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Passengers arriving at Manila's international airport late Saturday evening descended upon chaos and hellish queues as their flights from around the world arrived simultaneously, compelled to beat a daily four-hour closure of NAIA's main runway which is undergoing repairs.
Many of the flights were delayed in landing, forced on holding patterns of an additional 10 to 15 minutes each as the planes themselves lined up to descend on NAIA’s limited runway. The airport has only one international runway and a shorter domestic runway. The facilities are currently on their annual maintenance program, and are daily being shut down for repair four hours each after midnight.
By the time passengers from Japan, Korea, Dubai, the US, and Hong Kong made it to immigration, the hall was jampacked with, by InterAksyon.com’s estimates, 1,500 to 2,000 people. Making matters worse, no airport officers or staff made any attempt to organize the queues.
Unable to see the front of the lines, nor to distinguish between those designated for Filipinos and foreigners, passengers holding international passports lined up with Philippine citizens, only to be turned back once they got to the front – after 40 minutes to an hour each of queuing – for being "in the wrong lanes".
Airport and immigration officials recently added four more immigration booths and hired an additional 20 immigration officers, ostensibly to cope with more arrivals, as well as to mitigate against the surge of passengers approaching midnight.
At around 11 p.m. of Saturday, however, the brand new booths – placed some 10 meters ahead of the older existing stations - were clearly unmanned. They only served to further confuse people as they inched forward, their lines forced to organically converge in the middle of the immigration hall.
The Bureau of Immigration said it is still screening thousands of applicants for about a hundred positions for immigration officers that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had authorized the BI to fill up.
Immigration chief Ricardo David said, “these perennial complaints of long queues in our immigration counters will be solved only if we triple the number of our personnel at the airports.”
Beyond runway and immigration capacity issues, however, passengers on Saturday were grumbling about what could and should still have been within airport and immigration officials' control but clearly was not. One returning OFW from Dubai was incredulous that there was no effort to even organize the lines. A Korean passenger lamented the lack of flexibility and protocol in accommodating passengers on the "wrong line", given precisely the lack of organization, anticipation, and planning to which they were greeted.
A Filipino woman with two children in tow said: "I can understand if there are too many people. But all these flights were scheduled, so they should have anticipated the surge and put in place some system to at least make it more organized."
The immigration process was just one part of the hellish landing in Manila.
Finally past passport control, NAIA's few baggage carousels groaned with having to churn out thousands of luggage from dozens of international flights. And even after retrieving their items, passengers literally ran out of pushcarts, as, near to midnight, it was no longer clear or noticeable if there were even airport staff designated to round up empty carts from outside.
The chain reaction of backed up queues affected even the vehicles in Terminal 1's parking lot, with cars taking as much as half an hour just to exit the lot and make it to the arrival bays. With reports from Eric Apolonio, InterAksyon.com