PETALING JAYA: Passengers arriving at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang had to deal with long queues in cramped and uncomfortable conditions, mainly due to a bottleneck at the immigration gates on Sunday.
"It was absolute chaos. I wasn't sure what lines were going where and which were the queues for foreign and Malaysian passports," said 27-year-old lawyer Tharishni Arumugam, who was one among a thousand stuck at the airport.
She also said passengers encountered out-of-order escalators, dim lighting and barely working air-conditioning.
"There was a massive amount of people going up towards immigration but the escalators were not working. Elderly people were forced to carry their heavy roller bags up,” she said.
Tharishni said only a small number of immigration officers were at hand to cater to the enormous surge of people.
"I wasn't quite sure what was going on. There seemed to be no immigration officers when I landed at about 4pm," said Tharishni.
Tharishni, who had just returned from Bangkok, said the crowd finally started moving at 4.30pm as more immigration officers were deployed to the gates.
She added there were Rela officers around to ensure the situation remained under control.
She said a few tussles nearly broke out as tensions rose.
"People could be heard shouting aggressively. I figured it was because some were cutting lines," she said.
"I felt frustrated, angry and perplexed. The worst part is that we were not informed what was happening. The authorities should have explained what was going on and tried to manage the crowd better," she said.
Tharishni added that this was the first instance she had encountered difficulty at LCCT's immigration checkpoints, as she usually has a very easy time passing through the airport.
Another frequent traveller, 21-year-old Keana Reinu said even the elderly and families with young children had to wrestle through with their luggage.
"It was extremely stuffy and AirAsia staff had to push special needs passengers to the front of the crowd," she said, adding that some passengers also tried to barge their way through, sparking off a lot of shouting from others.
"There were no ground staff on hand to organise and control the crowd.
"Besides the three autogates for Malaysian passports, only two immigration officers were on hand to manually clear passengers while the several other counters remained unmanned and empty," she said, adding that the queue leading to immigration counters extended almost to the tarmac.
Claiming baggage and clearing customs was a similar nightmare, especially after more flights landed.
"Staff had to remove luggage from the conveyor belt to make way. People couldn't find their baggage as it was in a sea of unorganised bags on the floor.
"Clearing customs was just as bad because only one lane and one machine was open," she explained.
Altogether, Keana took more than an hour to pass through the airport. She added that she was fortunate and that others had to wait much longer before they could get out of the airport.
Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad operation services senior general manager Datuk Azmi Murad said that the congestion was due to the long weekend and stretched manpower resources.
"This evening, there was quite heavy traffic at LCCT because of the Thursday holiday and long weekend rush," he said, adding that the crowd congestion was mainly between 3-4pm.
"There was no issue with the immigration system but since immigration is manning all three places (KLIA, LCCT, KLIA2), we did not have full strength at LCCT," he added.
However, Azmi explained that crowding issues were settled in less than two hours.
"It would be unfair to blame immigration," said Azmi who explained that he did not expect a re-occurrence of the issue as the move to KLIA 2 is to be completed by Friday.
"The immigration staff were on hand but the crowd was exceptionally heavy in spite of KLIA2's operation," he said.