It was bedlam and chaos rolled into one yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), particularly at Terminal 1 serving foreign flights.
For around 36 hours, thousands of passengers crammed Terminal 1 due to flight delays after a Xiamen Air Jet skidded off the main runway shortly before midnight Thursday.
For safety reasons, airport authorities ordered the closure of the runway as workers rushed to tow the Boeing 737-800 away and ensure the area is clear of any foreign debris that could endanger planes taking off or landing.
The disabled plane was removed around 2 a.m. Saturday and airport authorities issued the directive for the reopening of Runway 06/24 at 11:20 a.m. yesterday.
That’s when the situation turned from bad to worse as the announcement of flight resumptions triggered a fresh avalanche of passengers booked in regular flights for the day.
By then the airport terminal was almost bursting at the seams with the huge number of passengers that was forced to stay—including young children, women, the elderly and the infirm—and sleep on the concrete floor for lack of available resting area enough to accommodate all.
“It’s almost impossible to move,” according to one outbound passenger.
To make matters worse, it appeared that nobody was in charge to ensure order at the airport.
According to another passenger, the airport authorities apparently tried to accommodate both the regular passengers and those from the delayed flights but failed in both.
“Nobody was telling the passengers what to do or where to go. Some were told to go one way and then later told they have to go to another counter for their flight schedule,” another passenger said.
They added there were no airport personnel to ensure separate and orderly processing of regular passengers and the passengers of the delayed flights.
Even the monitors that reflect the flight schedules were not updated, adding to the confusion and the growing frustration of thousands of the passengers.
“There seems to be nobody in charge,” according to one passenger.
It was only at past 2 p.m. when an airport spokesman clarified that regular flights will get the priority while recovering flights will get their crack by midnight Saturday. But the announcement did little to improve the situation at the overcrowded terminal.
The responsibility for the ordeal the passengers suffered rests squarely on the shoulders of airport authorities, particularly Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Ed Monreal.
MIAA should have anticipated the situation and employed appropriate contingency measures not only to alleviate the sufferings of the passengers of the delayed flights but also ensure their safety as well.
The overcrowding and intense frustration of the passengers served as a powder keg that could have been sparked by a simple irate statement. Fortunately, it did not, to the credit of the passengers.
With a 36-hour lead time, MIAA authorities could have deployed adequate personnel so the needs of the passengers would be attended properly.
Likewise, MIAA should have provided clear communications to inform the passengers of the situation and to guide them on the appropriate procedures to make to avoid the confusion.
Undoubtedly, the foreign and local passengers who experienced the ordeal brought about by the chaos at NAIA will tell that story to their families and friends.
Wasn’t it not only in March this year when NAIA was included on the list of the world’s most improved airports?
Indeed, airport authorities could not have prevented the jet plane from skidding off the runway.
But by taking the initiative and quick action to address the problem they could have avoided another black eye to the country’s image before the international community.
They should be held responsible for the fiasco.