Airport hassles far from over | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, November 11, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, November 11, 2009

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Airport hassles far from over


A view of Zia International Airport in Dhaka. Travelling through the airport is still an ordeal, while the government plans to upgrade major airports in the country to handle increasing air traffic.Photo: SK Enamul Haq

The government plans to build a new modern airport near Gazipur and also upgrade other major airports in the country to handle increasing air traffic in the country, according to a The Daily Star report published on November 5. I could not help but chuckle to myself as I sat down to browse the newspapers in the afternoon, upon my return from an overseas trip the same day.
That morning, I landed at Zia International Airport at quarter past nine. I passed through immigration pretty quickly and got myself a baggage trolley to collect my luggage. The airport has four baggage conveyors and I could see two of them displaying my flight number -- one for business class passengers and the other for mundane souls such as myself traveling on economy.
After about fifteen minutes, the conveyors whirred to life and after another ten minutes, some bags started showing up.
After a while, I realised no new luggage was being thrown on the belts, as was evident from the jam-packed baggage isles. Even after an hour of waiting, I could see at least a hundred passengers milling about the belts. There were passengers with babies, old men and women and not-so-young-any-more passengers, such as myself. After a 25-hour journey, I was ready to punch any civil aviation authority personnel I could find within reach. But the authorities were absolutely mum on the delay and I could not find any civil aviation or airline personnel within sight.
Getting baggage from the aircraft on to the conveyor belt is a routine operational matter that possibly could not take more than half an hour, even if brought by hand. The Dhaka airport has quite a bit of baggage handling equipment and so it should take even less time. There were also no other incoming flights at the time that could possibly hinder baggage handling. Then why were scores of passengers waiting in utter desperation for their bags in an airport that seems to have all the trappings of a modern airport?
To make matters worse, passengers had to continuously move back and forth between the two conveyor belts to check for their bags as luggage was being thrown on the belts without segregating them as per the signs displayed above the belts.
Modernisation does not come from machines alone. It depends more on processes or efficiency of processes, to be exact. And process efficiency depends on human efficiency and the ability of human operators to abide by rules of the processes. No amount of modernisation, glaring electronic displays and super-sophisticated baggage handling systems will help if the people behind it live in the stone ages.
Dhaka airports baggage handling sloth and occasional pilferage have been routine for as long as I can remember. This is usually the first jolt of realism after someone returns home from a foreign trip. One non-Bangladeshi friend of mine used to call this phenomenon 'TIB this is Bangladesh' and used that euphemism to calm his mind whenever faced with such frustrating situations here.
Of course as a Bangladeshi, needless to say, I never enjoyed such sarcasm but also could not protest, as these are facts of life here. The 'TIB' chant could work on a foreigner but when a deshi is faced with such lack of professionalism, deliberately perpetrated by our other deshis then frustration simply knows no bounds.
The personnel of the civil aviation authorities are paid with our taxes that we pay out of our hard-earned money. If these people are incompetent to run the affairs of the airport then they should simply be forced out and the government should let the private sector do the job. I am sure, under private management, the airports will provide world-class service without any burden on the taxpayers.
By the time I got my baggage, it was nearly quarter to eleven. Even then I could see nearly half the passengers from my flight anxiously waiting. This episode is all the more disturbing because some progress in baggage handling efficiency was achieved when the immediate past caretaker government was in power.
If such calamitous service at the airport is due to politically backed mafia forces in action then that should be ruthlessly stopped because our fragile economy simply cannot afford to go back to the stone ages in public utilities and hope for miracles to happen!
All those government plans for bigger and better-equipped airports will only add to our agony, unless we fix the service standards of our existing airport facilities and enforce discipline without any excuses.

The writer is the founder managing director of Technohaven Company Ltd and president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services. He can be reached at hnkarim@gmail.com.

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