28 November 2007

"Airports are very stressful places for a lot of people"

So spake a Sydney magistrate who, as today's Australian reports, did not convict a university lecturer who pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and swearing in a public place (that's still an offence?) because she missed a Jetstar flight to Hervey Bay.

The magistrate expected a bucketload of criticism from the usual tabloid sources. I don't condone violence but I do think that the magistrate has a point and, moreover, that the authorities, by which I mean airline, customs/immigration/ quarantine , airport security and management, can do more to alleviate matters.

For starters:

1. Review processes with a view to speeding them up at both departure and (particularly for international flights) arrival .

This means, among other things:
  • improving technology, eg x-ray equipment, to reduce/eliminate errors: on my recent trip transiting via Singapore (and not going out of the airport) I had to empty my carry on bag as the X-ray operators were adamant that I was carrying a small cutting instrument (I wasn't, but they wouldn't take my word for it).
  • seeing that enough trained people are available to deal with the customers.
2. Provide passengers with as sufficient information as possible to help them go through departure and arrival formalities as smoothly as possible.

  • make information available as widely as possible and in a variety of media: online, print and, for inbound passengers, in the destination videos which are shown just before arrival.
  • have clear instructions and signage throughout terminals.
If this sounds like I'm just being grumpy let me give a bouquet to the authorities at Heathrow, who seem to have, especially after the foiled bombing attempt at Glasgow airport, recognised that slow moving crowds of people in terminals can be a major security risk. My impression when I left this year was that the processing was still rigorous but that people didn't have to wait as long as has been the case in the past. By no means perfect (and the immigration counters for arriving non-British/EU citizens are understaffed - or perhaps on the morning when I passed through there were a few late arrivals ) but getting better.

In Australia the procedures at Darwin Airport were sub-standard: a long, slow moving queue stretched out of the terminal building into the tropical night, and the few instructions were bellowed out by the staff operating the x-ray machines (in a language which I, but not I imagine foreign passengers, just recognised as Australian English). Some of the staff came across as brusque and officious. Not a good way to welcome visitors and returning citizens.

Note: The version of this story printed in The Oz is longer than the online version linked to above.

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