The Brunei International Airport

If you notice, there was this rather long comment on this site's comment box:

"... i agre (sic) about the airport - something needs to be done. The area where friends and family are cut off from passengers (the check in area) is ridiculously short. Nowhere in the world have i ever been to an airport with such a silly rule; non-passengers can NOT enter the checking in area BUT they CAN check in for a passenger??? Also, the airport needs to be more disability friendly. Notice the number of stairs and it is a long flight of stairs as well. Wheel chair users and families with prambulators have a difficult time going up from the arrival hall to departure hall to the waving gallery/shops! I have personally heard foreigners/tourists remark on this with disbelief and it doesn't bode well for tourism when tourists are put off the moment they step off the plane. I don't mean for my remarks to offend, but hope that the relevant officials (if any are reading) listen to constructive criticism and make appropriate changes ..."

The anonymous commentator brought home two major points - one, is the checking in rules, second, the unfriendly design for the physically challenged. I would have to add other things which put people off - the toilets and the aircond are just another two major put offs. I am sure other readers have other things to add.

The Brunei Airport I have to admit is a bit outdated. It was designed if I am not mistaken by a French consultant firm way back in the 1970s when air travels was still in the innocent stage. Nobody then had even thought of turning airplanes into huge airflown explosive devices. With changes in the current security climate coupled with an open design meant that drastic changes have to be made. The rule actually is that only passengers can go into the check in area and no one else. So, the occassional friend checking in for a passenger is also wrong.

This is a dilemma. I have experienced of some countries practising even more stringent security (for instance JFK International Airport in New York and even Narita in Japan at times) do not allow non-passengers into the airport. But then in those countries, travelling has become such a norm that nobody bothers to say goodbye at the airport anymore. In Brunei, we are still close knit families and saying goodbye by the dozens of family members are the norm rather than the exception. I guess this is something our security people need to be sensitive to. Safety and security are something that are important but I am sure there must be a way of doing it without sacrificing our culture and our family life.

I have to admit that despite our country sending many of our people for medical treatment abroad, we don't seem to be caring much for them once they come back to Brunei especially if they come back physically challenged or wheelchair bound. But then it is not just the airport. Many public places, even private homes are built for the aesthetics but never for the comfort of those unable to get around normally. We are unnessarily adding stress to an already difficult and stressful life for these people. We don't know when we may face those difficulties ourselves. We should be more mindful of the difficulties these people faced. It will be difficult to change for the airport but someone should try nevertheless.

I was at the airport too yesterday. Though admittedly my experience was rather pleasant compared to the many passengers that wanted to check in during this first weekend of the school holidays. Even though my flight eventually took off about one and a half hour after its original schedule, my bag was checked in for me and I was sitting comfortably at the VIP waiting room and only had to get onboard about 5 minutes before the plane took off. Therein lies one of the problems. Policymakers and senior officers don't get to see or face what the majority of the people faced and without knowing, may not be giving the right instructions to get things moving. That's an area where people like myself have to be more aware of. Even though I am not responsible for the airport's management but I have an equal responsibility to make sure that any problems faced by the public gets fixed.

Our airport is the first thing that visitors arriving in this country first noticed. And yet we are not paying that much attention to it. Is it the fault of the agency responsible for it? Is it because they were not provided with the funding necessary? Is it because the management is incapable of running such a huge and important building? Would it run better had it been privatised? What if the management was changed? There are many questions, and when my friend, the head honcho of the agency returns from his advanced management program in Australia in two weeks time - I am sure that he has at least thought of some of the answers to the questions above.


Anonymous said…
I challenge the DCA to be accredited with an ISO9001 registration. Perhaps that would encourage them to review their business model and start thinking about continuous improvement. I bet they would fail miserably.
BTW I'd like to see the ICAO's recent audit report on the DCA. I'm sure there would be some quite embarrasing ones they wouldn't want the public to know.
baz said…
how about we transform the brunei airport into the best aiport in the world or in the region??? i mean there's hotels in it, huge and branded shops, restaurants, etc... create jobs for the locals, consider how much to charge the retailers per square feet of space.... an alternative for tourists on transit to brunei, they can stay in the airport (like the movie i just watched recently in HBO)... this will create an incentive for foreigners to use our airline... anyway, its just food for some thought, after all we have a lot of intelligent graduates out there, besides who would rather work in the tertiary service industry rather than work in manufacturing factories, or lifting huge loads in the docks like "cooleys", after all we are not a 3rd world country anymore anwyay, id better stop, getting out of topic again as usual :P
Anonymous said…
Good observation by BR...but, wonder where in the world you have the time to find the time etc, when you should be focussing on more important things if you are a VIP...perhaps you must have stolen some time blogging during one of your meetings..since nowadays having a laptop can confuse others and can be seen as taking down important notes or issues being for thought...
thank you annonymous. i have been asked that question many times. if you noticed most of my weekday postings will either be at midnight or very early in the morning, apart from weekends or public holidays, i do it at any convenient time. so you can be rest assured that i don't steal government hours and yes, i do think about how to solve problems during the time when i am supposed to be working. hope that helps. :)
p o t a t o said…
There are a lot of ideas of how to improve the current situation. That is very apparent.

But is there one (or few) of us who would take it to the next step? Conduct a survey of what exactly to improve? Write a proposal and send it to the government? Get support from the public through awareness and from business firms for sponsorship funds? See every stage of the renovation through?

Transforming the Airport to something like KLIA, would mean that we need a new and larger site. Unless of course, the area around the existing airport can be sacrificed. Some changes are uneconomical. Is it really worth it? Since there'll be a new shopping complex near the airport anyway. Say, the airport is being renovated, it would take some time - where will the temporary airport be?

Plus, airport and tourism goes hand-in-hand. If we have an excellent airport but the tourism is not as good, it signals inconsistencies to foreigners.

Quite a lot of factors are linked to the airport. I have a feeling that it's been brought up time and again in the government, just that it's not the country's priority as of yet.

Cheers to Mr Bru-Reso for publicising the issue.

Anonymous said…
I have been to both Narita and Heathrow and they are much more flexible than Brunei International Airport. Friends and family can go all the way to the first set of gates (2st floor for Heathrow) which is past the check in counter.
Anonymous said…
i think anonymous was referring to heathrow before the terror threat. I can understand if the airport measures are more stringent when it comes under threat of attack, but Brunei hasn't been.
Anonymous said…
"Nowhere in the world have i ever been to an airport with such a silly rule; non-passengers can NOT enter the checking in area BUT they CAN check in for a passenger???"

Try Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Cengkareng (Jakarta)
FR said…
in Bangalore, they make non-passengers pay to go into the departure hall. Non passengers can't go to the check-in counter, and could only watch the passengers check in behind a glass window.. and any 'last-minute' hugging is to be done over the barrier at the end of the glass...

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