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No Free Lunch

Longer lines at Naia

There’s something wrong when you feel exhilarated as your airplane takes off to leave your own country, muttering “Good riddance!” under your breath. But that’s exactly the feeling I and other family members recently had, after what must have been our worst airport departure experience. I wish I could say we were just unlucky, but I know ours was an experience shared by countless Filipinos every day.

Over six years ago, I wrote of the 10 queues one had to go through at Terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), before finally getting to leave. The good news is that there’s at least one less queue to endure. But that’s little consolation when we’re still left with far more than the three to four such lines you’d encounter in most airports overseas.

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Worse, the queues are now far longer, taking much more time. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, now there’s an additional unpredictable queue to contend with, even as you’re already in your plane: the queue to the busy single main runway. Let’s run through the updated list.

The first queue is that of vehicles going through the cursory inspection at the security shed in the approach to the terminal building. It’s somewhat less cursory now, leading to longer queues, after the US Transportation Security Administration recently called out Naia for supposedly having inadequate security measures. The second queue, though relatively quick, is where the airport security guard checks your ticket and passport to screen out nonpassengers, a restriction I find rare overseas. Blame that one on the limited space in our airport terminal, the capacity of which has fallen badly behind the times. At least, that has helped stop our old habit of having the whole barangay send off a departing passenger at the airport.

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The third line, and the first long one, is for the baggage X-ray machines, now much longer with much increased passenger traffic. It defies logic that they haven’t invested in more such machines to add to the only two they’ve had at Naia 1 for the longest time, even as we see taxpayer money squandered and pocketed left and right. Once past those first X-ray machines, you line up for the fourth and even longer queue for the airline check-in counters. For big flights, especially to usual destinations for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), these can now snake around up to three times at the open lobby area, well beyond the counters.

Having lined for an hour or more to check in, if you’re a Filipino citizen with a ticket issued out of the country, you won’t get your boarding pass until after you line up on your fifth queue at the Department of Tourism counter to pay the P1,620 travel tax. Having bought our tickets through an overseas website, we had to go through this one, which was luckily short at the time. What would have been the next queue to pay the airport terminal fee had been eliminated a few years ago, thanks to the full integration of this payment into airline ticket prices. But for OFWs exempted from paying this fee, this means an additional queue to get their terminal fee refund—which many skip for lack of time (unclaimed refunds reportedly run up to P500 million).

The next queue is the long line to the immigration counters, which now also often spills out well into the lobby area. But after immigration came our worst queue, our seventh (the eighth for OFWs). With only three X-ray machines at the more rigid predeparture security check, the line had snaked around seven times the entire width of the narrow space between the immigration counters and the X-ray machines, cramping people like sardines. If only high officials and Naia management cared enough to go through the indignity of this experience themselves, and not proceed to the VIP room to skip all those queues, we would have had many more of those X-ray machines long ago.

There are two more lines before you finally get into your plane: at the boarding gate, and finally, to board. But as I mentioned at the start, that’s not the last queue.

They claim Naia has been ranked 10th most improved airport in the world. Sorry, but it didn’t feel that way at all — unless they only meant the toilets.

[email protected]

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TAGS: Cielito F. Habito, long lines, Naia, No Free Lunch
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