Suvarnabhumi: The Airport That Crash Landed on Visitors to Thailand

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Suvarnabhumi Airport is Thailand's public embrassment.

As in similar post-tsunami and post-Katrina rebuild debacles it was the disability community that raised an early warning signal. Citing the principles of Universal Design -- and predicting the damage to national prestige & local economics resulting from ignoring them -- advice went unheeded with the expected results:

Suvarnabhumi: A traveller's lament

by Pravit Rojanaphruk

Published on October 1, 2006

As flight TG 401 touched down at the futuristic-looking Suvarnabhumi Airport on Friday night, the inefficiency of this new Bt150-billion facility took me and other passengers by surprise.

The impressive view from the outside, of architectural structures bathed in blue light, gave way to appalling design flaws and apparent mismanagement by officials.

"It's a new airport, so why did we have to board a bus [after deplaning]?" asked a fellow THAI traveller from Singapore.

Less than two minutes later we were stuck in a bottleneck at the only escalator from the ground floor up to the first floor. We wondered why more planning wasn't put into such a crucial matter.

Then after a considerable hike past a few duty-free shops, I arrived at the hi-tech immigration desk. It was speedy and convenient. But as I got through the counter and proceeded to find out where to reclaim my luggage, my eyes were dazzled by four flashing TV monitors with letters so tiny that anyone over 40 or with reading difficulties would have a hard time deciphering the messages.

After a few minutes of eye-straining search, I discovered that I had to go to carousel 18. But wait! When I got there, the overhead display said the luggage coming through belonged to flights from Siem Reap and Seoul, not Singapore!

There weren't enough luggage carts and it took me 10 minutes to get one.

So which computerised monitors should I trust?

I hung around with other passengers whom I recognised from our flight until one Westerner finally got his luggage. "Amazing," he said to me, as I asked if he was on that THAI flight from Singapore, to make sure that this was where my suitcase would emerge.

Then there was a sign on a pillar next to the conveyor belt printed on A4 paper. "Temporary toilet". The lack of enough toilets appeared to be haunting the new airport on Day Two.

But there was more travail to go through. The arrival lobby is too small. People squeeze together forming a wall so you can't see if someone came to pick you up.

Then I couldn't figure out where to hail a metered taxi. There was no sign and I ended up having to ask for information at an AOT counter. The woman there was pushing a pricey limousine service, but eventually caved in and told me to head one level down.

"But the queue down there is very long," she warned me. The taxi queue was actually twice, if not thrice, longer than those at Don Muang.

Why? Partly bad coordination and partly because this is a single-terminal airport. The taxi pick-up points must actually be fewer than at Don Muang, which has one domestic and two international terminals. And there was no proper sign telling you this is where you should wait!

While in line, two THAI passengers complained to me. One, an elderly gentleman who flew in from Brisbane, said he waited an hour and a half for his luggage to arrive. When he inquired about it with THAI ground staff, they didn't have a clue as to how long he had to wait.

"It was a long walk," he said, referring to the mega-long terminal and hall.

Another Thai passenger said the exit gate at the arrival hall was simply "miniature", which didn't make any sense.

Nobody seems to want to explain why this new gateway is not laid out better and more conveniently than the 92-year-old complex at Don Muang. I couldn't help wonder why AOT has to force thousands of travellers to undergo such a trying experience.

In the first few days they may claim that many things are not functioning properly because it's still new. But the management's attitude was self-congratulatory even though they should be profusely apologetic and do their best to meet travellers' expectations.

I couldn't see or feel a sense of excellence and a service mindset from them. Suvarnabhumi may end up becoming just another expensive airport that's better to look at than to use.

Perhaps a new management team that is more concerned and attentive to travellers' needs and satisfaction, comforts and convenience might improve things. A few executives deserve - not only to be shifted or reassigned - but fired.

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