For us overseas Filipino workers, our airports in the Philippines are the last touchpoint we pass through before we fly to our overseas workplaces. They are also the first ones we’d embrace upon our return to our motherland. There are more international flights that originate or fly to cities like Cebu, Iloilo, Clark, and Davao.
So, until recently, the main gateway for OFWs and other travelers to and from the Philippines is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (formerly known as Manila International Airport).
Many comments travelers make regarding their experience stem from the fact that the airport is in dire need of an upgrade of facilities or even relocation to somewhere with the broader areas to accommodate growth in both passenger numbers and freight volume. The first step to finding solutions is to identify the problems and acknowledge their existence. Therefore, when we hear people make comments, let us look at the silver lining and thank them for taking that first step.
OFWs have also landed on international airports, so comparing their experiences between those airports and that of Manila is not a surprise.
Although we acknowledge there is positive feedback on improvements and upgrades in service and facilities, there are areas for further development. As mentioned, the core of the problem lies in the lack of space for updates and outdated infrastructure; there are low hanging fruits that can be implemented to ease the passenger experience.
Expedite transport options
The plan to connect the airport by train is already in the works. But until such service launches, passengers will rely on private cars, Grab or taxis, which isn’t so spaced efficient given that there are limited spaces to park/disembark/pick up passengers. Ube buses have also been plying its services that link the airport with nearby landmarks such as provincial bus terminals, hotels, and a shopping mall.
But in some instances, waiting time is so long that passengers end up taking taxis to save time. Of course, taxi drivers can take advantage of the higher demand with astronomical fares coupled with lousy service.
Adding more bus frequency and routes should help ease the congestion and reduce overreliance on taxis and private vehicles.
MAKE NAIA A QUIET AIRPORT!
From the arrival of every single flight to a litany of disoriented passengers who failed to show up at their boarding gates, NAIA is fond of announcing every bit of information. The sound quality of speakers adds up to the level of stress and anxiety to a sleepless passenger who wishes for a quick nap.
“Ang in gay mong kay sarap sa tenga,” as Hotdog’s song Manila would try to heap praises to the Manila’s noise and chaos, we don’t buy this idea inside the airport. To make matters worse, the sound system is so bad that it’s like hearing someone shout at you for no apparent reason.
For a small airport devoid of an open design, loud, competing for broadcasts is just beyond annoying. Sometimes announcements from multiple parties take place at the same time: one from the airport “announcing the arrival of Cebu Pacific flight 123” and another from the airline, “thank you for waiting. This is the final boarding call for PR101.”
Not only that, installed television sets found at departure gates also add to the noise pollution. But we haven’t forgotten that this is a country where videoke machines produce lots of singers and even more tone-deaf wannabes disturbing neighbors in the middle of the night.
Fire incompetent staff
It’s a common sight that ground staff supposed to assist passengers proactively have been negligent in their jobs. In certain airports abroad, uniformed staff can sense a confused passenger and approach him or her and offer help. At NAIA, this seems impossible because idle staff are more interested in looking at their mobile phones at
This is also observed on cleaners who prefer to linger near the television sets for NBA action or off-duty airline staff hanging around charging their phones and occupying seats that could have been used by passengers. As a result, some urinals stink if ever they are operational. And some passengers end up sitting or lying on the floor, desperate for some rest.
Maximize availability of facilities
In an airport where thousands of people pass by every single day, a single breakdown of a facility can spell delays or inconveniences. It can be a urinal with “under maintenance” label or dispensers running out of liquid soap.
Ensure that instances of breakdowns are immediately discovered, and staff is on hand to make these prompt fixes.
Open more immigration counters at least 15 minutes before flights arrive
In the past, passengers complain of long waiting times at the immigration counter because there were fewer counters available. Now that upgrades were made and the addition of more counters, make them useful by practicing “load balancing” among immigration officers. A surge in arriving passengers would be countered by more available immigration booths and maintain an acceptable level of waiting time.
This is especially helpful during a sequence of arriving flights that utilize large aircraft. Even with the new electronic gates, many travelers are unfamiliar with them so passing through this procedure does not guarantee faster lanes. Those who did not see much improvement may still opt for the traditional immigration counters.
Improve luggage handling for transit passengers
Arriving transit passengers are often told they need to pick up their luggage at the carousel before heading to a counter and get their bags checked in again. This might be necessary even for passengers who are flying the same carrier for their international and domestic flights. But the experience has often been less desirable as passengers flying on different carriers might not have the luxury of transit time. Some attendants look after transit passengers, but some of them lack initiative or experience in handling panicked travelers who fear missing their flights.
Ideally, passengers don’t have to get their luggage, especially when flying the same carrier on their onward flight. But if this can’t be possible, at least make the experience seamless. Have the luggage carts ready, and lead passengers the way to the right place, if appropriate signs and directions are not available.
Again, the limitation of facilities and lack of space may get in the way, but if the effort is there, passengers will surely appreciate it.
Reduce the number of bag inspections
We understand that for security and safety of everyone, bags are scanned and opened for inspection. But for this procedure to be repeated across multiple stages in the airport experience seems like an overkill. Note that bags are thoroughly opened and examined as some staff do it with half-interest that they better not open it at all.
Inspecting bags are a common practice in the Philippines in light of bombing incidents; it’s not surprising you’ll be stopped at a shopping mall’s entrance or a government building and open your bag for the security guards to sniff through it.
By installing powerful scanners, the opening of bags should only be conducted by authorized personnel on luggage with suspicious items. In this way, passengers experience faster flow from customs to immigration to departure gate.
Impose price ceiling on food sold
An exhausted passenger trying to beat the traffic skips a meal and barely makes it before the check-in counter closes. Finally, after all the customs inspection, immigration interrogation, and bag opening routines, the passenger can hopefully relax with a bite. Alas, stress levels remain high when the traveler realizes a small bowl of pancit mami costs P150 or a pack of biscuit P20. Sometimes it’s mind-boggling that a passenger can exclaim to himself:
“Where is this item made?”
“What year is it now that inflation has skyrocketed?”
“What premium ingredient is in this sandwich?”
“Is this bottle of water imported from the purest, cleanest source at Puerto Williams, Chile?”
Not only that, food is expensive, the quality can also be atrociously bad. Perhaps sellers think, “let’s make sure these passengers empty their pockets of Philippine peso; they won’t need it abroad anyway!”
Therefore, a price check must also be made to ensure they’re reasonable enough, just like what the Department of Trade and Industry does inspections of markets for pork prices during the Christmas season.
Make wifi available to all
In some instances, the highly-touted free wifi service is only available to those who have a local number. You need to enter your Philippine mobile number, so a special code to unlock the free wifi service. Those who don’t have it better look for other options.
Wifi is almost like a human right in some places, but at NAIA or in any other airport, access to this becomes a necessity. With a wifi connection, passengers can call their families or pick up service that they have arrived. They can arrange their ride-hailing service like Grab. They can check Google Maps for navigation or retrieve their hotel booking by email. NAIA has been bragging about its fast wifi connections, so it’s a shame not everyone can enjoy it.
Issues can arise at any time in an airport with tremendous growth in passenger traffic over the past years. Such issues must be acknowledged and addressed as soon as possible. As our airport welcomes not only us returning OFWs but also visitors whose first impressions reflect on their experience at the airport, may our airport authorities be mindful and continue to strive to provide a better service to all.