SINGAPORE, Sept 17 — When it comes to travellers and airports, there has always been a love-hate relationship. While our affection for Changi Airport knows no bounds, we can safely agree that there are many frustrating aspects about passing through airport terminals — from bad food to equally bad toilets to long waiting lines and security checks — so much so that airports such as John F Kennedy International in New York have installed technology to help with waiting times and felt the need to see to customers’ complaints about food.
To say that going through security checks is a perennial headache is an understatement. Last week, for instance, travel industry news platform Skift reported that 43 per cent of American travellers experience “negative emotions” while going through security checks, with the global average of those feeling bad vibes at 36 per cent.
We are not surprised — airports in the United States are notoriously troublesome when it comes to security matters and are generally unwelcoming. Data website Priceonomics recently crunched the results of Skytrax ratings this year to reveal that Miami, Washington Dulles and Newark are among the top 10 worst airports in terms of overall quality. Even US President Barack Obama has chipped in with his two cents: Last year, he ordered a relooking into his country’s airports to “improve the experience of international arriving passengers, including expediting the arrival and entry process for international visitors to the United States” for a “positive first impression”.
Queue me now!
And what about tedious waiting lines? The queues for checking in and for boarding planes are probably the source of most complaints. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Global Passenger Survey 2014 revealed how only one per cent of travellers are willing to queue for more than 20 minutes (half consider a five-to-10 minute wait to be acceptable).
Keenly aware that long queues could be the boiling point for travellers, some airports are trying to come up with solutions. New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, for instance, installed network beacons in Terminal 4 last month to track the movement of travellers via their smart phones. These give them a sense of movement patterns and travel times, which, in turn, alerts airport staff to address bottlenecks. This technology, called Blip Systems, is also used in airports in Copenhagen, Toronto and Dubai.
Lost in time
It is not just waiting to check in. Waiting to board is another headache. Remember that incident last year, when 2,000 Chinese travellers went ballistic at an airport in Henan after a five-hour plane delay? Well, it is common so if you are really the impatient type, you might want to consider completely steering clear of Chinese airports. FlightStats, a US-based data provider on air travel, has studied 61 major airports and has pointed out that the worst performing ones in terms of on-time departures were all in China: Shanghai’s Pudong and Hongqiao, and Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan fared the worst, followed closely by Shenzhen Bao’an, Guangzhou Baiyun, Chongqing Jiangbei Airport and Beijing Capital International Airport. As for how bad the delays are, only 37.26 per cent of flights from Pudong left on time. On the other end of the scale is Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, where 89.76 per cent of flights take off when they should.
On the hot seat
While waiting, the next best thing is to do so comfortably, right? But what if the airport’s seats are lousy? Travellers can be very exacting when it comes to that. The website Sleeping In Airports has compiled more than 18,000 passenger reviews and feedback to come up with its annual 10 worst airports list. Among those that got the thumbs down last year were New York’s LaGuardia International Airport and Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport — travellers cited “limited seating” and uncomfortable metal chairs with awkward armrests that make it difficult to catch a quick nap.
Hard to swallow
Another major airport grouse is perhaps something a lot more basic: Food that is expensive and terrible. Last July, a photo of a miserable-looking sandwich bought at the Edinburgh Airport went viral after it was posted on Reddit and eventually picked up by Time magazine. The £3.20 sandwich (RM21), comprising a stringy piece of ham and egg, was so sorry-looking that airport authorities felt compelled to address the issue and apologise to the traveller.
Last year, food website The Daily Meal consulted travel editors, business travellers and well-travelled food experts to name and shame 11 airports for substandard food. Among the offenders were Gatwick Airport in London (which was berated for offering only grab-and-go grub from M&S Simply Food and Boots) and Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, which serves only pho and coffee.
Gross bathrooms make us feel angsty, too. We do not expect Changi-level standards, of course, but is it too much to ask for relatively clean toilet facilities? For that, we applaud the authorities at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport for finally taking steps to repair the airport’s battered image by upgrading 121 loos across Terminals 2, 3 and 4 to the tune of 32.6 million pesos.
Then again, we suppose dirty toilets are still preferable to unsafe ones. In April, it was reported a Chinese passenger at Hefei Xinqiao International Airport was hospitalised after suffering cuts when the porcelain toilet bowl he was using tipped over and shattered.
The cause? He was standing on the rim as he was “worried the toilet may not be clean”. — TODAY