Prioritise passengers not shoppers at airports

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Photograph: malaysiaairports.com.my

The suggestion to bar non-passengers from entering airports is a futile move; it will never work and the authorities will not be able to handle it, says Angry Malaysian.

The suggestion that non-passengers should not be allowed into airports to enhance security got the cheeky side of me thinking…

Airports are for passengers. Over a period of time, airport operators have forgotten the fundamental use of airports and have turned them into shopping malls.

If airports are meant to be shopping malls, why don’t we just build an airport right smack inside Suria KLCC or Pavilion or 1 Utama? Sounds silly, right?

So why then was the most vociferous objection against airports for passengers only that traders would suffer. Whose fault is it that airports have been turned into huge shopping therapy centres?

But the idea of barring non-passengers will not work either as quite a few will be VIPs, VVIPs, and VVVVVVVVIPs and will seek exemptions.

We have strict regulations on car window tinting and approved number plates, but if you are on the road for even 10 minutes, you may notice that many cars are heavily tinted or have weird number plates. How do they get away with this, especially in KL and PJ, where there are constant police and JPJ roadblocks. Well, exemptions sought and given. Believe me now?

Therefore, barring non-passengers from entering airport is a futile move; it will never work and the authorities will not be able to monitor and cope.

The argument that retail trade would suffer if non-passengers are barred is a non-starter. The whole situation has arisen due to airport operators turning airport into shopping malls apart from the flight centre bit. In the early days, shopping at airports was for passengers only after immigration control so non-passengers had nothing to shop for anyway.

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Then came duty-free shopping upon arrival, driven by airport operators thinking of the bottom-line, rather than passengers’ comfort.

Americans airports don’t believe in duty free; their priority is to get passengers through the door as fast as possible via the shortest possible route from the point of drop off to the planes. It is a very pleasant experience as you do not have to fight your way through countless shops and outlets to get to your departure gate. So the Americans have got their priorities right: serve the flyers first. We can learn from this.

While I don’t have anything against airport shopping, as I too dabble around both while going out and returning, I get agitated and inconvenienced at KLIA as many of what was once empty spaces and open areas are now filled by retail outlets. At some places, two passengers cannot walk side by side with bags on trolley as the walkway is very tight, covered on both sides with shops.

Shops should not be in your face and hinder smooth passenger traffic flow; they should be at a reasonable distance from passenger traffic. Once again, an emphasis on the bottom-line has resulted in a lack of free spaces at airports. Sigh!

I joked once with my local shopping complex management that they should put retail stalls in the toilet as that is the only free space left; hopefully, our airports don’t reach such a stage ever.

What passengers and non-passengers need more is some guidance on airport etiquette.

How about those who rush to get on board planes and then take their own sweet time putting up their hand luggage and taking their seat, all the while oblivious that they are blocking other passengers from passing. Let people pass you to the back, and then you can just take however long you need while you prepare to be seated.

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Maybe people should be sent for airport and plane etiquette courses before being allowed to fly. That would be better than barring non-passengers as after passport control, there are no non-passengers anyway.

Security at airports can be tightened with better vigilance all around, both by security forces as well as users. Report anything suspicious. I once saw a cleaner entering the section after immigration through a connecting door at KLIA without anyone checking him. I looked around to highlight this to an airport personnel but I could not find any.

All movements from the open to the restricted area must be checked and cleared. It should not matter if you are a cleaner, an auxiliary police personnel or even a pilot.

While boarding a flight recently, I noticed security personnel waving through the flight crew including the pilots without scanning their bags. Isn’t this dangerous and a potential security breach?

Lastly, the weakest security spots and the most vulnerable to any untoward incidents are at the arrival and departure drive-by lanes.

My suggestion is put a boom gate at the entry and exit points for the drop off and pick up areas. Cars that enter and do not leave say within 15 minutes should pay punitive waiting charges, maybe RM15 or so an hour. This issue will then disappear within hours.

When motorists realise that waiting at parking lots is cheaper, they will wait there instead. Hurting the wallet will be the most efficient way to clear the congestion.

To be fair to the pick-up and drop-off cars, I suggest that a vast open space, somewhere within a short distance of the departure and arrival drive-in points be allocated so that drivers can wait and only drive in after the passengers they are waiting for are out so that they can leave within 15 minutes. Otherwise these drivers would just hog the road leading to the boom gate and the congestion would have just been transferred elsewhere.

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Overcoming this deeply ingrained Malaysian malaise will improve the security situation at airports significantly more than barring non-passengers from airports. That said, airports should start prioritising the experience of passengers rather than shoppers.

Angry Malaysian is the pseudonym of an Aliran reader who is always angry because the bright future of Malaysia has been eroded by incompetence, nepotism, apathy, laziness, racism, double standards and arrogance.

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