An article I recently wrote (October 14) on the impression of the Kingdom that arriving passengers at Jeddah airport get and the manner in which they are hassled by taxi touts who descend upon them drew an interesting response from a reader named R.A. He focuses on another aspect of the long list of shortfalls of King Abdulaziz Airport (KAIA) in Jeddah.
He writes: “Being a veteran of airport management who is also a trainer in airport management, I can definitely say that taxi touts are the very least of the problems in Jeddah and probably other Saudi airports. The appalling passenger relations and passenger facilitation afforded to passengers by security and immigration personnel is well known to every foreigner, including pilgrims who arrive in the Kingdom expecting a warm welcome from their fellow adherents.
“The arrogance, supercilious demeanor and curt ordering of passengers by these airport personnel is too well known to be ignored. I have had personal experience where a factory packed microwave oven was looked upon with suspicion despite it being obvious what it was. The manner in which I was ordered to stand and wait at the doorway, come forward when ordered to and unpack the package was utterly demeaning and smacked of the military.
“Each time I made an involuntary move I was ordered to step back in that well-known Saudi arrogance, viz. “yalla”, “bas” “tha’aal” and dismissive “rooh”. All the niceties of speech, smiles and cheek-to-cheek were solely reserved for their own kind. This is where we become fully aware and sadly so that Islam and Saudi culture are two separate entities.
“Let me respectfully inform you at this juncture that I speak a fairly grammatically clean Najdi Arabic having spent 10 years in Riyadh, six of which were at the Institute of Public Administration. I still maintain close contact with many of my former IPA colleagues; a friendship that has lasted for over 30 years. I mention this to reassure you of my affection for the man-on-the-street Saudi.
“Your article has completely disregarded this important aspect or been completely unaware with regard to this extremely crucial factor. In fact what all airports try to achieve is nothing but passenger facilitation. Wassalaam, R.A.”
I must admit R.A. has a point. My piece totally neglected this one critical aspect of passenger satisfaction which is the conduct and treatment afforded to them by airport personnel, be they airline staff, customs and immigration personnel or airport officials. But it was not unintended. I was focusing on the mass hysteria of taxi touts.
Another reader send me the site of a survey by a travel guide that listed KAIA as the second worst airport in the world for visitors. The travel site used by frequent travelers published the results of the 2015 poll in which international travelers from all over voted for the best and worst airports in the world. In the Middle East, KAIA was the worst airport in the region.
In their findings, “Jeddah’s International Airport elicited fervent responses from voters who were annoyed by the chaotic, crowded, unclean airport, particularly within the Haj terminal. From smoking in non-smoking areas to the bathroom odor wafting out into the lounges, few people sang praises after spending time there. Multi-hour immigration queues with distracted and absent officers further aggravated travelers. All in all, Jeddah is decidedly un-sleep able and arguably un-visitable. A number of voters suggested booking layovers elsewhere – at all costs. Travelers can, however, take heart – the new Jeddah Airport is said to be 85 percent complete and scheduled to open mid-2016. Hardly soon enough by the sounds of it! Most travelers familiar with the current JED just hope that the new airport comes with new staff and customs/immigration officers!”
Such confidence in our airport personnel does not augur well for when the buildings do indeed open to the public in mid-2016. As long as the human element is lacking, and along with it the courtesy and respect that should be extended to all passengers irrespective of their nationality or origin, no amount of glitzy infrastructure can ease the irritation or humiliation of passengers.
Isn’t it time that someone wakes up and takes notice of what passengers have been saying again and again?
— The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena