AIRPORTS across the world have transformed themselves. No longer are they mere hubs for air travel; they now offer facilities where passengers can avail a plethora of amenities and activities as they wait to board their flights. But in Pakistan, we have yet to master the basics of passenger-centric airport management. This was the crux of the briefing the Civil Aviation Administration’s managing director gave the Senate’s Standing Committee on Aviation on Monday. According to the CAA head, representatives of various agencies deputed at airports, particularly Customs, the Airport Security Force and Anti-Narcotics Force, were involved in harassing, threatening and shaking down passengers. He said such an “aggressive atmosphere” made it feel “as if we live in a cantonment”. While people’s personal accounts about the unprofessional activities of officials posted at airports abound, the state needs to take notice when the head of the aviation regulator brings up these issues in a Senate briefing. Some senators shared their own experiences of run-ins with unfriendly airport officials.
Indeed, grim-faced immigration officers, Customs officials looking to make an extra buck under the table, and unfriendly security staffers do not exactly present a welcoming picture to travellers local and foreign. Moreover, the multiple layers of security and often harsh questions from airport officials give the feel of a police state, where passengers, incoming or outgoing, have to ‘prove’ their innocence before these unwelcoming state representatives. Whether it is local travellers, expats returning to visit family, or the foreign tourist brave enough to make the trip to Pakistan, all travellers need to be provided a welcoming and professional atmosphere at our aviation hubs. While the transport of illegal and dangerous items cannot be allowed, and officials should keep an eye out for those travelling on fake documents, these cannot be excuses for treating ordinary travellers as suspects, or worse, extorting money from nervous ones. A greeting accompanied by a smile can go a long way in projecting a ‘soft’ national image, as opposed to the scowling, probing faces that currently meet passengers. Moreover, the CAA must also work on revamping infrastructure at Pakistan’s airports to improve the passenger experience. Perhaps privatisation of airport facilities can help bring positive changes in management, while those running aviation-related security agencies need to inculcate a culture of respect for the passenger within their personnel.
Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2023