21 May 2024

Countless numbers of Thais have flown in and out of Thailand over the years, but few have paid much attention to fast-track services at airports. That changed last week when a Chinese tourist posted a clip of herself enjoying VVIP services from police at a Thai airport.

The tourist’s clip went viral and stirred up a huge controversy. In the clip, the female creator gives a frank and positive review of the VVIP service she received, with police facilitating her entry into Thailand at every step.

She describes how she was greeted by a policeman as soon as she walked off her flight. She was then guided to a special immigration lane, helped with her luggage, and led to a private sedan for transfer to her hotel. Police motorcycle outriders accompanied her sedan all the way to her hotel in Pattaya, clearing traffic to ensure she had a smooth and uninterrupted journey. And all for a modest price of around 7,000 baht.

Public anger

“There are no traffic jams. It’s superb,” the Chinese influencer gushed on her social media account.

But while the tourist was pleased, the Thai public was not so happy. Thai media and social media erupted in angry protest over the fact that their police force was providing VVIP services to travellers when it should be doing its duty of fighting crime.

Several sources have confirmed that Thai police VVIP services have long been available to foreigners. The evidence is plentiful on various Chinese platforms, where such services are openly advertised.

Many English-language websites mention such services too, whether provided by police or others. Klook, a popular travel booking platform, advertises a fast-track service at Suvarnabhumi Airport with a price tag of 1,280 baht. The service is marked “not available” as of January 28. However, reviews on the site attest to customers’ satisfaction with the fast-track privilege.

“VIP fast track is really a great & convenient way to travel,” one reviewer writes in January 27 post. “I cleared immigration in less than 5 minutes, which is definitely time-saving in a busy airport like Suvarnabhumi. Staff were unable to pick me up at the gate but communication from them is prompt”.

Another review, posted three days earlier, says: “This fast-tracking service was worth every penny. I highly recommend it, and if it’s available again, I will use it. Everything described happened exactly as laid out.”

Klook’s advert for fast-track services promises staff will be waiting for clients at air bridges. Clients will then be led to the fast-track lane, luggage carousel, and immigration exit.

However, the privilege is not available to all.

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VVIP Services not for Thais or Indians

“This service is not available for Indian or Thai passport holders, travellers on the Thailand Immigration Bureau blacklist, those who hold Xinjiang identity cards, and people without legal visas,” says the advert.

The Chinese tourist whose clip went viral said she had paid more for extra services after booking a private transfer. So, her VVIP package may differ from the one advertised on Klook.

What is a fast-track lane?

Suvarnabhumi Airport openly advertises the fact it has legitimate fast-track services available both at Departures and Arrivals. The airport website states the special lane is available for passengers in first class and business class, disabled travellers, pregnant women and families with infants, holders of diplomatic passports, holders of BOI, APEC Business Travel Cards (ABTC), Smart Visas or Thailand Privilege Cards, Buddhist monks, senior citizens aged over 70, government officials, and air crew.

Response from Thai authorities

After the Chinese tourists’ clip went viral, four police officers were transferred out of their unit. Two of those transferred are tourist policemen while the others two are traffic police. Investigations of the police VVIP service and the role of the four suspended officers are still ongoing.

However, top government figures have attempted to downplay the scandal.

Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was asked if the scandal showed that anything, including police services, could be bought in Thailand if people had the money to pay.

“Come on, you have just listened to one woman. How reliable is she?” he replied.

By Thai PBS World