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Cleanliness is not NAIA’s only problem

07:00 PM June 02, 2011

When I left the Philippines to live with my husband in the US, I have not had the opportunity to return to the Philippines, until recently when we decided to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary in the Philippines.

It was barely 10 seconds after stepping out of the airplane when it dawned on me why Ninoy Aquino International Airport I is one of the worst airports in the world.

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The tube that connects the airplane to the terminal was very filthy and it smelled musty — madumi at mabaho!  Surely it does not take that much money to clean these tubes with soap and water, does it?

After stepping out of the gate, one is greeted with glass panels that separate the waiting area from arriving passengers.  One would immediately notice that these glass panels are full of streaks and fingerprints.  If I may suggest: a simple water and vinegar solution can easily remove these fingerprints, just in case NAIA is so poor that it could not afford to buy glass cleaners.  Again, it does not take a lot of money to maintain these glass panels so that they always look new.

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I may sound like I am nitpicking, but experienced travelers who have been to airports like the ones in Singapore and Seoul DO and WILL notice these things.  In Seoul, for example, there are cleaning personnel who constantly clean hand railings and glass panels so that they are free of fingerprints; drinking fountains are constantly being washed with soap and water; walls with small stains that are not even that obvious are cleaned with soap and water.  I was amazed to see that at the Seoul airport, escalators and moving walk-ways which are not even carpeted are cleaned with vacuum cleaners.  I don’t know if the escalators at NAIA are even cleaned at all.

I noticed that certain portions of NAIA are now carpeted.  I believe these were recently installed since they were not there when I left the Philippines seven years ago.  But it is disheartening to see that the carpets already look old and filthy, like they have never been cleaned since their installation.  My point is, we like to renovate things but we are too lazy at maintaining them.

I am sure airport authorities are aware that proper maintenance of facilities is crucial so that passengers do not feel like they are in a cattle farm, as one blogger pointed out.  But proper maintenance does not have to mean a major overhaul of facilities.  It could simply be just making sure that floors are constantly shiny, trash cans visible at every corner, carpets vacuumed everyday, spider cobwebs immediately removed (yes, there are plenty of cobwebs at the airport), glass fixtures free of finger prints, etc.  Again, these are propositions that we do not have to spend a lot of money on.

More to the point, there are so many eyesores inside the airport like exposed wires in the ceiling and old weighing scales in the departure area that are obviously not working anymore.  I could not for the life of me understand why NAIA not just throw these old weighing scales away or stow them out of the sight of passengers.

I noticed too that the ceiling in the gate area is new, as it is now made of laminate material.  It may be new, but again, it is very dirty!  Is it so difficult to wipe off dust and fingerprints from these fixtures?

For such a small terminal, I would guess that NAIA has a relatively high number of cleaning personnel compared to other airports.  My husband commented that labor in the Philippines may be cheap compared to more progressive countries, but our advantage on labor cost is easily washed away by inefficiency.  It seems like a task that is performed by five people in the Philippines is performed by only one person in other countries.

Cleanliness is not the only problem at NAIA.

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Departing passengers at NAIA are required to show a printed itinerary to security guards to be able to enter NAIA.  While this is understandable for security reasons and crowd control, it is a very annoying hassle.  I have traveled to many countries and in all the airports I have been to, I was never required to show a copy of my itinerary, except at NAIA.  In my case, I needed to turn my laptop on so that I could show the security guard my itinerary.  But two tourists who were behind me in the security line had no printed itinerary to show and they were obviously exasperated as they were not aware of this regulation.  NAIA needs to realize that bringing a printed itinerary is not a practice in many first class airports around the world, especially since almost all passengers now use E-tickets.  And note too that many foreigners try to be environment-friendly and would avoid printing documents like an itinerary, especially if they have an E-ticket.  At the very least, NAIA needs to install internet kiosks at the entrance so that passengers without printed itineraries can download their itinerary to show to the security guard.

And then the security checks …

Don’t get me wrong.  Security checks are very important for the safety of all passengers.  But I could not understand for the life of me why we have to go through a security check three times.  In the US, where airports are much bigger, much busier, and much more crowded than NAIA, passengers go through a security check just once.

The first security check is at the entrance, where bags go through X-ray machines and passengers go through a metal detector.  The second security check is after going through immigration, where again, passengers go through metal detectors and bags go through X-rays.

The third security check is the most annoying and a great inconvenience.  Bags are inspected before entering a cordoned area at the departure gate.  This becomes an annoying inconvenience since, if you need to leave the gate to go to the restroom, or if you feel hungry and want to buy food, you have to leave the cordoned area and go through security again when you return at the gate.  NAIA is the only airport I have ever been to where this type of security measure is practiced.   In airports like Detroit, for example, you have restaurants, pharmacies, magazine stores, bookstores, etc. everywhere inside the airport and passengers can easily go back and forth these shops and the departure gates without being restrained by a cordoned-off area at the departure gate.

And did I mention the chairs at the departure gates?  Each row of chairs can seat five people, but since there is only two inches of space between one row of chairs to the next, passengers tend to occupy only the end seats leaving the middle seats empty.  Once the end seats are occupied, there is simply no space to squeeze through a row of seats and occupy the middle seats.  This defeats the purpose of having many chairs in the departure area since many passengers just choose to remain standing.  May I suggest arranging the chairs with their backs against each other so that there will be space in between chairs.  Or get rid of the cordons at the departure gate, so that passengers can occupy empty seats at other gates.  Remember, passengers need to be at the airport three freaking hours before their scheduled departure, and we need all the comfort we could get before a long-haul flight.

And I would like to mention how utterly rude some NAIA personnel could be.  After immigration, passengers need to line up for the second security check.  I did not know that some lines are for men only and some are for women only.  There were no signs that would indicate men-only and women-only lines.  A female security personnel (or an immigration agent, I am not sure) was telling people about the men- and women-only schemes, but because of the high level of background noise inside NAIA it is but natural that not everybody heard her.  And then she blurted out, “Hay naku, and hirap sa ibang tao hindi marunong makinig.  Nakakainis! Sinabi na nga na men only ang pila ayaw pa rin sumunod.  Ang titigas ng ulo!”

Had I known that the line I was in was for men only, I would have of course immediately left the line and went to the women-only line.  But there were no signs that would indicate otherwise, so I assumed it was for everybody.  There was absolutely no need for the female immigration security personnel at that time (April 23, around 11:10 a.m.) to be rude!

And finally, I think a blogger’s description of NAIA being similar to a cattle farm is very apt.  NAIA is so noisy.  I could not understand why an announcement is made on the PA system almost every 10 seconds!!  NAIA is already a very noisy and crowded place.  Every 10 seconds there is an announcement reminding passengers to proceed to the departure gate after getting their boarding passes.  Well, where else would we go?  Granted that maybe not everybody knows this, but do they have to make this reminder every 10 freaking seconds?  Again, this may sound like nitpicking.  But try standing in line for two hours to get your boarding pass while every 10 seconds an announcement is made on the PA system … it will drive you crazy, specially at 4 in the morning!

Ana Martinez-Walz lives in Chicago, Illinois

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TAGS: Filipino, NAIA, Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Overseas Filipino, US
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