While queueing at immigration upon my arrival at Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) recently, I found it sad that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) — our “modern day heroes” — coming home for Christmas are not getting the heroes’ welcome they deserve.
After traveling for four to 18 hours, they are treated to a long wait in disorganized queues, in sweltering temperatures inside the airport. Waiting for one’s turn at the immigration counter from such chaotic queues is like trying to get out of a maze. I observed that such could be avoided if there were sufficient signs for directions and the entire immigration area was utilized to avoid congestion. What happened that time indicated inadequate planning to accommodate the surge in the number of arriving passengers.
If my count is right, there are at least 20 immigration counters at NAIA Terminal 3, but only about six were manned when I arrived, and a couple of them were even reserved for foreigners. Based on the large crowd I saw gathered before the immigration counters, there could have been as many as five flight arrivals that time. Philippine passport holders had to wait a lot longer from their queues, while foreigners breezed through the foreign passport lane.
I understand that making it convenient for foreign tourists is a way for us to show our hospitality and encourage tourism, but I cannot help but ask: Who is more important to us? Is it the foreigners, or the OFWs, who also have their own designated lane but is not enough? What is Filipino hospitality if you cannot even make your own countrymen experience it? If I were a concerned foreigner, I would find this hospitality rather insincere, for how could you be hospitable to others if you’re not hospitable to your own people?
In other countries where I’ve been, the experience is the opposite; i.e., those countries give priority to their citizens. In Singapore, for example, even our fellow Filipinos get to experience the express lane accorded to Singaporean citizens when they have already obtained the permanent resident status. While other foreign passport holders may not be given priority, they can conveniently queue up in very organized lines and their entry is processed quickly. Minus the ambience and the highly digitized system, this can likewise be done at our airports for greater convenience and efficiency.
The struggle for the arriving passenger does not end at the immigration area; it is just the beginning. After going through the long queues, passengers will again have to wait 15 to 30 minutes for their luggage. If they are lucky, their luggage could come out with little damage. Otherwise, the damage could be severe, and worse, stuff from their suitcases could go missing.
After collecting their luggage, they again face a huge crowd of people waiting at the lobby for family or friends among the arriving passengers, blocking the way out. The whole airport experience could just be a foretaste of the inconvenience that awaits them outside – the traffic and the heat as they step out of the airport premises and into the streets of Metro Manila.
NAIA 3 is relatively new but as you may have experienced, the elevators next to the covered parking area look as though they have been used for decades. And there is nothing pleasant about the toilets nearby.
There appeared to be some improvement in the airport as it looked when I arrived, but clearly not enough. I believe that being a third world country is not an excuse for having a poorly operated airport. We have so many highly qualified engineers who could do a good job of improving the facilities and the systems of operation there, and make a big difference in the airport experience of passengers and visitors. The only problem is the mentality that continues to pull us down; i.e., “Puede na ang puede” [That’ll do].
Can the number of arriving passengers, including foreigners, be predicted using inputs from the various airline companies using our airports so the management can prepare to cope with demand for better passenger service? Why not let Philippine passport holders use the foreign passport lane when there are only few foreigners arriving?
If the toilets are dirty, why not hire a cleaning service to maintain them? We have so many unemployed among the poor and maybe homeless. Instead of giving them alms, why don’t we train them to be maintenance people and give them wages to cover their basic needs? We may be able to solve two problems: unemployment and the poor quality of our airport facilities.
This seems like a simple exercise of management and leadership skills and care for our fellow Filipinos, the OFWs, who are fueling our economic growth.
The quality of our airports may be far below the international standards, but it doesn’t have to be this poor. I believe that even as a Third World country, the Philippines can make a difference in the global traveler’s airport experience. Though simple and small, if managed competently by those who would put the welfare and interest of visiting passengers, the Philippine airports may be the first showroom of warm hospitality for which Filipinos are known all over the world. We need personnel and staff who use not only their brains, but also their hearts in making sure foreign visitors and homebound Filipinos are accorded a pleasant, comfortable and efficient welcome and exit service at our airports.
If we cannot give top priority to our fellow Filipinos who are arriving, we can, at least, make their return convenient and exciting. With that, I believe the world famous Filipino brand of hospitality will be truly authentic.
Chris Ferareza is a partner, Audit & Assurance and in-charge of Training at P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines with 21 partners and m,re than 850 staff members. For your comments, please email email@example.com or PAGrantThornton.firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about P&A Grant Thornton, visit our website www.grantthornton.com.ph.