By Joe Zaldarriaga

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), for the longest time, had been ranked among the worst and most stressful airports in the world, with travelers complaining of long queues, numerous security checks, lack of seats, delayed flights, and delayed luggage release, among other things.

Last year, a survey conducted by travel website Hawaiian Islands named NAIA as the third most stressful airport in the Asia and Oceania region, next to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport in Australia and Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Vietnam. The results were based on Google reviews of travelers on more than 500 airports across the world.

Another travel website, Guide to Sleeping in Airports, described NAIA last year as a “large and often frustrating airport.”

In its report, it advised travelers to expect to wait in numerous long lines before their flights and also warned of scams, particularly the prevalent “tanim bala” scheme where bullets were planted in a traveler’s bag by inspectors who “find” it and demand a bribe from the traveler to let him go.

This year, NAIA has repeatedly been in the news again, and again for all the wrong reasons.

In the first two days of 2023, more than 200 flights were canceled, rerouted, or delayed after an equipment mishap triggered a breakdown in the airport’s Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management or CNS/ATM system. According to reports culled from statements by the airport management, a blower for the uninterrupted power supply conked out and failed to power the CNS/ATM system.

The outage shut down communications, radar, radio, and internet access prompting the suspension of airport operations which affected 56,000 inbound and outbound travelers.

A few weeks ago, a video made the rounds on social media showing an X-ray screener taking money from the bag of a departing Thai passenger. The female screener was then seen inserting the bills into the pocket of another screener. The Thai passenger confronted the first screener, who then returned the money worth around 20,000 yen or PHP8,000 and begged him to delete the video and not report it. The airport personnel involved were promptly relieved of their duties.

A few days after, another NAIA screener was caught on video taking the watch of a Chinese traveler from the tray that was run through the X-ray machine. The inspector at first denied the theft but CCTV footage showed otherwise.

Last Thursday, DWIZ radio reported that a police officer was under investigation for escorting a Chinese national through a highly restricted airport area using an official ID of the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group.

These incidents are putting the country in a very bad light before the global community and are hampering the efforts of the Department of Tourism to lure more international arrivals. This even prompted House Speaker Martin Romualdez to urge Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista to remove all personnel from the department’s Office for Transportation Security for causing international embarrassment in the country.

“It’s very embarrassing, alarming, and it really makes you furious. How can we even entice foreign tourists to our shores if no less than our airport personnel keep on victimizing them?” he was quoted as saying in a report.

“It sounds a bit extreme, but circumstances call for extreme measures. If government personnel commit criminal acts against foreign visitors the minute they land at the airport, it says a lot about our country, so it needs to be addressed sternly,” he added.

All these should serve as an eye-opener for the agencies concerned, particularly the Manila International Airport Authority which manages the main gateway, as well as the DOTr’s OTS, to enforce stronger rules and disciplinary actions on erring employees to effectively stop the commission of such activities.

The state of our airport and the conduct of our people are among the things that leave a lasting impression on foreign visitors, and it is very critical that we get our act together, especially as we aim to change the reputation of the NAIA from being one of the worst to being one of the best in the world.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.

About the Columnist

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Joe Zaldarriaga is a veteran, award-winning communicator immersed in public service within and beyond the energy sector. He has more than 30 years of experience serving the country’s biggest electric distribution utility and is involved in a number of public service functions, as member of various committees on public safety, power supply security and electrification. Concurrently, he is a prominent figure in the Philippine communications industry, as Chairman and Past President of the US-based International Association of Business Communicators Philippines (IABC PH). He is also an awardee of the University of Manila’s Medallion of Honor (Dr. Mariano V. delos Santos Memorial) and a Scroll of Commendation, a testament to his celebrated years in public service exemplified by outstanding communications.

Joe also shares his opinion and outlook on relevant national and consumer issues as a columnist in several prominent publications and is now venturing into new media via hosting a new vlog called Cup of Joe. Previously, Joe was a reporter and desk editor of a Broadcasting Company and the former auditor of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines. A true green Lasalian, he finished with a degree in Asian Studies specializing in the Japan Studies program at De La Salle University, Manila, where he also spent his entire education.