Tales of woe from the arrivals lounge at Auckland International Airport have been flooding into the NZ Herald newsdesk this afternoon, with several passengers vowing never to use the airport again.
Their complaints follow reports of two-hour queues at the airport last night, with some passengers left feeling unsafe in the crowded arrivals and baggage halls.
Last night an airport spokeswoman said the issue was due to an influx of several delayed flights which added to the usual peak-time congestion.
But passengers said while the baggage handling area was chaotic, there also appeared to be only two Customs officials on duty at passport control.
Others called the biosecurity area a disgrace, saying the queue to declare goods was a mile long and had just one staff member working.
NZ Customs told the Herald it had ten officers at passport control on Sunday night - five covering Australian and New Zealand passports, three for other passports, and two assisting with eGate queues.
"Customs has contingency plans to ensure additional officers can be redeployed to the passenger processing area due to any increase in off-schedule flights, re-directing queues if the eGates aren't working or held up, and redirecting passengers in wheelchairs, the elderly and those with young babies," a spokeswoman said.
"Sunday was a busy evening, however, Customs met the target processing time for most of these flights, which is to process 90 per cent of passengers within 45 minutes of disembarking."
The Ministry for Primary Industries - which handles biosecurity after baggage has been claimed - told the Herald it had rostered 35 staff to deal with Sunday's peak traffic, and staff could open new lanes and bring in other staff if needed.
"The congestion delays on Sunday were due to the arrival of six unscheduled flights during the peak period. The delay was compounded by a leak in the airport roof, which forced us to shut down a lane," MPI passenger manager Craig Hughes said.
He said MPI was very mindful of moving passengers through as fast as possible, and queue times had dropped last summer after new measures to reduce lane congestion. Increased lane capacity was likely to reduce congestion further this summer, Hughes said.
"WORSE THAN THIRD-WORLD CHAOTIC SHAMBLES"
Readers have responded confirming last night's chaos but many add that it is a frequent occurrence at New Zealand's biggest airport, with several calling the airport "third world".
Trevor Jones - who arrived back from a Europe trip two weeks ago - said the arrival hall had not been up to international standards for the past two years.
"When there are two or more flights arriving at similar times it is a shambles and the queues are diabolical."
Wendy Smith arrived around midnight last Monday with chocolate and dried mango in her bag, and headed for the "something to declare" lane in biosecurity.
The queue was huge, and the desk was manned by one person while four people were manning the "nothing to declare" line, she said.
"People were trying to be responsible by declaring goods but with only one person manning the booth I was very tempted to skip lanes," she said. "Why couldn't they have seen what was happening and put at least another person on the "declare" lane? ... We got out of there about 1.20am!"
Process engineer Peter Hutchinson travels frequently for work. "I come through Customs in Auckland two to three times per month and can honestly say it is the worst part of travel every time.
"It is a worse than third-world chaotic shambles and has been for years, with no sign of respite ... you just don't see arrivals like it anywhere in airports of that size.
"It's not just the mess either. We don't seem to have grasped the automated processing principles correctly. Everywhere else it speeds up the process, but in New Zealand we rely on a few people behind desks to repeat the process for the entire populace with a redundant bit of paperwork."
Lisa Agnew, who frequently picks up tourists to take them to local accommodation, said last night's chaos was a common occurrence.
"Almost without exception [my passengers] report that the Customs desks are severely under-staffed with, usually, no more than two staff on duty no matter how many flights are due.
"This causes huge waiting times and can mean I wait for over an hour for people, even when I have already allowed for a one-hour delay for them to pass through Customs.
"With the peak arrivals season still to come, I can imagine that the chaos is going to be even worse than last year."
Trish Barker returned from Brisbane on October 5 to face long queues and long delays.
"[I] felt really embarrassed standing alongside European families arriving for their New Zealand holiday - they should have received a better welcome."
Mike Beuvink arrived on a Sunday night a few weeks ago and was also faced with lengthy queues, with only three or four of the 10 Customs desks occupied.
"There were four lines of queues stretching back to virtually the entrance to the arrivals hall (probably 200m in length)."
The "lucky ones" on New Zealand passports took 45 minutes to reach the front of the queue but just one Customs officer was dealing with other passports, and those queues were closer to 90 minutes long,
"It was totally embarrassing. What an appalling way to welcome tourists to New Zealand."