While Tet, the busiest time of the year for air travelers in Vietnam, is two weeks away, passengers have already begun experiencing the airport nightmare at Tan Son Nhat, the country’s most congested airfield.
Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, falls on January 28, though city residents typically begin flying back to their hometowns days before the holiday to begin festivities with friends and family.
To meet demand, local airlines were last week allowed to offer a total of 1,270 extra domestic flights between January 16 and February 12, an 8.5 percent increase in flights typically running during the period.
Approximately 1,067 of the approved extra flights will depart or land at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, already operating beyond its capacity.
Despite potential overload issues, during the Tet holidays the Ho Chi Minh City-based airport will serve 807 flights per day, a 7.7 percent increase on the usual schedule.
However the nightmare of long lines to check in or scan baggage along with delayed or canceled flights has begun to haunt passengers already, with Tan Son Nhat full of passengers on the weekend, many of whom were unable to board their flights as scheduled.
Delay and cancelation
On Sunday, N.T.V. and her two children, aged 3 months and six years old, came to Tan Son Nhat two hours before their scheduled departure time, but still had to queue for an hour to complete check-in for their Quang Nam-bound flight.
N.T.H., also a mother traveling with two children, had their flight to Hue delayed by an hour.
However these families were far luckier than the family of D.V.H., who was flying to Hanoi with his parents, both in their 70s.
The three were at first told that their flight was delayed for four hours, and “shortly after we finally arrived at the check-in counter, we were told that the flight was canceled,” H. told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
This forced him to buy tickets from a budget carrier, but even the alternative service, scheduled to fly at 6:30 pm, did not take off until 9:30 pm.
H. said the initial tickets had cost VND2.9 million (US$129) each, while the new ones fetched VND3.4 million ($152) apiece.
“The airline that canceled our flights did not provide any help in the form of accommodation or compensation,” he complained.
“The carrier should have informed us of the cancelation in advance, rather when we were already at the airport.”
The family had planned to travel early in the morning, but eventually arrived in Hanoi late at night.
With flights now tending to miss their scheduled departure times more frequently, travel companies are worried that their business will be negatively affected.
Tourists turn to tour organizers, not the airlines, to complain if their flights are canceled or delayed, according to several travel firms.
“We are always anxious when it comes to arranging flights for Tet tour packages,” Tran The Dung, deputy director of The He Tre Travel, said.
Ly Viet Cuong, director of Nam Phuong Tourist, said carriers should let travel agencies know of any flight delays or cancellations in advance so they have time to prepare and thus avoid any impact on the quality of their tour packages.
“In other countries, airlines provide food and accommodation assistance to passengers affected by flight delays, but this is not the case in Vietnam,” Cuong added.