Recently, I traveled to Korea and experienced long queues, which made me wonder about the reasons behind them.
Check-In Queue: Even though there was a check-in terminal, it refused to check me in. Probably due to visa requirements and COVID-related checks, which I assume will disappear soon. So, even though I checked in online and only had carry-on luggage, I had to queue. The process took longer than usual, and it seemed slower than before. The time dedicated to each passenger was much longer than pre-COVID, and the number of open stations was insufficient. I am not sure whether it is due to new systems, visa requirements, or untrained staff.
The same thing happened on my way back from Gimpo Airport. If it previously took me two minutes to check-in, it now took ten minutes, and I was one of the faster ones. Even though Japan canceled requirements for COVID tests or vaccines, I was still asked about it and had to spend time proving I am qualified. The number of open check-in stations was much less than I remembered pre-COVID.
Security queues: There was a long queue in Haneda, probably due to the number of tourists or the new introduced systems. It took a while to pass security. Gimpo, on the other hand, was very short and easy. They were using the same old systems, and there were many open security stations.
Immigration: Entry to Korea took about an hour, which was much longer than in the past. Previously, when Korea citizen’s queue was empty, staff used to direct the foreigners to the empty lanes to expedite the process. However, this did not happen this time, and although the Korea citizen’s queue was empty, all foreigners still had to stand in the same queue. The system was not that different, but it took longer than pre-COVID.
Conclusions? I am not sure if I can draw any conclusions, but I speculate that new systems, which are supposed to reduce “friction,” may actually increase it.
Airlines have let go of their ground staff and now rely on new hires or outsourcing, which may contribute to the issue. Additionally, the number of open stations is not sufficient. I hope this improves quickly as international travel becomes normal and COVID restrictions are lifted in most countries around the world.