19 SEPTEMBER 2011
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Cathay Pacific’s new CEO John Slosar may be in favour of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport – Chep Lap Kok (HKG) – but clearly all is not well with the existing arrangements (see AERBT 12 September). It is a great pity as in many ways HKG is superior to Changi Singapore, which wins all the awards. One wonders why.
The following was received from Ian Lyne, based in Qatar, describing himself as a Hong Kong supporter.
"The debate over Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok’s third runway maybe in its final stages but something is clearly wrong. For some time now, arriving as a visitor to Hong Kong has become one of the worst experiences of any major airport. Gone is the bustle but heady efficiency of arrival at Kai Tak. Instead passengers are regaled by video stories of returning students proud at the quality of their (British designed) airport and its efficiency. Chairmen and CEOs prattle with pride about the economic importance of it growing and expanding. Indeed the airport is an architectural experience but for the last three visits something awful has been building.
My last trip, two weeks ago, was greeted by the Cathay pilot announcing as usual an arrival a few minutes ahead of schedule despite delays leaving Heathrow. All is smooth and efficient until the cattle runs at immigration. As usual five or six booths are manned for HK citizens – who are processed in minutes leaving idle officers to chit chat. There is even a special channel for returning maids, long the lowliest of HK society, this is a welcome upgrade. For the rest, Business and First Class passengers alike, it is into the cattle runs. At each of the four or five turns of the run a monitor screens the virtues of HK and the need for a third runway. At each turn the assembled crowd of tourists, business folk, mainlanders and others clearly with money to spend, becomes more agitated.
This trip reveals only two immigration ‘officers’ and seven vacant booths. The last trip had slightly more at four but still more empty booths than active ones. The resultant plod takes at least an hour (I timed it) and at the booth concierge ladies direct you to one of only two officers – as if there were multiple choices. The immigration process remains as it did 15 years ago with the same form in duplicate and rubber stamps beloved of the Qing mandaracy. Even Qatar with its ‘temporary’ arrivals hall can scan a passport and have you on your way in minutes. The ultimate grievance occurs when finally reaching the baggage carousel passengers find that priority baggage labels are for nought as all of the flight’s luggage has been off loaded to an impenetrable standing phalanx to make way for another flight’s baggage on the carousel. At least the bags get handled quickly.
Wake up Hong Kong! There is no point building a third runaway and increasing passenger traffic if you can’t even handle the current numbers efficiently. Having a well-designed airport and state of the art booth furnishings is all for nought if passengers have to endure an hour or more wait at Immigration just because only two officers bothered to turn up. Maybe it is a log jam in the laundry cleaning the little white gloves required for stamping, maybe it’s just government employees being the weak link as usual. Worse yet the growth of unionised labour in dear old free market Hong Kong. Whatever is the reason for this rare show of Hong Kong inefficiency this disaster needs solving before you increase the capacity. The best way to deal with unionised labour is to replace it with automated machines. There is space to double the number of automated entry points at Hong Kong which would then have an Immigration service to match its 21st century airport. You won’t find much support for your TV runway promotions amongst the very irate passengers in my queue and I for one will now be arriving in Guangzhou."
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