Today I was able to witness the worst situation regarding lineups I ever experienced anywhere in the world during my now two decades of very frequent air travel: People waiting for 5+ hours in the immigration line at Denpasar Bali Airport.
While I had pre-booked an arrival concierge service as I was warned about this situation, others got caught in the process, and they were close to a breakdown after over five hours of standing in line.
Bali Airport has always been pretty terrible when you arrive at the wrong time of day, and usually the afternoon is the worst to get in.
I tend to take the Thai Airways flight from Bangkok as it leaves BKK at a convenient time and gets in around 2:00pm.
In the past I’ve always been able to secure easy award tickets in Business Class on almost any date I wanted. Right not that’s next to impossible and paid rates are through the roof as well, at least when you originate in Bangkok.
For this week, I was able to find seats for 13,500 Singapore Airlines miles in Economy Class though. For a 3:40h flight (4:20 officially as per schedule, but it never takes that long), that’s a bearable solution except for the fact that THAI doesn’t provide any security fast track even at their hub airport, which is extremely poor. The flight was fine and was over fast, just a standard Economy intra-Asia flight.
The real “fun” began at arrival in Denpasar. John had already written about his experience of arriving there in May so I had a fair warning:
But what transpired today was worse than anything John experienced in May or what I could have even imagined. The lineups were simply massive. I have no idea where all these people came from but there were thousands of passengers, and I’m not exaggerating.
Here are some impressions:
First, there is some kind of sorting line where people have to visit a counter to show entry documents such as vaccination certificates, in my case I was told by the concierge to sit down on a chair and he went with my credit card to buy the visa on arrival.
The VOA counter lineup didn’t look very encouraging:
There is a separate line for various Indonesian residency options as well as the APEC Business Travel Card:
The regular immigration line started way back in the terminal and reached around the corner. People then filled the entire space of the immigration counters, as displayed in the top picture.
Only every second counter was staffed by immigration officers, something that’s entirely unacceptable on behalf of the authorities. Where is the staff? Is it so difficult to get officers on the roster to stamp people’s passports?
It was horrific. Someone needed medical attention, children and adults were crying, people hadn’t had anything to drink for hours, and suddenly a shouting match escalated into a brawl that had to be broken up by officers. I asked someone in front of the long line how long they’d been there. The answer after he looked at the VOA payment receipt was, “We got here at 10:00 am” and by that time, we had 3:25 pm.
What in the world is going on in Bali? Who thinks this is even remotely acceptable for a tourist destination?
All of these are homemade problems. Indonesia and Bali reintroduced the Visa on Arrival that was previously discontinued for many nationalities. It now costs ~US$35 (500,000 IDR).
At least you can now pay by credit card. I was charged exactly 500,000 Rupiah which is interesting as John was charged 515,000 in May, and he attributed the surcharge to a credit card fee. Also, as of today, 500k Rupiah is $33.50.
My Fast Track service is operated by Gapura and was reserved through the hotel for a fee of 420,000 IDR per person ($28). After hearing of other traveller’s tales of woe, it was the best money ever spent in Bali.
You can also book a concierge service on your own, for example, The Bali Concierge which charges 500,000 IDR per person ($33.50). I used Bali Concierge in the past but they have had a broken website and payment processor for over two years. Credit card transactions fail and they asked for local bank transfer or cash.
The hotel booking is not only a bit cheaper but will also be charged to my folio so I don’t have to deal with any payment. I only wrote them an email saying I want the fast track together with my flight details and they did the rest.
There were quite a lot of people with Fast Track representatives today which also slowed down the service considerably. We also had to wait at the crew line, so every time crew came we had to wait, and instead of two, there was only one officer working. Fast Track today meant I got out of the airport 1:15h after arrival. That alone is a ridiculous situation, but I take that any day over 5 hours in line.
I can imagine that the more people pay for these arrival concierge services the less efficient they’re going to work in the future.
Bali Airport has become a complete nightmare. The organization and wait periods have gotten completely out of control and given today’s situation there’s no way I’d recommend anyone to visit Bali until things get more efficient.
With or without the arrival concierge, this is not how a tourist destination should treat visitors. Forget the charade of the visa on arrival for a moment that was initially proclaimed to be a safety measure due to COVID, but Indonesia and Bali Airport in particular isn’t even able to streamline that process in an acceptable manner.
I cannot see any of the people who were stuck in this line today ever coming back to Bali. Can the island really afford this kind of PR after the tourism industry suffered for two years?