Shrink wrapped minds

Published: July 22, 2019
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The writer is a former editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets @tribunian

At a time when the world moves ahead, Pakistan insists on moving backwards. This is what happens when you put shrink-wrapped minds in decision-making positions.

The latest decision that defies logic is that the Civil Aviation Authority has in its wisdom made plastic wrapping of check-in luggage compulsory for travelers commuting through any airport of Pakistan. We are told this was supposed to be for flights to Saudi Arabia only. As things stand, the contract that has been awarded is murky at best.

When plastic is being shunned all over the world, we are now insisting that passengers use this for their baggage although there is no such requirement at most airports around the world.

The notification issued by CAA states, “All check-in baggage of international and domestic passengers is to be wrapped with plastic sheets at the initial stage of scanning at search counters of the ASF, ANF and Customs.” Can you imagine the chaos this will cause. I recall when some airlines would require the passengers to have their baggage banded together with plastic strips. But this was done at the expense of the airline, not the passenger.

What infuriates most is that airport charges as they stand are one of the highest in the region. And we continue to burden the passenger in order to please people in power. No one seems ready to tell us where all this money is going.

We need to spend money wisely. There are a hundred and one things that need to be fixed at the airport but instead we insist on making life more difficult to the tax-paying passenger.

Scams abound at our airports. One such farce that continues at the airports is how airport security staff solemnly “scan” each entering vehicle with the golf-ball detector – a round device with an antenna. All over the world this device has been discontinued because it has been found to be useless – but in Pakistan, just like the shrink wrap plastic, someone has been obliged.

Instead of making our airports more efficient, we are working on the opposite. Our major airports – of which there are barely a handful, face pandemonium early in the morning as international flights to the Gulf and onwards depart. CAA cannot handle the traffic of four flights leaving at one time – the lines stretch for a mile, trolleys and porters are unavailable and even parking space is not available in places.

To add to this is yet another line to wrap suitcases in plastic, and that too at a cost. What do we get in return for having our bags shrink wrapped? Will the CAA guarantee that the checked-in luggage of passengers will not be pilfered. This happens with amazing regularity, especially on international flights.

Where can CAA pay more attention? For one, making sure the toilets are clean will help a lot. I also don’t particularly enjoy how some passengers use these toilets as smoking rooms. What does the CAA vigilance department get paid to do?

I would also like to see an improvement in the quality of food available for passengers – which is pathetic. Just try the restaurant on the first floor of Jinnah International in Karachi. It seems that the CAA is more interested in making money come what may. Let the consequences be damned. No one has been held responsible for the air bridge that collapsed last year at Islamabad airport.

On more than one occasion, fires have erupted at different airports without any responsibility being fixed. Then there was the scam where the fire retardant liquid meant for fire engines was replaced with ordinary water.

Maybe some investment in the health facilities at the airport could help. I recall in 2015 when renowned Urdu writer of detective stories Ishtiaq Ahmed died of a heart attack at Karachi airport. There was no doctor on call. It took an hour to procure a stretcher to take the body out of the departure area.

When we talk so loudly about tourism in Pakistan, one can only wonder what first time visitors see in the country. The state of our airports is terrible. Islamabad International seems to be the only exception but even here most staff are not trained to deal with passenger queries or complaints. All one has to do is make an inquiry at the information counter – the person posted there is so busy talking on his mobile phone that he has no time to deal with tax paying passengers. Let us think of Pakistan, not of a few pockets. Time for more common sense at the top.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22, 2019.

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