We need a far better airport experience

We need a far better airport experience

Suvarnabhumi has been in operation for 10 years, and lacks the amenities that could make it charming, as well as efficient. (Video grab from 'Suvarnabhumi Airport' YouTube)
Suvarnabhumi has been in operation for 10 years, and lacks the amenities that could make it charming, as well as efficient. (Video grab from 'Suvarnabhumi Airport' YouTube)

As a frequent traveller, I usually end up arriving at the airport at least three hours before a flight, be it domestic or international.

Just last week on my return from Singapore, I was determined to be a little earlier than usual, so as to be able to catch up on my reading.

Walking into the terminal four hours ahead of the flight, I was expecting the usual early check-in counter, after all I was travelling in economy class. But to my surprise, Singapore's Changi has upgraded its early check-in counters into a lounge for all airlines.

Struck by the improvements at their age old "Terminal 1", I could not help but think about Suvarnabhumi airport. When it opened in 2006, our airport -- despite the allegations of graft in the construction process not to mention the state of the runways -- was considered a showcase for the region and stood as a possible challenger to the likes of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur as a hub for travel from Europe to the region and to Australia and New Zealand.

Umesh Pandey is Asia Focus editor, Bangkok Post.

In a span of 10 years, the 141-billion-plus baht that was spent on the construction of Suvarnabhumi seems to be going nowhere because the partially privatised Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) is riddled with mismanagement.

Changi has made great strides in offering an "experience" for travellers. Its garden within the airport was replicated by the likes of Kuala Lumpur and today, its Terminal 3 is state-of-the-art with baggage claims surrounded by palm trees making people feel as though they have just landed in paradise, although the reality of course, is that it is nothing but a large -- though extremely well-designed and laid-out facility.

The gradual transformation of Changi's ageing Terminal 1 has also taken most frequent travellers by surprise. The ease of going through check-in, immigration and security checks have all helped to create a less stressful experience that is no match for any of the other airports in the region.

At Changi, once one checks in and goes through immigration, a traveller would find it easy to sit and unwind with views of aircraft taking off and landing, a playground for children, and even a mini-theatre. Seats are provided with sockets that allow people to plug in their phones to charge, not to mention green areas where chairs are available for travellers to sit and read, or simply kill time before their flight.

Now take a look at our much touted "state-of-the-art" Suvarnabhumi airport. Walk into the check-in area and you will hear an enormous racket from the thousands of people clamouring to check in. The early check-in counters are non-existent and wherever they are, they are certainly not comparable to Changi's lounge or anything even close. The immigration lines are much the same, if not longer.

Walk further into the departure area and what you see is a shopping paradise, but wait, a shopping paradise with basically the same things being sold at every corner, thanks to King Power and its might to be able to tap every single square inch of space.

The Surayud Chulanont administration, which was installed by the coupmakers, deserved some credit for clearing the walkways that King Power had occupied, providing more space for restaurants at the centre of the departure terminal. For a few months, a few chairs were installed to give people an opportunity for some rest from their shop and walkathons.

But today, those chairs have been replaced with so-called "temporary" sales booths. According to sales assistants, these temporary booths have been in place for months and will continue to be there. Any visitor to Suvarnabhumi airport will notice the ineffective use of space and that there are very few spots where one can sit.

I, for one, would love to see a green area at the centre of the shopping complex that King Power has built. It could serve as an area where travellers can sit and read, chat or simply wait for their flight in peace.

While King Power is in the spotlight after Leicester City won the EPL championship, its track record for management of the retail area at our airport is a different story. But we cannot blame the private sector. Its job is to try to maximise the output from every baht spent. On the contrary, it is the job of the authorities, such as AoT, and in particular the military government to keep these businesses in check.

"Temporary" sales booths should not be allowed at any cost, and our government with all its power could help make the airport a better experience for travellers.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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