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Terminal thrillness

Comment
By Meera Ravi


Back from the holidays, are we?

If your grouses are only about a blocked toilet on the flight, or a wailing baby in the row behind you, count yourself lucky.

After all, of the approximately 4.6 billion pieces of luggage that travel with their owners, a SITA report found that 21.6 million went temporarily missing.

However, they were returned to owners within 48 hours.

Only seven per cent are lost or stolen, never to be reunited with their owners.

Still, I never fail to get a sinking feeling at the luggage carousel if my suitcase fails to appear within the first 15 minutes of waiting.

Increasingly, airports are becoming “travel pods” that are expanding into cultural experiences.

Singapore’s Changi Airport, which is regularly voted the number one airport in the world in various surveys, is not just a place to check in and catch your plane after a round of duty-free shopping.

You can swim in the rooftop Olympian pool, watch a movie in the free 24-hour cinema and tour the different themed gardens, including a butterfly garden.

And you will have the time to do all this because the airport has used AI technology to speed up the Customs and immigration process.

Five of the world’s top 10 airports are in Asia – Changi, Korea’s Incheon, two from Tokyo: Haneda and Centrair in Nagoya district and Hong Kong.

Most of them boast surreal airport attractions such as indoor rain forests, rare orchid gardens, a mini golf course and immersive local museum experiences.

My personal favourite is Mumbai Airport, which is beautifully decorated with a pan-Indian heritage collection and even has pop-up cultural experiences and in-store art galleries.

By comparison the new Bahrain International Airport terminal, due to become operational by September, is more modest – or grounded, shall we say?

It will focus on speeding up the passenger’s travel from point of entry to the aircraft door and the design includes an Arabian suq experience and elements of Bahraini culture so that visitors can get a glimpse of the Kingdom’s heritage.

There will be a 50-bed airport hotel and a big-name international food court too.

However, in the meantime – after all, September is a good nine months away – I’m sure travellers will be grateful for small comforts such as cleaner, more luxurious bathrooms.

The one in Departures, in the corridor towards Gate 16, is consistently the worst – largely because transit passengers, who seem to think they don’t need to flush because they are only passing through, use it! I’m sure every airport faces such issues.

If Heathrow and Mumbai, which are larger and deal with bigger crowds, can keep their loos welcoming and spotless, why can’t we do the same in Muharraq?

And if we are to promote Bahrain as a transit point, let’s have stretch loungers where we can take a 60-minute nap without practising our undeveloped contortionist skills on the bucket chairs.

These are small tweaks that cost little to implement, but can bridge the comfort gap until the new terminal is operational.

Where Bahrain does excel is in its human interface. Regardless of whether they are airline staff or airport employees, counter teams or loaders, Customs officers or immigration, there is always a friendly face and genuine helpfulness that make a passenger feel comfortable.

No indoor spa or shopping mall can improve on that.

I hope that always remains Bahrain International Airport’s USP.

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