MALAYSIA: On Saturday (2 Dec), travellers at Penang International Airport encountered extensive queues during the immigration clearance process.
This inconvenience was attributed to the fact that only five out of the 12 immigration counters were operational at the time.
However, the following day witnessed improved efficiency as all counters were brought into operation, leading to smoother processing for passengers.
Immigration chaos at Penang International Airport sparks concerns and criticism
According to a report from Sin Chew Daily, travellers undergoing immigration clearance at Penang International Airport encountered extensive queues on last Saturday.
The situation arose due to the limited operation of immigration counters, with only five out of the 12 available counters being open, leading to overcrowding at the airport.
Compounding the issue, there were allegedly no personnel present to manage and organize the queues, resulting in disorderly conditions.
This lack of queue control caused visitors to feel trapped, with queues extending from the airport’s first to the second floor.
A reader shared with Sin Chew Daily that his friend spent three hours in the immigration queue.
Further exacerbating the problem, long queues reportedly formed at the airport toilets, leading to unhygienic conditions as the facilities became overwhelmed by the high number of travellers.
The public voiced concerns about the situation, with one individual questioning the ability of relevant authorities to handle the increasing number of tourists, especially with the recent visa-free arrangements for China and India.
The plea emphasized the need for a serious response to ensure a smoother experience for both adults and vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.
Social media platforms, including X, reflected the frustration of affected travellers.
Users complained about the lack of service and extended wait times, with one individual mentioning that only 50% of immigration desks were open, no staff were available for assistance, and there was a lack of queue control.
@imigresenmy terrible terrible service and wait times at Penang airport today. Only 50% of desks open, no staff to be found, no queue control, no water for elderly or children spending up to 4 hours standing in line. 2.5 hours and moved about 10 metres. Ridiculous!
— Cathriona Nolan (@CathrionaN) December 2, 2023
Disarray at Penang Airport linked to sudden rollout of Malaysia Digital Arrival Card on 1 Dec
A significant factor contributing to the chaos, as suggested by some travellers, was the abrupt implementation of the Malaysia Digital Arrival Card on 1 December, affecting most foreign travellers.
Some blamed the Immigration Department for not providing adequate guidance and crisis control, leading to confusion among incoming travellers.
Mr Hsu Shang Zhi, president of the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce in Penang, told the Malaysian Chinese daily China Press, highlighted that many travellers were caught off guard by the new regulation, with airlines reportedly informing passengers of an exemption until 8 December.
He criticized the airport for insufficient guidance and crisis management, sharing that it took him nearly four hours to reach the arrival hall.
This incident, spanning over 20 years of living in Penang, marked the first time he encountered such issues at the airport.
Leaders express hopes for improvements to ease travellers’ inconvenience
On Sunday (3 Dec), there was a noticeable improvement in the situation at Penang International Airport, as all immigration counters were operational, providing a smoother experience for passengers.
Addressing the ongoing issue, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow expressed concern on 3 December, emphasizing that prolonged waiting times could become more prevalent unless proactive measures are implemented to manage the anticipated surge in international visitors.
This concern arises in the context of Malaysia’s recent announcement of visa-free entry for tourists from countries such as China and India.
Democratic Action Party chairman and former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng took action on 3 December by reaching out to Malaysia’s Home Minister about the immigration congestion problem.
He conveyed his hopes for improvements to alleviate the inconvenience faced by travellers.
Gutzy’s correspondent, present at immigration on 4 December, reported that both the staff service and computers were notably efficient. He completed the immigration process within 1-2 minutes, including camera and fingerprint procedures.
He hypothesized that the long queue was likely due to school holidays and insufficient counters to handle the surge of travelers, despite all counters being operational.
Gerakan deputy president urges immediate action for enhanced visitor experience and industry resilience
Reacting to the situation, Gerakan Deputy President Oh Tong Keong expressed shock and disappointment at the conditions faced by tourists entering Malaysia.
In a Facebook post, he questioned whether this was an appropriate way to welcome tourists to the country.
Mr Oh underscored the potential serious repercussions this incident could have on the tourism industry, especially as the country is actively working towards economic recovery.
He urged airport authorities and the Immigration Department to thoroughly examine the matter and take necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents, emphasizing the importance of ensuring a positive and welcoming experience for all visitors.
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