Whereas we at ground level are fully aware that Dhaka's international airport has been re-renamed Shahjalal by the government (it was originally Dhaka international airport), passengers of Gulf Air flight no. GF250 from Bahrain were informed at sunrise on May 15 by the cockpit captain over the public address system not once, not twice, but thrice that the aircraft was alighting at ZIA.
Without blaming foreign pilots, whose vision (in spite of being 6/6) cannot be good enough to read the red five-foot high name letters atop the terminal building, the onus of such shabby communication with international airlines must lie with the concerned government organ, videlicet the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The situation is simply unacceptable.
Overseas passengers and the NRBs arriving for the first time since the changeover can panic on arrival seeing that they are not in the airport as per the in-flight announcement, although there are many other reasons to panic on arrival. Those aware can get irate that such a simple matter could not be communicated and its operation ensured by the ministry and/or the desk concerned.
However, if the captain has an accent problem and was actually referring to Shahjalal International Airport as SIA, which sounded like ZIA to the sleepy passengers on board, the above should be ignored. Officially though, we should emphasise that the airport be called Shahjalal in short, and not SIA.
The immigration desk is the first desk to welcome incoming passengers. Some of the desks were seen unmanned and the police officer supervising the area was frantically looking for his desk officers, as two flights had arrived and the queues were uncomfortably long. He discovered one of them sleeping, rpt. sleeping on one of the booths. He was awakened! And the awoken, attired in his uniform, rubbing his eyes and without blinking an eyelid took over his post. If there was any expression of remorse from the officer the passengers missed it because they were tired from the long flight and were also rubbing their eyes. To their utter relief the immigration officer began stamping the passports. Next!
Next is about two young passengers who were seen having a loud discussion with taxi operators over the fare, a few yards away from the fare chart. No visitor shall understand why that should be necessary. A taxi is there, a fare metre should be there in the absence of which a fixed chart would do. The passenger will name the destination and on completion of the last leg of his journey he shall pay the amount by metre or by chart. Not more than two to three sentences should be exchanged between the two parties. They never do in most other airports.
The prayer room at Shahjalal is a disgrace to our piety whereby we proclaim that cleanliness is a part of our imaan. The prayer mats are covered with white (thukku) sheets that have been made yellow along the length where devotees stand and where they lay their forehead in devout prostration. Masjids and prayer rooms are supposed to espouse holiness and enhance the emotions towards godliness. Alas, and more so, now that we have decided to honour by it a saintly preacher of Islam.
Cleaners are seen continually wiping and dusting, and moving waste from reputed international airports. Ironically, many of those who labour such are from Bangladesh, our foreign exchange earners, and in some ways contributing to keeping this country going. And we are failing to deliver a clean image at home ground only due to the lackadaisical approach of our government servants (ouch!). The tone of their voice and their body language will make even a foreign dignitary feel otherwise; we Bangladeshis are at their mercy from the day civil services and such cadres were invented by an enemy of the people.
At the departure car park, the ordeal does not end. Policemen are seen shouting at touts trying to woo passengers in accepting their service that could begin from quite unnecessarily pushing the trolley to pushing the new arrivals into one of their taxi cabs. They are shooed away like birds and they come back almost tout de suite, giving tout le monde the impression that the shoo-er and the shooed are working in harmony tout à fait. But the drama is high! We are such good actors.
Now that we have named the airport after a holy person it is our collective responsibility more than ever before to keep it functional, clean and above suspicion, and at par with acceptable international standards, about which our officers are quite aware from their numerous tours abroad. At present there is a gulf of difference between our airports and those from which international passengers arrive.
Let the Shahjalal be a doorway to our beautiful country. Let it be a befitting entrance to our Sonar Bangla.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010