EN ROUTE TO MANILA—It’s a question that’s been raised ever since the Philippines got on the global investment map after surviving two crises (the 1997 Asian flu and the 2008 meltdown) and after posting successive stock market rallies since 2010.
Substandard facilities and services at the Philippines’ airport—named after the current president’s father—have been discussed anew, although with significantly less fanfare and intensity, in the March 1-3, 2013 print edition of the Asian Wall Street Journal.
In an interview, Susie Martin, the 40-year-old general manager of the serviced office-space provider Servcorp for Southeast Asia and India said that “Manila has the worst airport.”
“The terminal for Philippine Airlines flights is OK, but the others are shocking. I take my own food to that airport for dinner,” said Martin, who was interviewed by Kristiano Ang for the same article.
Is she too tough on the Philippines’ gateway to the world? Hardly.
After all, Martin, an Australian whose job requires her to travel every ten days, also expressed a dislike for airports in her home country.
“I don’t like the staff because [the staff] aren’t friendly generally and they’re not helpful to people coming through,” said Martin. “They expect you to know the rules and get cracking, but people who don’t travel a lot may not know them.”
Her remark could very well refer to just a few members of the staff that keep terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport together.
Just a few days ago, I had an encounter with a NAIA 1 staff who later demanded to see my e-ticket and passport. I refused, saying: “You think this is some kind of racket I’m running? That I carry my luggage from one end of the city to another just so I could be here?” I paused, stretched out my arms, showed him my palms, and looked up and down, left to right.
He then nodded, convinced I was a legitimate passenger who had a flight to catch since I was forced to tolerate the congestion, the confusion, and overall chaos at the NAIA terminal 1.
Unlike Servcorp’s Martin, I had very little choice as far as airports are concerned.
Due to her job, Martin has decided to live in Singapore, thanks to the airport’s “convenient travel options,” which very few are likely to dispute.
All three terminals in the Changi airport are connected by a train system so dependable, a digital screen on top of each train station’s doors informs travelers of the waiting time left before the next one arrives.
But that’s not all.
An information booth is always right around the corner, a welcome relief for visitors running late for connecting flights while burdened with jet lag.
Before flying back to Manila, I looked for a specialty computer music magazine that a colleague wanted me to get him.
Unfortunately, all bookstores in Changi’s terminal 2—where I was to fly from—didn’t carry it.
Feeling a bit adventurous, I decided to risk missing my flight by testing the Changi airport’s efficiency. I took the Skytrain to terminal 1 and scoured through the bookstores there. No dice.
I then took the train back to terminal 2 where I got on another train to terminal 3. Same story. Either the magazine had run out of copies and the bookstores were unable to restock them (which I doubt, given Singapore’s efficiency).
In the meantime, while moving from one terminal to another, I was able to get myself a copy of Monocle magazine and the pencil version of the Lamy Scribble, completing the set that I now call my Asian twins—Tongting (the pen I bought in Indonesia) and Tingtong (the pencil I bought in Singapore).*
I then took the train back and ran to the departure gate, which was at the far end of the stretch.
I arrived with enough time to sit down, catch my breath, and transcribe interviews twenty or so minutes before the boarding call.
If that experience isn’t a mark of an efficient airport, then I don’t know what is.
*From the Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword Dept.
Tingtong and Tongting are names of a female Thai daughter and her mother in Little Britain.