IN case the Manila International Airport (NAIA) manager was home on Sunday, a day of relaxation, the departing passengers of Terminal 1 were not relaxing but in a state of discomfiture and unwelcome déjà vu—the place was a mess, with thousands of passengers unable to even get into the pre-departure area to go through immigration formalities.
This was not a matter of space; the newly refurbished terminal is looking spacious enough (though not using its space to the maximum for efficiency) and bright enough. The ceiling looks attractive, the marble floors are smooth and well done for rolling luggage and the large windows give an attractive view of what is going on in the tarmac.
However, these attractive amenities were overshadowed by the ordeal of long lines of departing passengers wending their way in interminable lines from the entrance lobby to the pre-departure area. True, there was a line for seniors and persons with disabilities on wheelchairs but one line was definitely inadequate for the number of passengers falling under that classification.
Surely, basic observation of departing passengers should note the rising numbers of retired persons and physically disabled people that travel nowadays. One immigration booth will not be able to do the job properly and even cause much distress to this class of passengers as going through the line took from 45 minutes to one hour of standing and wheelchair-sitting. Meanwhile, OFWs (the majority of passengers) and other passengers who had to go through supposedly normal lines had been there much longer. One woman whispered to me that a young friend the week before had taken an abominable two hours to get through.
So, what was wrong? Many Immigration booths were unmanned. I guess Sunday is a day of rest for immigration personnel too? No one was explaining anything though there were whispers of a slowdown because they are not paid overtime. Is this issue still unresolved? The woman’s friend who took two hours said it happened on a weekday. What gives? Last I heard the airlines which had been held hostage for years paying overtime to immigration officers finally were relieved of the burden (Manila is probably the only airport in the world that inflicts such an obligation on airlines), and that the Department of Justice had sourced the money for overtime pay. May we ask the Secretary of Justice under whom the immigration bureau seems to be floundering at its job to explain the situation?
As I said there were ample unused spaces where immigration booths could be added but in the light of empty booths in the regular spaces, the air of neglect was quite apparent. No one was in charge of the milling crowd except the few security guards and wheelchair attendants, some of whom got into shouting matches as they jockeyed their impatient charges into position at the queue.
One tries not to become overcome by envy at the experience in other airports but it is getting tougher when one lands at the Bangkok Airport where moving sidewalks in one direction are not one but two, where airport assistance personnel are strategically placed in every nook and corner aside from the primary information booth visible on every floor with more than one person waiting to answer questions. Never mind the brighter lights, the more orderly stores, the bigger, better use of space, even the two moving sidewalks in one direction. We can wish for that in the near future but what is dearly needed and wistfully wished for now is a more caring, more attentive, more efficient management of passengers at Terminal 1. Care and concern for airport passengers depend on people, not a budget.