I drive by the Shahjalal International Airport complex almost daily. While passing it I feel very impressed by the rapid progress of the construction of the third terminal. I feel hopeful that soon there will be a modern airport terminal befitting the country's fast growth.
But it does not mean that till we have this new terminal, the passenger's experience with the existing infrastructure would have to be one of the worst in the world.
If you are not a very important person—which means government service holders or ruling party elites-- the discriminatory experience at the airport remains horrible for everyone.
For migrant workers, tourists and foreigners—the services at the Shahjalal airport would simply tell you one thing: you are not welcome to Bangladesh.
Except for the immigration process, everything is chaotic at the airport. The airport is mostly very crowded because its services are way slower than the number of people arriving there. As a result, there is always a shortage of trolleys.
The most nightmarish experience is trying to retrieve your luggage. The luggage belts are so sluggish that you could probably walk to the aircraft luggage hold and find your suitcase yourself in the same time.
The airport is running a luggage clearance system introduced back in the eighties. They drive a small luggage truck to the aircraft—unload some 30 bags; drive back the truck to the belt and leisurely put the bags one by one on the belt. Then they go back to the aircraft again to pick up another lot of 30-40 bags.
The luggage staff clearly do not have empathy for the passengers. They don't care how long you wait. If your aircraft has arrived in between their shift changes, you might even have to wait for two hours to see your luggage—because the morning shift people have gone, and the next shift people, upon eating their lunch and burping, take their time to take charge.
I returned home from Thailand after a week's family tour Thursday. It took us 90 minutes to get our luggage.
Anyone having been to any place in the world knows it takes no more than half an hour to clear all the luggage, be it Kolkata, Delhi, Colombo, Singapore, London, New York or Moscow.
I have seen foreigners waiting patiently for their luggage, trying to lighten up by making jokes and eventually breaking down in frustration, muttering curse words. I try to protest in my mind. But I can't. Because I feel the same way.
Then you would unexpectedly find a fresh crowd at the customs clearance.
As soon as you collect your luggage and try to head out—either through the red channel or through the green channel—you must queue up there. Each of you "must" put your luggage in the scanner. As a result, the queue becomes overwhelming.
I have never seen this arrangement at any airport. Unless the customs department has something to suspect, they would not queue you up like that anywhere. It was not even practised in Bangladesh either. Until now.
This is tantamount to the Customs Department suspecting all passengers of carrying contraband items. Everyone is a smuggler unless proven innocent.
My uncle is a US citizen. He came to visit Dhaka last month and called me over the phone to share his story, saying: I can't believe what the customs guy asked me. He bluntly asked me how many bottles of alcohol you have brought in.
So they are stopping all the people for alcohol? How many people bring in alcohol and at what volume?
You may note that there is a Parjatan Duty-Free shop inside the airport that "sells" alcohol bottles that were seized by customs. How ethical is this kind of practice?
Once again, you have to be a VIP or have some VIP connections to get the hell out of the airport without much harassment. This would have perhaps straightened up if there were no VIP culture like in other countries. If the bureaucrats or officials who run the airport faced the hassles themselves, they would have definitely redressed this.