The Bahrain International Airport is to be upgraded to handle 15 million passengers from its current 6 million annually. The upgrade will cost some $115 million. I don’t know the specific plans of this upgrade or how long it will take. However as a semi-frequent traveler I have some observations which might make using the airport easier from the traveler’s perspective.
A traveler’s first experience of Bahrain is through the airport and the first impression that might come to mind is “bottleneck”!
Consider the normal route a traveler takes through the airport from the moment he leaves the aircraft to his exit:
- Immediately you disembark at the air-bridge you have to navigate your way through policemen, service staff, airline ground staff, engineers, technicians and sometimes wheel-chairs awaiting their occupants. If you are unfortunate enough to be one of the last to leave the aircraft you start your navigation skills in the aircraft itself! Bottleneck.
- Further down the air-bridge you are normally confronted by two ground staff – who are foreign to a smile â€“ asking passengers if they are transferring where a sign would have sufficed â€“ bottleneck.
- At the exit of the air-bridge you meet yet another policeman or two.
- Follow the signs to the immigration area and now you are shepherded through a rope-corridor so a bored medical nurse who hopefully can determine if you are infected by SARS â€“ at this point in time, this is an understandable bottleneck.
- Get in the queue to get your passport or your ID registered, stamped and get a small slip of paper with yet another stamp to give to two policemen at the end of the immigration area to let you pass to baggage claim. It is very apparent that the immigration officers are not to be trusted to carry on their job properly, so you have to give them the slip and show the actual stamp in your passport before you are allowed to descend into the baggage claim area â€“ bottleneck.
- Off the ramp and yet another queue this time to x-ray your carry-on baggage! Remember that this baggage was already scanned at the point of departure, so having to do that again on arrival doesn’t make sense considering that you were in controlled and monitored areas from the minute you entered your departure airport. Bottleneck.
- Now before you can collect your x-rayed carry-on baggage you have to pass through a metal detector! If scanning the carry-on baggage is overlooked at the moment, why do passengers have to go through a metal detector at this stage? Bottleneck.
- Get to the conveyor belts, get your bags and you discover that they have been x-rayed too! You hope and pray that you don’t have chalk marks on your baggage as that will most definitely introduce more delays â€“ hand search is required if your baggage has been marked. Let’s say that this is a valid security feature so let this pass.
- If you haven’t got anything to declare you now go through the green channel. At last the authorities seem to trust the passenger by now, and how could they not if every single passenger has gone through all the checks above?
- You exit the customs area into a penned channel! Wouldn’t just rope cordons or even a lower wall be enough here? Oh, this pen is manned by another policeman!
- Out of the airport you go and now you’re probably looking for transport. The only method of transport available of course is a taxi â€“ welcome to the single most complained about feature of Bahrain… the taxis. I’ll leave the taxi subject for another post!
Let’s review the over-riding feelings a passenger goes through at Bahrain International Airport: (a) inefficiency, (b) prevalence of policemen, (c) various unnecessary bottlenecks.
Wouldn’t part of the $115 million be better spent in tackling these issues? Some even don’t require any expenditure at all, on the contrary they might even save money!
- Disallow anyone other than absolutely necessary staff to be at the air-bridge while passengers are disembarking.
- Remove all policemen from the public areas of the airport. It would be much better to depend more on installed closed-circuit television surveillance and have well equipped and trained policemen at the ready to be instantly deployed if and when needed. This will give visitors the impression that Bahrain is not a “police state.”
- There is absolutely no need for that stamp on the little piece of paper. The stamp in you passport should be enough. There is also no need whatsoever to have policemen overlooking the immigration staff, so remove those two policemen at the top of the ramp.
- Why even bother stamp Bahraini passports or ID cards? In Europe now all an ECC citizen have to do is just show his passport or id and away they go. Is it really necessary for the government to register where and when we have gone and when we came back? What’s the point? If it is security related then that surely should be the role of the police rather than immigration?
- Why x-ray carry-on baggage and go through a metal detector on arrival? All passengers by default were sequestered in a controlled environments before boarding a hermetically sealed plane! What could this possibly be for? Security? Smuggling of contraband? Aren’t the customs officials adequately trained to recognize people in question? Should 99.9% of passengers be penalised for the actions of the very small percentage who may be known criminals?
Maybe it is high time for the airport authorities to really have a look at these procedures which in the minds of the vast majority of travelers are unneeded, unnecessary and just contribute to the feelings that they have come to a country that simply does not trust anyone and where everyone is under suspicion.
The very necessary thing that the airport authorities should invest in other than bricks and mortar is a well considered customer appreciation training sessions for every single member of staff â€“ governmental or otherwise, because for all the years that I have personally used Bahrain International Airport, I can count the number of times I saw a smile on an official’s face!