Following my ordeal of having to stand for more than two excruciatingly tiring hours at the Departure Hall of the Kotoka International Airport last Monday evening, waiting for a flight departure, I have some questions for the airport authorities:
Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL), why does it seem that you want to discourage people from visiting the airport, particularly seeing passengers off?
Why have you taken away from us the romance, or the pleasure and excitement, of visiting Ghana’s only international airport? And, on behalf of fellow sufferers, most exasperating of all, why are there no seats in the Departure area of Terminal 3, the international section, for people seeing off family or friends?
Yet, accompanying travellers to the airport has always been a Ghanaian tradition and in times past it was even a dress-up occasion for some people! It was considered an outing – and nothing to do with the somewhat bizarre foreign pastime of ‘plane spotting’.
In other places, there are actually people who have ‘plane spotting’ as their serious hobby. As a reference source explains: “Aircraft spotting, or plane spotting is a hobby of tracking the movement of aircraft, which is often accomplished by photography.”
There was a time when visiting the airport was part of the attractions Accra could boast of. Couples, families and friends would arrange a visit to the airport even if they were not seeing anybody off or meeting arrivals. Going to the airport was considered a fun thing to do; another entertainment option, relaxing over drinks against the exciting backdrop of planes landing and taking off.
And, of course, an airport visit had to be top of the itinerary of school excursions to the capital city.
Notably, even in the ‘bad old days’, when it was a very different, modest, terminal, visitors were made to feel welcome because there was a balcony where one could enjoy vicariously the thrill of planes taking off or landing. And, as I recall, of course one could sit down because there were chairs!
So how come in 2022, when the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) is a veritable showpiece, with the elegant Terminal 3 for as its flagship, there seems to be an unwritten, but forceful indication that VISITORS ARE NOT WELCOME, even if they’re there to see people off?
I came to that conclusion because despite its huge, football field size, the Departure Hall, which is on the top level, has no seats.
On Monday night, December 12, 2022, when I had to be at the KIA to see family members off, not a single seat did I see there. Thus it was my misfortune to stand for more than two hours, enduring a punishing wait while they completed departure formalities.
Looking around, I observed that I wasn’t the only person feeling the absence of seats: at a point I saw two white women perched on the narrow tube-like metal skirting at the bottom of the hall’s glass doors; some people had turned the yellow and black ‘mushroom barriers’ along the kerb’s Drop Off point into makeshift seats; others, like me, were trying to rest on the wobbly orange plastic crowd control barriers.
But the vast majority were standing in the enormous space, clearly just waiting to say their goodbyes.
Evidently, all of us would have been grateful to have been able to take the weight off our feet while waiting. What offence did we commit, how did we offend the GACL for which we were being punished?
As non-travellers are permitted in the Departure Hall to wait for passengers entering the check-in section, it means that the GACL appreciates the need for people to see off passengers. So why then are there no seats there? Even if that huge space is for a future development, that scheme has not yet materialised so, in the meantime, why can’t visitors sit down?
Yet, intriguingly, I noticed in the Departure space what appeared to be part of Christmas decorations being installed there. But if there are no seats there for visitors who, presumably, if they could sit down would be able to admire the decorations, why does the Company bother? I wonder if passengers rushing to complete departure formalities will be in the mood, or have the time, to stand and appreciate any decorations, Christmas or otherwise.
On my way out, at the Arrival Hall, I noticed that although there were some seats, there were far more people standing than seated. Apparently, the seats there were in extremely short supply.
Why does the GACL treat visitors to the airport so uncaringly?
Why can’t the airport authorities provide seats, and a reasonably adequate number of seats, at that, for patrons?
If the absence of seats is to keep people away, maybe for security reasons, it doesn’t seem to be working, judging by the numbers I saw at the airport, even on a Monday night; and mid-month. It’s just an unnecessary, undeserved discomfort for visitors.
Nevertheless, the KIA has a lot of positives, little wonder it is rated high in the sub-region. Recently, the Company announced that it had won an award “for ‘Best Airport by Size and Region in Africa’. The presentation took place at an awards ceremony held in Krakow, Poland on September 14, 2022.”
And although washrooms can be found only on the ground level, they ladies’ was commendably neat, hygienic. Also, the lifts work.
Furthermore, the main route to the airport and the two roundabouts have been tastefully and wonderfully lit up for Christmas. I imagine that anybody driving up to the terminal in the night, would certainly feel a promise of experiencing the romance of the airport.
If only there was an opportunity to sit somewhere on the upper levels as in the past, to see planes take off or land! If only there were seats to make visitors feel welcome!
So Ghana Airports Company, visitors need to feel your welcome! The ‘Akwaaba’ sign that greets arrivals, should also mean a ‘welcome’ to non-travellers. Let airport visitors relax and experience the romance again – seated!
BY Ajoa Yeboah-Afari