Islamabad the terrible.
I recall two signs from my time as a journalist while stationed in Islamabad. One, which you saw as you exited the Islamabad airport and took a left on the main capital highway, read 'Welcome to Islamabad. THE capital city'. Then there was another that stayed in my mind which said 'Islamabad the beautiful'. In my time there and later, I have heard many Islamabad jokes which includes one about how dead the city is as compared to a graveyard and how it is 20 kilometres from Pakistan.
Now I can safely say that these jokes were minor and that the worst joke played on the city is the Islamabad International Airport. Two weeks back, I arrived at the airport for the first time and praised it giving allowance for its shortcomings because it was newly opened. I had hoped things would get better. Last week, I had the misfortune of visiting again and I will share with you my experiences. It seems things are going from bad to worse.
Conectivity: New bus service to start at new Islamabad airport
The airport which is still to be renamed because some chauvinists and parochial minds don't want the name to remain Benazir Bhutto International say that this will be an international hub for air traffic in the years to come. God help us if this is the case.
To begin with, at the new airport on an average it takes an aircraft about 40 minutes to an hour for the air-bridge to connect (at Karachi it is usually 20 minutes) and for passengers to disembark. But that is just the beginning.
This time round there were more surprises for me. In what can best be described as a new record, it took two hours for my luggage to emerge on the conveyor belt. What is more painful is that there was no one to ask for information or help. It seems there are no Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) employees deployed at the arrivals area. It was embarrassing to see hundreds of passengers waiting and cursing while no official was ready to explain.
If that is not all, it took another hour at the exit of the airport as the Frontier Works Organisation has decided, in its wisdom, to impose a tax for exit. This apart from the parking fees charged by a CAA contractor. Men without any identification were collecting unspecified amounts of money and needless to say there were fights galore between passengers and these unidentified men. For anyone visiting Pakistan for the first time, one can only wonder what lasting impression this would leave.
But the story does not end there. Departure a few days later was equally traumatic. Almost all flights to and from Islamabad are delayed. My flight to Islamabad was delayed by two hours. My return flight by four hours. And there is confusion galore. Two weeks from my first departure, the computers at check-in still have problems. The only service that seems to be working is the Airport Security Force but that too is struggling with the size of the airport. With almost every PIA flight, gates are changed at the last moment.
Ruckus at new Islamabad airport as conveyor belt breaks down for second consecutive day
But there is more. The toilets at the airport are filthy, the phone charging devices are all dysfunctional. The classic was the information counter manned by a CAA official who was possibly the surliest employee that the CAA could find. Given that there were only four flights leaving the domestic terminal that day, he could still not tell me where my flight would depart from or when. The information screen also managed by the CAA holds more delights. My friend Omar Soomro took a picture of a flight departing for a place called 'Gladstone'. This shows the level of competence of the people managing information.
As a tax-paying Pakistani, I am outraged at the way this airport is being run. It is clear billions have been made in terms of the fixtures and fittings, many of which are not functional or falling apart. The CAA has neither the skill nor the attitude needed to run this international airport. Almost all the people working at the airport should be sacked for their incompetence starting with the airport manager and also the DG Civil Aviation. I am outraged because these public servants, whose salaries are given from the taxes I pay, are making Pakistan a laughing stock. Have some shame, CAA.