Airport chief highlights terminal troubles

Travel horrors highlighted by the plight of Tom Hanks in the Hollywood movie, “The Terminal”, are an everyday reality for passengers, according to one of India’s top experts in airport planning and management.Inderjit Singh, Executive Director of the Airports Authority of India, warned at the Airport Build & Supply Exhibition in Dubai that an architect’s dream can be a nightmare for passengers, and that millions are mistreated.

In “The Terminal”, Hanks plays a visitor to New York City from Eastern Europe, whose homeland erupts in a fiery coup while he is in the air en route to America.

Stranded at JFK International Airport with a passport from nowhere, he is unauthorised to enter the US and must spend days and nights in the terminal’s international transit lounge until the war at home is over. While the character, and his experiences, are fictional, Inderjit Singh says the reality is that airport designers and operators are guilty of treating passengers with disdain, even contempt.

“An air traveller, the customer, is often referred to as ‘pax’ - a horrible word - in airline and airport parlance,” he told an audience of airport trade visitors during the exhibition’s seminar programme. “Actually the passenger is the sole reason for our existence.

“The air traveller is not a unit to be regarded as being of a basic standard, usually miniscule in size, somewhat lacking in both intelligence and general ability to find his way about. Not an individual to be treated with disdain, and even with contempt at times, with his special desires all too often ignored, or at best treated with reluctance.”

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He added: “All of us who are either airline or airport employees, benefiting perhaps from special treatment, should put ourselves in the position of a mere ‘pax’ at a foreign airport late at night, tired, bewildered and even perhaps ill. This will give us a flavour of what millions of air travellers have to put up with.

“As soon as everybody, high and low, in world air transport recognises this fact, the sooner the system will improve. This is the age of the customer, who should be priority No.1. The passenger is our livelihood, our income, our future, not an interruption of our daily lives.”

Inderjit continued, “Billions of dollars have been spent worldwide on the development of air terminals over the past 20 years or so and the outcome is often a potpourri of designs, styles and shapes resulting in monsters of steel, plate glass and concrete. Over two hundred billion dollars more is likely to be spent in the next two decades on the design, development and construction of new terminals and reconstruction and up-gradation of the existing ones, the majority of them in the Middle East, Africa, Indian Subcontinent, CIS and the Asia Pacific region.

“The need of the day is not a grandiose statement of architectural styles vying with one another for awards, but safe and secure terminal buildings that are functional and flexible, convenient and comfortable, spacious and aesthetically pleasant.”

“Terminal buildings should offer easy access, provide an intelligent level of information, have a minimum of imposed controls, but offer a wide range of customer services and consumer related concessionaires. They should guarantee a quick response to passenger demands, be committed to reducing the traveller irritation factor. Security checks should be as unobtrusive yet effective. The movement of passengers should be smooth and unobstructed.”

Organised by Streamline Marketing Group and concluding today, the Airport Build & Supply Exhibition has attracted a record number of almost 400 exhibitors to Airport Expo Dubai this week, a 25% increase on last year.
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