Is hassle-free airports and air travel possible?


HASSLE-FREE air travel is what passengers want all the time.

But more often than not, they spend a lot of time unpacking at gates to prove that they are not carrying any dangerous items.

But it can be a thing of the past if airports globally are willing to invest in the latest techology.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), at its recently concluded AGM in Singapore, unveiled a mock-up of what it calls the “checkpoints of the future''. This is where passengers who have been separated due to security risk would walk through one of three high-tech, 20-foot-long (6.1-metre-long) tunnels that can quickly scan shoes and carry-on luggage and check for liquids and explosives.

These futuristic security tunnels with eye scanners will eliminate the need to stop, unpack, be stripped or even groped at in airports. This will hopefully make travelling stress-free.

Security and safety remain the two hot topics at every IATA AGM. Each year, the sector is forced to spend billions of dollars to boost security to fight terrorism as well as enhance safety to make sure there is continued confidence in aviation as a vital means of global transport. Since taking over as its director-general, Giovanni Bisignani has been obsessed with making sure airplanes are safe and airports are stress-free for travellers.

But that was not the only highlight of the AGM. What surprised many in the industry was the entry of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to oneworld, a global airline grouping something like an elite club and the entry widens MAS' reach even though it came 12 years late. Twelve year ago, MAS wanted to be part of oneworld but the carrier could not join then due to technical reasons.

But now seems to be a better fit for it, geographically, and this time around, it was invited to be a member.

A day after the MAS oneworld announcement, Singapore Airlines announced its alliance with Virgin Australia, a move that will at some point guarantee SIA access to the lucrative Australia-US routes. The move also puts more pressure on Qantas on its home ground. Qantas moved out of Malaysia a decade ago but now wants to work with MAS to penetrate the South-East Asian market.

The AGM was also Giovanni's last but it did not end without him lambasting some governments, airlines and airport authorities over several issues. Again, he told the European governments to stop having double standards over carbon emission. He ticked off the North American and European airlines for lobbying their governments to curb the number of landing slots for Gulf carriers.

The industry would certainly be difficult without this man who had guts and was passionate about what he was doing.

Security and safety are great issues and kudos to Giovanni for stressing on it, but one thing he should shout about before he steps down by the end of this month is the issue of aerobridges. Passengers should not be made to walk on the tarmac to reach the aircraft on any hot and sweaty days or when it rains. Airports should build them and airlines should use them for the convenience of passengers.

Now that Malaysia is building the next generation airport at KLIA2, there should be no compromise on aerobridges. We cannot have a super-duper airport, though catering for low-fare travel, and not having aerobridges. That would be unthinkable. Take your last shot at airports and airlines, Giovanni.

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