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TIA or Terribly Inept Airport

Saturday, November 14th, 2009


The number of mountain flights that take off from Kathmandu every morning is a pretty good indication of how Nepal’s tourism industry is doing. Last Saturday there were 35 mountain flights. And, 42 more flights were headed towards Lukla on the same day.

All this means is that we are well on our way to hitting the one million visitor target for Visit Nepal Year 2011. But with the state of Kathmandu’s airport, one shudders to think how it will cope with triple the passenger load it has now.

The other day the queue at the security check for men snaked all the way back to immigration. The women’s line had no one in it, still not a single cop on duty had the presence of mind to allow the men into the women’s side to speed things up. Tempers were frayed, a brawl broke out half way down the line, and the riot police had to be nearly called in. Some passengers waited an hour and 15 minutes just to clear security because of queue jumpers. There are four x-ray machines but only one works.

Officials behave like extortionists and harass those applying for visa on arrival. They “forget” to give back $5 change after taking the visa fee. At what point will a visiting tourist decide the visa queue by itself is not worth the trouble to go into Nepal? Until recently, there was a poster in Japanese at the x-ray machines giving departing Japanese tourists numbers to call at their embassy in case they were extorted or hassled by cops in security duty. They should put those up again.

It’s not just the tourists. Bearing the brunt of the callous and rude treatment are the pillars of Nepal’s economy: the migrant workers on their first flight lining up nervously in their uniform caps and tracksuit jackets. When they return, they are squeezed and fleeced by fellow Nepalis. Students travelling alone are detained on the pretext of invalid visas right until their departure call and have to slip in a few notes to be able to fly out.

The endless wait in the dingy, smelly airport leaves a lasting impression as passengers depart. You don’t want to go into the toilets in the euphemistically named “sterile” holding area on departure: the overpowering odours may actually knock you unconscious.

Overseas Nepalis addressed the woeful lack of baggage trolleys by donating 50 “NRN trolleys”, but these have been captured by the porter mafia, who create an artificial shortage of trolleys so you have to hire them.

None of this need happen. For an indication of just how scrubbed and efficient this airport can be, one need only to climb to the restaurant upstairs that is managed by the Radisson. The contrast between the clean and bright restaurant (ok, a bit of a ripoff) on the upper floor and the dark and dank cave of the government-run departure area below couldn’t be starker. Those are two different worlds.

One million visitors will just include tourists, there will be another 500,000 Nepalis, diplomats, businessmen, so you can bet TIA will be even more of a hell on earth next year. The word will go out: avoid Nepal in 2011.

One million tourists, or one million sworn enemies?

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9 Responses to “TIA or Terribly Inept Airport”

  1. Alexis on Says:

    Great blog, always enjoyable to read. Loving the entertaining photos…

  2. Alexis on Says:

    In case you didn’t know what a parambulator is:

  3. shellfish on Says:

    Is it really like this? I might have to get there 5 hours early next time I fly out…

  4. gynendra on Says:

    oh no…this just an example sometimes i feel that in nepal there is animal tantra..rather ganatantra..i think this country is never going to change until we change our mindset.

  5. bridohi on Says:

    Arrival at TIA tempts one to turn around & leave abruptly without setting foot on the matri bhumi. The treatment of the foreign bound labour at the departure is horrendous. These new lahures have kept the nation afloat through their remittance during the insurgency years, yet, they are treated like dogs. Even a valid work visa in the West now is a target. The immigration goons now ask for labour certification for white collar workers. TIA (This is Anarchy) is a more apt acronymn.

  6. gq on Says:

    TIA is a mafia controlled business in the name of public service. Travellers have no choice but to accept by their terms. I get disgusted landing at TIA whenever I see hungry vultures waiting to attack you.

    The best way to take care of them to attack back indirectly. Whoever said, “Attacking is the best defense” is right.

  7. DK on Says:

    Just to add to this article how bad TIA can get, here’s my outbound experience from Nepal on 28 October 2009. I was asked for some ‘chia pani’ aka cash by a policeman. I demanded instead that he take whatever it was he wanted from my handbag but no cash was leaving my hand. I never felt so angry and later, ashamed of my countrymen or the civil servants. I must say I was quite relieved when he did not aim for my Nikon SLR or its gadgets. He probably knew better that I was not to fool with. However, he did have a nerve to tell me that since he already stamped my boarding pass he could do nothing now. Oops, it was his mistake that he did what he was suppose to do…security clearence and stamping of the boarding pass. My fault that I spoke up against it.

  8. Sagar on Says:

    Stringent Observation and lucid writing. I have been a frequent user of the TIA since 2001. Despite the long list of shortcomings at TIA, including easily avoidable at no costs such as attitude of the staffers, several new improvements have also taken place simulataneously. The international departure area has received some facelift with newer & sleeker Duty Free shops, Internet facility albeit exorbitantly expensive compared to rapidly “FREE” WIFI airport terminals worldwide, coffee shops and souvenir shops, rest room with electric hand dryer, LCD TV pannels, and executive lounges etc… However, there are ample room for improvements. Attempts should be made to make TIA more tourist and “baidesik rojgarwala” friendly: undisputedly two strong pillars of our feeble economy.

  9. Biplav on Says:

    I am surprised there is no mention of the Taxi cartel and their fleet of 1970 Toyotas. It speaks volumes of who really are running this country.

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