the past several trips i had in bangkok was easy breezy affair (s)… not too long queue in both check-in and immigration counters and i had enough time to walk around duty free shops and to grab some free mags inside the gates. all in all, suvarnabhumi airport was efficient and economical in terms of energy coz long walks or train rides within the airport isn't needed.
entering bangkok this time was altogether taxing. immigration queue was almost similar to enlistment for STS or any other GEs in UP. this sunday, i flew from bangkok to singapore. check-in counter queue in thai airways was manageable but the queue in the immigration counter is another story. it felt as if i was actually in NAIA's now legendary terminal 1! the queue actually snaked outside the passport control area. the end of the line was already near rows H-J of suvarnabhumi's departure hall. time-consuming as it is, people had no choice but to squeeze in a smaller area because repair was going on.
after getting past the immigration and another line for the final scan, got to gate C1. this led me to some observations and musings about immigration:
even if the line is long, choose not to queue in the line where the officer is an aged one. this trip going out of bangkok, the officer in my line was at least 55 years old and she really was too slow. for every 2-3 passports that passed in both counters next to her, she could only process 1 single passport. so there.
in changi or KLIA, members of the same family are usually accommodated as one. of course, the officer will still have to check one passport after another, but this actually makes the line move faster. but in this trip, the family in front of me had to do it one by one… lengthier time than usual.
since they usually travel in busloads, lone travelers like me should also avoid lines with a lot of older (and i guess more moneyed) east asian travelers. whether they are from mainland china, hong kong or some japanese tourists, they would normally occupy 2 different lines next to each other, probably because they need to be physically close to their travel leader. not by any means being racist, but i've seen many such travelers usually forget embarkation cards altogether or there are missing information in their travel documents. due to this, they actually get questioned by the immigration officer most often than not. language barrier also becomes an issue here. in one of my of trips to vietnam, it took very long before the officer and the tourist understood each other on where the tourist would actually stay within vietnam. this was done only after another member of the team spoke with the officer. of course, that significantly prolonged the whole process.
similarly, i noticed that whenever a 50-plus white man in suit who actually looks like an executive or a 50-plus white man or woman not dressed shabbily is in the immigration counter, the officer would take only 1 look and will stamp the passport immediately. it might probably because their travel documents almost always are complete and warrant no questions at all, but one can almost always assume that if you're in the line with these white men and women, the line will actually move faster. i don't know if it's an asian thing (more trusting of people with american or european passports) but it looks like the more white men or women in your line, the faster it would move (hehe!).
at first, some lines might look shorter, so most people generally troop to these lines. but it doesn't follow all the time. some lines look short but is actually longer because the people are not lining up next to each other. i learned about this when i traveled to laos from nong khai in thailand. on the thai side of the border, just before the friendship bridge, a lone female traveler from australia said that the line i was in only appeared to be shorter because the people in front of the line are spread out, with some 3 people next to each shoulder to shoulder. so i transferred to her line, where people are lined up in a single file.
last october, i was in jakarta. in soekarno-hatta, i mistakenly was in line for local passports only. i didn't see the sign that says "foreign passports on the second floor please". i saw one white man in the line so i just assumed that it was the right place. when my chance came, the officer asked, "Filipino?". affirmative, i said of course. immigration officer: "next time, go to second floor. this (is) for local(s) only." i could only say sorry but he still stamped my passport and i got through in the quickest possible time. of course, this will not work for 2 travelers or more but for lone travelers, this should be ok. in NAIA, a lone 60 plus British woman was in the queue for Philippine passports only but she was accepted by the immigration officer anyway.
while you don't need to chitchat with the immigration officer, in no way you should appear brash as well. when i went to vietnam in october 2010, the immigration officer asked me, "no visa?" to which i naturally replied, "no. ASEAN, right?!" i got my passport stamped but was only allowed to stay in vietnam for 6 days when philippine passport holders can be allowed for a maximum of 21 days. i went back to ho chi minh city in october last year, no questions were asked this time and i got the full 21 days visa free stay.
finally, travelers don't need to hand a whole lot of papers. handing unnecessary documents also prolong the process because the officer has to sift through all the papers before actually starting to process it. passport, immigration/ embarkation card, boarding pass and e-ticket are the only things needed. in NAIA, some female immigration officers asked for my company ID before letting me pass through but that was pretty much everything.
immigration musings pa?! next time. i'm sure more seasoned travelers have even better things to share. (",)