Soapbox: publisher's perspective |

The Great Airport Dilemma

Soapbox: Publisher's Perspective | 24 December 2021

What makes a great airport? Easy access, good parking, efficient and easy check-in and security procedures, quick security controls, good  signage, a great variety of shops & cafes (with good prices!), good seating at the gates, audible announcements, and lots of gate and time information displays? All of the above of course and quite a few more critical factors based on customer convenience and comfort, such as good clean toilets, easy to access public transport and taxis, and efficient drop off and pick up points for private cars.

You would think that, after let’s say 60 years of development from the beginning of mass international travel after World War II, definitely by 1960, we could get all these things right, but no, here we are in Indonesia, with access to the best airport designers and planners in the world and we just can’t seem to get it right.

I don’t know all the airports in Indonesia of course but the three biggest should surely be the best, should they not? But no, Jakarta Terminal III, Surabaya and Bali have got such glaring and unforgivable faults that you would have thought the Minister of Transport might have resigned in embarrassment and shame, taking the Minister of State Owned Enterprises with him to meditate in a mountain retreat. But again no, they think they are great. But honestly, they are not.

Let’s start with Terminal III. Have you ever had to catch a plane from Gate 28? It’s 1,5km from the check in! If you design an airport that has to solve its passenger movement with golf carts you surely have admitted defeat from the start. The travelators are too short and too slow so don’t help at all. Then there is the appalling parking building which is such a disaster it’s hard to describe. The pickup point is on the fifth floor which means you have to drive up and down crowded floors to get your passenger. Madness. The train to the airport is too slow and only stops at four stations which have very limited access to the rest of the city transport. Why? Where do you go with your luggage from the station? Walk or take an expensive taxi? Terminal III is indeed “The Ultimate”.

Then there is Surabaya which we just experienced recently. It is even longer than T3, unless my legs are fooling me, with corridors that stretch further than my eyes can see. Journeys are assisted at some points by “travelators” but they have steep ramps up and down to access them making them unsuitable and possibly dangerous for the elderly and small children. If you arrive at one of the far distant gates get ready for a good 20 minute fast walk. Not fun.

Then there’s Bali, the showpiece of our tourism industry but with a domestic terminal that is so poorly organised that it’s surely the cause of a huge amount of pre-or post-holiday stress! The drop off points for private cars is simply a chaotic mess with no thought given to a structure or a system with cars stopping anywhere, parking and waiting, blocking and delaying others, while a simple diagonal “herring bone” system (like Singapore, guys!) would organise and speed up both drop off and pick up for the price of a pot of paint! Then to get into the airport, turn left at the first corner then left again at international parking, then right again, now crossing the arriving passengers!) then left, then right, then left again and finally right. Are you joking? Is this the best you can do after a quite recent and very expensive renovation? Apparently it is. 

Sorry I forgot about the arriving passengers, who trek out of the terminal, over what seems to be a good pick up point, into an unfinished mall, then up a path, across the cars dropping off, to an area which has not a single redeeming factor in its multi-laned, zero organisation parking, pickup, madness. 

Now not every international airport is wonderful of course, Terminal Five at Heathrow is horrible. The new Bangkok airport is pretty awful, and I was not impressed with Sydney (though that might be because I went to the wrong gate and had to run past 60 gates I think!). And Dubai used to be simply too busy, with literally nowhere to sit. But why not study the ones that really work and copy them. Singapore is brilliant and Frankfurt super efficient, Schiphol is good and Paris De Gaul beautiful (though may not work that well….). KL and Hong Kong have fantastic train services direct from the airport, Singapore & London link directly to their underground systems, so all these features are good and could easily be copied here…..but Bali has no mass transport. Surabaya again has no train or tube and insists you use an unknown and rather unreliable taxi service. This is not what passengers need or want. 

So I ask the relevant Ministries and authorities to please think again. A few very easy quick fixes in access and parking would make a lot of people happier and some real thought on transport solutions would go a long way to improving our (your!) international reputation. 

Air transport is still needed especially in Indonesia’s archipelago, and airports are the first access and first impression of our country for most tourists. Let’s please get them up to international standards.