Stress, scams at Naia
That the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) is the third most stressful airport in Asia and Oceania is not a surprise—that it did not take the first spot is.
Anyone who has traveled through Manila’s three international terminals, especially during peak travel season, has experienced stress: the numerous security checks (as many as four for certain routes); the long, often disorganized check-in queues; the notorious arrival procedures red-tape; the lack of seats at the departure gates; the delayed flights, and even more delayed luggage release, and lucky if they do not end up elsewhere—the list goes on.
Then there are the numerous scams from the “tanim bala” in 2015, the “pastillas” scheme in 2020, the airport taxi scam, luggage theft, bribery, etc. The risk of becoming viral on social media has not stopped unscrupulous people from trying to trick hapless passengers, most of whom tend to let the crime slide to avoid further hassle on their trips. Even Filipinos do not get a pass from their fellow countrymen and end up as victims of these scams, too.
According to the travel blog Hawaiian Islands, which analyzed more than 1,500 Google reviews for over 500 airports around the world, nearly 58 percent of passengers that passed through Naia have experienced stress. Naia followed Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport in Australia—notorious for its extremely delayed flights, poor signages, public transit surcharges, and airport taxes; and Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam—where passengers have complained about corrupt customs officials, dirty toilets, weak Wi-Fi signals, limited restaurant choices, and theft, among others.
These complaints about the Sydney and Ho Chi Minh airports may sound familiar to Naia travelers—they most likely have experienced them at the Manila terminals, too. And this is not the first time that Naia has earned the ignominy of being one of the world’s most unpopular airports—earlier this year, California-based luggage store app Bounce ranked it the worst for those flying business class. Unlike the reaction of his predecessor on the Bounce ranking, however, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista took the Hawaiian Islands ranking as a “challenge” and bared plans to improve the travel experience at Naia, including easing the congestion in the busier terminals starting this holiday season when Filipinos traditionally return to their hometowns to spend Christmas.
An average of 100,480 passengers pass through all Naia terminals daily, according to latest government data. Last November, the Manila International Airport Authority approved the transfer of some domestic flights from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3, and international flights of Philippine Airlines from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 to decongest them.
Bautista’s experience as an aviation executive for over a decade most certainly has given him the necessary insights to find solutions to problems that have long ailed Naia. The government obviously needs to improve services and facilities at the terminals especially since the planned new international airport is not expected to open its doors until 2027, or five years from now. It is unfathomable to allow travelers to continue experiencing stress during their trips considering that airports serve as the country’s front doors, and bad first impressions could impact the local tourism sector that the government is trying to revive after the slump brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But aside from improving services and facilities, authorities must crack down on airport syndicates that are involved in numerous scams. Sen. Risa Hontiveros just this week exposed the use of fake exit stamps so that Filipinos who were being trafficked to other countries could bypass the Bureau of Immigration (BI). With Hontiveros’ help, 12 overseas Filipino workers were recently rescued from Myanmar where they were working for a Chinese syndicate. The BI spokesperson admitted that the use of fake access passes is a recurring problem at Naia—a similar incident was reported in 2014 and the scheme “disappeared” for a while but, as evidenced by this recent case, was never eliminated. Are these syndicates some kind of hydra?
The stress that comes with traveling through Naia is not just about the poor facilities and the numerous inconveniences, but in the criminals who exploit travelers. The journey starts the moment the traveler steps foot in the airport—whether they’re arriving or leaving, they will bring that experience with them, and write reviews or answer surveys about it.
In 2018, Naia ranked 10th in Skytrax’s most improved airports globally—authorities attributed it to reforms such as reduction of flight delays, decongestion of the airport runway, and improvement of overall passenger experience. There is no reason why it cannot duplicate that feat or even do better now.
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