The Friendliest Airport in the World

Yang Tu Yang Ni

The worst airport in the world must be Khartoum, at least it was when I was there at the height of the Sudan Civil War.

The second worst airport in the world is Beijing. It’s a huge soulless place.

These are only my opinions.

But ask any frequent flyer and most will tell you Changi is the best. The organisations that award such accolades seem to think so too. It’s clean, efficient and user-friendly. The proposed new terminal comes with a jungle, walking trails, waterfalls, leeches and Tarzan.

Of course I don’t know what they plan to have but it wouldn’t surprise me. The Singapore kiasu spirit tends to make them overkill.

But is Changi really the best airport? It’s clean and efficient, your luggage is waiting for you by the time you exit, there’s a cultivated politeness with the staff. If that ticks all the boxes with you then it probably is. And by the looks of it people seem to like that sort of thing that’s why Changi consistently wins ‘best airport’.

To me a good airport is one that is clean and efficient yes but most of all it must exude warmth. It must make you feel that the staff are there to wave you off, bid you a safe journey and look forward to your return. And on landing they are there to welcome you, noticing that you have been away too long this time.

It must be ‘human’.

No there’s no airport like that that I know of. The closest I have to that is the Ipoh Aerodrome (‘aerodrome’ an unfashionable word these days) aka Sultan Azlan Shah Airport.

Because the aerodrome is literally downtown you can take a Sunday drive to it. As you come to a stop at the parking booth a smile greets you and you hear “Leong Mun” (it used to be “Yat Mun”) from Romeo – that’s what he calls himself. He apologises for the 100 per cent hike, joking that we need to contribute to the government’s coffers. Bet you if I were Indian he would have said “Rende Velli” or “Dua Ringgit” if I were Malay. He was not drilled in this you can tell. It’s just his natural friendly way.

The X-ray machine is operated by two veteran police. I noticed that all the police are sergeants or corporals with long colourful service ribbons on their chests.

They are so friendly they engage you in polite conversation. I learned that Corporal Nura lives down the road from me in Tambun. You do not have the young bored and often indifferent policeman you meet in, say, the big airports. And I noticed that they speak fluent English, which is a big plus for those visitors who do not speak Malay. Again this is something the young policemen in KLIA or Paya Lebar are not comfortable with – speaking English. I think this is a generational thing. There are no long queues at the check-in counters. The girls chat with you like an old friend even if it is the second time she has seen you.

And where in the world do you have the Operations Manager take you into his office and print a schedule for you? When flights to Medan first began there were no printed schedules and the airline did not have personnel at the airport so Roslan, the Operations Manager, helped me out.

The restaurant serves honest fare without the pretensions and prices to boot you find in bigger airports. They do try to serve ‘fashionable’ coffees though, quite good although the servings are a little small. Azali (call me Zali) behind the counter is always smiling and ever so eager to please unlike the tired looking parrots at ‘big bucks coffee’ who mouth pleasantries robotically.

The immigration officers are polite and welcoming. Similarly the customs officers – firm and efficient but always with a ready smile. You don’t get the feeling they are there to ‘get you’ as in some airports.

And when you come out from customs, free Malay Mail is there for you; but ironically the local rag, which professes to promote Ipoh is not. Visitors would be interested I would have thought.

Ipoh Aerodrome is so laid back . . . Alas some shortcomings come with the territory.

There is no aerobridge to your plane for a start. You have to wait a bit for your baggage. There is no wifi (Why ah Roslan?), the toilets are frequently wet. Maybe we can be the first place in Malaysia to introduce “wet” and “dry” toilets so that those who do not wash will not be inconvenienced – a win win situation mah. And how I wish there is a Duty Free – even a mini one.

Taking all this into consideration, weighing the pros and cons, etcetera etcetera . . . and after an extensive poll of one . . . (drum roll)

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me give you the friendliest airport in the world – the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport!

But that’s only my opinion and I am from TR.


(The man from TR)

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