Dhaka airport: A tale of grime and punishment
Before you decide to roll your eyes in derision of yet another airport rant by yours truly, let me explain why I can't stop cribbing about the shoddy state of Dhaka airport. It's because every time I come back from a trip, I realise yet again the level of apathy and neglect the airport authorities have maintained to be able to allow for the most unthinkable chaos to continue. And how this total disregard for passengers' comfort and disdain towards their own responsibilities as airport managers has blissfully gone on unabated for decades on end.
So this is how the story goes. Remember those days when you would get butterflies in the stomach as the wheels touched the tarmac and you realised you were finally home, your motherland, and soon would be greeted by your loved ones? Nowadays, it's more like an uncomfortable churning as I dread what I will have to face at our wonderful Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) in Dhaka.
The first beings to greet you most pointedly will be the persistent mosquitos on the bus that have actually divided themselves into two special SWAT teams: one for the outgoing passengers to give them a grand, itchy departure, and the other for the incoming humans so that they are assured of their destination – their homeland.
But the silent mosquito brigades are not what makes Dhaka airport stand out. It is more the absence of cleanliness that hits you like a tonne of bricks. It is a far, far cry from the airport during the Covid days, when the shine from the steel could blind you and the squeaky clean floors could require a hip replacement. Funnily enough, the floors are still slippery – not because they are too clean, but due to the layers of sand accumulated while the cleaners are on their sabbatical. Only the brave will venture into the regular airport bathrooms (not the ones in the VIP lounges, obviously) where toilets have been left unflushed, floors left wet and muddy, and the toilet paper is a precious thing of the past.
This mysterious absence of hygiene can be easily spotted at the immigration booths (when you are leaving Dhaka) where various sizes of cockroaches can be seen crawling over the glass panels, happily coexisting and sharing snacks in this booth with the indifferent human occupant.
The new terminal of Dhaka airport promises to be grander, shinier, and more efficient. But if you have the same people working there, with the same attitude, and the same level of oversight (which is zero), how long will it be before the Mosquito Brigade and Cockroach Colonies relocate to the posher side of town?
If you are lucky to have found fairly manageable immigration lines and feel quite gleeful at how fast you have come out, wipe that smug smile off your face. The mayhem created by passengers from multiple flights trying to find their luggage after at least an hour since you reached the baggage carousel will bring you back on the ground with a painful thud. The selfish, boorish behaviour we see on our roads is replicated at the airport, with every passenger pushing their trolley forward because everyone wants to be the first to get out through that narrow opening and breeze through the Green Channel.
Unfortunately, just like our traffic, this causes impossible choking points that take forever to untangle, which is often accompanied by skirmishes and plenty of expletives being uttered in various dialects. There is also the possibility of getting your foot smashed when an overloaded trolley tilts with all the merry jostling and lands a big-sized box with a television inside right on your toes.
Ladies, please do not wear open-toed sandals – closed, padded sneakers are the safest bet.
As you eye what resembles a battlefield, you may wonder why there isn't a single airport official at least attempting to bring some order to the mayhem; why you and hundreds of others have been left to figure it all out by yourselves – just like the constricting points on our city roads. Only when you come near customs will you see the bevy of enthusiastic uniformed personnel. Wonder why.
Then, finally, you are free from this surreal web and can go towards the car park where your vehicle is supposed to be waiting to allow you to escape this hell. This is where you will have the privilege of witnessing the different shades of green mould, thanks to months – perhaps years – of water dripping from the air conditioners onto the walls and ground and accumulating into a grimy puddle. The car park, in fact, is the place where garbage and grime are married and spread all over the dark corners. This is despite the fact that parking costs Tk 100 per car, so multiply that with the thousands parking EVERY DAY, and you will be left to wonder why at least a fraction of that astronomical sum is not used to clean up the car park of this "international airport."
If you ask an official about this, they will no doubt say it's because of the construction of the airport's new dream terminal and because the night flights have been suspended, so there are too many flights packed into the day. This would have been a valid argument if things had been any different before the construction of the new terminal even began. The griminess, in fact, was there long before the construction – it is just a characteristic of any public institution in our country.
The new terminal promises to be grander, shinier, and more efficient. But if you have the same people working there, with the same attitude, and the same level of oversight (which is zero), how long will it be before the Mosquito Brigade and Cockroach Colonies relocate to the posher side of town?
Aasha Mehreen Amin is joint editor at The Daily Star.