UGANDA (eTN) – As a frequent traveler, I am probably in a better position to judge the functionalities of our regional airports, and the pain inflicted by overzealous security officials on those having to travel by air or those simply coming to have a holiday of a lifetime.
In Nairobi, for instance, vehicles continue to drive right up to terminals 1, 2, and 3, dropping off passengers and their baggage, and parking, just opposite the terminal building. A car hire might be an alternative.
Departing passengers undergo an initial screening at the entry point into the terminal, but checked baggage is habitually screened again, for contraband ivory, among other things, while passengers when entering the gate of their departing flight again undergo a final security check where, to the surprise of many, scores still carry pocket knives, scissors, lighters, and other items on the prohibited list. Transparent containers at the check point, no longer as full as when those measures were first started, still contain visible evidence just how much stuff travelers carry on them instead of in their checked bags.
In Kigali, cars park outside the terminal, and passengers then enter the airport building on foot, using available trolleys or pulling or carrying their bags with them.
Entry to the terminal is unrestricted, good for the business at the popular coffee shop in the main lobby, and passengers and their bags are screened only when entering the check-in area, and a thorough check it is, as I can vouch for. Again, when entering the departure gate area, there is currently only one joint gate area available before the expansion works of Kanombe International Airport commence to create more check-in counters and separate departure gates, passengers are screened once more – belts, shoes, and all.
That said, similar stories could be told about Kilimanjaro International or the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, or Juba for that matter – at present the least organized airport in the region, but when it comes to home, nothing can beat what Ugandans go through when traveling by air.
Come rain or shine, rain in the case of my most recent flight again, when entering the airport perimeter, a check is unleashed upon unsuspecting travelers. The glaring disparities here are, that when you drive yourself, leaving the car in the long-term parking, the car is superficially examined, they peep into the interior and regularly open the glove compartment, but otherwise you, the driver, then moves on to the ticket booth and hey, presto, you are inside the secured perimeter.
Not so for passengers. While at times waved through, for no apparent reason, more often than not must passengers disembark from the car and undergo a physical check with hand-held scanners, and when it rains they get soaked in the process. As an example, when it was my turn last night, my safari jacket, of course, loaded with coins, pens, and phones, made the scanner go beepedibeep … what did I carry? “Phones!” “How many are those?” “Three!” “But why do I carry three phones?” “Officer, I left two even at home!” “Ssebo, you must be important, you go!”
Rained upon, I re-entered my car, my driver got his entry ticket from the booth, but driving to the terminal as the rain poured down on us? NO.
At Entebbe, you must disembark at a distant and often chaotic parking area far away from the terminal, heave your bags to the small shaded area where 6 automated machines only accept coins to pay for the parking fee – the note slots have long been disabled – and when out of service as often happens, one is compelled to pay an extra 1,000 Uganda shillings on exit at the booth for failing to pay at the machines, working or not does not seem to matter. A nice additional income for sure for the concessionaire and few seem bothered – well I am.
Once there, the struggle starts to find a trolley, during peak periods often in very short supply, and then trek admittedly under shades towards the terminal itself. In the absence of elevators on the key locations, stairs await the travelers, and while most of the time uniformed porters are at hand to assist in carrying the bags upstairs to the departure level, still open air of course, a recipe to get wet, wetter, wettest, depending on just how hard the rain comes down, before entering the terminal.
There is an immediate pre-screening point, with two machines of which even at rush hour only one is operated, most of the times anyway, before getting to the check-in counters. And, of course, after clearing immigration, there are no exit customs declarations required, the gate check is the final hurdle before being able to board. Packed to the rafters came to mind last night, as both KLM and Brussels Airlines checked in their flights at the same time, and RwandAir passengers were compelled to queue in the long lines with Europe-bound travelers, as no separate gate had been assigned.
Many passengers still showed signs of having been rained upon when making their way from the parking area to the terminal, and many I overheard grumbling and uttering words like “impossible” or “WTH are they doing that for” or worse for Uganda “never again.”
Obscure security concerns have been cited for the measures described, but as my narrative also shows, the effectiveness must be doubted and other regional airports do not prevent vehicles from dropping off at the terminal, and the air operators committee has repeatedly made efforts to go back to “before” but to no avail. In fact, some were given flowery explanations “not to mess with security” and leave it to the professionals – yeah right. Not the warm send off we would like our visitors to get when leaving the country after a successful visit on business or for a safari, and not turning them into the ambassadors we would like them to become.
Fodder for thought, seriously now.