nhat’s overcrowded terminals.
Tran Quang Lam, director of the city’s Department of Transport, said check-in counters at the airport should accelerate procedures so that passengers do not have to line up for hours. Lanes for business-class passengers and services for priority customers should be offered, he added.
Do Tat Binh, deputy general director of the Airports Corporation of Vietnam, said overloaded infrastructure was currently the biggest problem at Tan Son Nhat Airport.
The airport had a planned capacity of 25 million visitors a year by 2020, but since 2017, the number of visitors had already reached 40 million.
Since 2017, Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi has also been chronically overloaded after receiving new-generation aircraft with huge loads, which has degraded its runways and taxiways.
The airport is only designed to handle 25 million passengers per year, with domestic terminal T1 having a capacity of 15 million and international terminal T2, 10 million.
The number of passengers and cargo passing through the airport has been increasing by an average 10% per year to nearly 26 million passengers in 2018 and about 29 million in 2019.
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