The airport ordeal – Promoting tourism or Chasing tourists away.
Posted on June 28th, 2009

By Tissa Jayaweera Chairman International Chamber of Commerce

This happens at the only International Airport of the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Land like no other’ or ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Small Miracle’.

All passengers arriving at the airport by car, 4×4, Double cab or any other small vehicle, are forced to get down at the Air Force checkpoint, at entrance to BIA and board a bus.

When challenged, officers manning gate say only VIP vehicles are allowed, all other passengers have to disembark and board a bus to terminal. This is OK in the name of security.

While this discussion is on, a 12 – 15 seat Mini Van full of passengers is allowed to pass my vehicle. When I challenge the Security, he says Vans are allowed not cars. This is the best joke I have heard in my life.

Vans full of passengers are allowed but not a car with a single passenger who has to disembark and board a bus to terminal. I felt it useless to argue as this man was following instructions and request my driver to approach bus.

At bus stop a decent looking young man approaches, unloads bags to a trolley, moves towards bus. An Air Force officer reaches out his hand with no words.

I look at him.

He says, “Passport”.

No please, No smile.

Glances at passport and allows to proceed towards bus.

At entrance to bus there is a Foreign Couple ahead of me with a trolley full of bags. They try to board bus.

The person at entrance tells the Foreigners in Sinhala “Make Ida naa. Anik
eka yanda.” They do not understand and try to board again.

This man prevents them boarding by holding hand in front of them, door of
bus closes.

I tell them, “My apologies, this bus is full, let’s wait for next”.

Apparently they are displeased and in a hurry, no comments from them, only a smile from the lady.

The next bus approaches. SLTB with faded red paint.

A bus that was received by Sri Lanka from Japan a few years ago, low footboard, but have to climb three steps with hand baggage to be on deck. The engine is noisy and exhaust smell is terrible. The bags are loaded by attendants and kept in front of bus obstructing front exit. Passengers have to pick seats. Seats are dirty with one row on either side.

The foreign couple sit behind each other closer to entrance, with eye on bags. The face of the man is now red with displeasure written all over.

I pick my seat closer to my bags in front. The bus did have air-conditioning but the doors are wide open, it is hot, humid, as the time is around 12 noon, exhaust smell and fumes get in to bus as the engine is running. Purpose of AC is lost. Passengers of various age groups, children, elderly, foreign, local, business travellers, continue to get in. Some climb the three steps with difficulty.

In the meantime we see vans full of passengers speeding by, people in them looking at us with great pleasure on their faces and sympathizing with us ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”the rich’ who come by car with the usual Sri Lankan smile.

Up to now we have spent about 15 minutes inside the bus. There are standing passengers. Bags now extend along passage up to main entrance. I and other passengers are blocked from moving as bags occupy the entire front to middle of bus. The gent now tells the man at entrance loading bags, “Let’s go now, we are late”.

Man at entrance gets down, tells Air Force Corporal in charge, who is having a chat with his female colleagues, in Sinhala, “Sudda kiyanawa parrakui than yang kiyala”

The corporal gets in bus and asks the foreign gent in English, “Why are you late” in a rough tough voice and looks at his colleagues proudly to impress, he can speak to a Sudda in English!

The gent looks at his wristwatch and says, “Let’s proceed”. Air Force man barks back at him: “Why are you late?”
By this time there are bags all over the bus with Foreign and local passengers of all walks of life sitting/ standing inside bus.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  I told the Air force man.

“Passenger getting late is not your problem, but, bus not departing is a problem for all of us” .He looks at me and says, “Welawata enda denaganda oney” (You should be punctual.)

I tell him once again, “That is not your problem”.

He gets annoyed and starts muttering and swearing loud at me. I tell him, “In any other country the person in charge will apologies for delay and beg pardon from passengers. In Thailand they will first worship passengers. That is why they get 12 million visiting, we beg the world to get 300,000. These are people who come to your country and spend foreign exchange and help the government pay your salary. Is this the way you are trained to address others? This is not checking but harassment!”

He barks back at me and says, “This is security.” The driver realizes it is time to move, gets in, closes front door, air force man gets off.

After we have proceeded less than 100 metres the bus stops again. The distance not enough even for AC to cool or get rid of exhaust smell.

Doors open, a man gets in pulls / pushes bags towards front door, another unloads. Some local passengers scramble to take their own bag. Bags are unloaded at random from front door and kept unattended below. Locals as usual are in a hurry. Foreigners allow locals to jump over them and rush to bags.

There are no porters or any other attendants around. The people who unload bags have vanished by the time I get off. Locals run to get trolleys about 25 meters away. Foreigners look around lost, see locals running back towards them with empty trolleys. They are in two minds, to leave bags unattended, get trolley or not.

Locals take their bags toppling other bags causing disarray. The few foreigners now decide to venture out to get trolleys. I look for porters, there are none in sight.

A young man from India and I look on. He has two large bags. I have two bags. We look at each other. I tell him, “I will look after your bags, bring two trolleys.” He brings two trolleys.

We spend at least another 15 minutes on this exercise after alighting bus. A total of 40 minutes lost from Entrance at Air Port security to Terminal entrance.

Neither the so-called VIPs nor people of authority who conceive these absurd schemes undergo this ordeal.

The country spends millions of USD, Euro, Yen, Pounds to promote TourismƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  in Sri Lanka with many long stories. I am also carrying videos from Sri Lanka Tourism to promote Sri Lanka.

I feel they are of little use given the situation at our international airport. People who spend their money and time in Sri Lanka have to depart with ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…” pleasant memories’.

God Bless Sri Lanka!


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