Flying into Banjul International Airport means having begun your journey from another airport in a different country.
This forces one to compare and contrast experiences in embarking and disembarking across airports. Following many trips in and out of the country, some of the differences that stand out for me, and I believe many like me are the numbers, actions and comportment of personnel one meets in and around the arrival halls. I’d like to share my experiences and thoughts with those concerned in the hope that the issues raised will be studied and remedied where required.
The number of personnel: As our bus approached the gate to the arrival hall at the airport in Yundum, there were about seven people on the runway-side of this entrance, and as we entered the hall, so did they. Some were in civilian clothing and others in uniform. Upon entrance in the hall before immigration, there was an equal number and composition.
In all, there were at least 30 people – some loitering, others looking on, while few were occupied with work. I contrasted this with the Dakar and the Cape Verdean airports, where I just passed through in my most recent trip.
The contrast couldn’t be more striking. In Praia, Cape Verde, whose airport is of similar size as ours, there was not a single person before or after the entrance to the arrival hall. There were two neatly dressed immigration officers in counters, who acted very professionally and businesslike. At the entrance between arrival and conveyor belt zone, there was one medical officer who asked for vaccination cards.
Again at the conveyor belt there was no non-passengers loitering about. At the exit scanner point, there were 3 or 4 officials. The disembarkation process in Dakar is quite similar with Cape Verde.
Actions of Personnel: In Yundum, I have seen on many occasions immigration officers take passports from arrivals, remove them from the queue and treat them ahead of those in front of them in the queue. I have never seen this behavior in many of my arrivals anywhere else in the world. This is an unprofessional and shameful practice that needs to stop. I remember once flying from Manchester in 2007 just after the London bombing when airports were experiencing very long queues in UK airports due to extra security measures.
I was amongst thousands that waited patiently in long queues. However, upon arrival in the Gambia in a queue of less than a hundred people, I was very embarrassed to see an immigration officer proudly and unapologetically snatching the passport of a guy behind me and signaling for him to follow him. He proceeded to plant the individual in front of the queue for immediate processing by the immigration official. You can imagine the disbelief and dismay in the eyes of non-Gambian visitors.
Comportment of Personnel: The other thing that conspicuously contrasts the Gambian airport from others is the comportment of the officials. In other airports including Dakar, officials are generally very composed, professional in demeanor and elegant. In the Gambia on the other hand, they are far too casual, informal and nonchalant. It is not uncommon to see officials shouting and potters jumping on and off the conveyor.
I have to say here that, the ‘on and off the conveyor’ is usually out of necessity to redirect strayed luggage. So, I take this opportunity to tell responsible authorities that a simple modification work on the conveyor will ameliorate this issue of bags straying off. Such modifications can be seen in many other airports. Please take a look for how and try to address this issue.
At baggage claim: Some of those non-passenger individuals met at the entrance and the immigration processing will follow the arriving passengers to the conveyor belt, joining the uniformed potters and others who came to pick up family members. In short, there are too many individuals loitering about making the very small area overly congested.
The question is, are all these people officials or workers? If they are, do they really have to be standing around and following passengers? Wouldn’t it be preferable for them to be at their desks? And if they are not staff, responsible officials should ensure that they give the arriving passengers space to sort themselves out.
Last but not the least, what about the scanning? Again many people have been asked to pay duties on personal items and belongings that I have never seen happened at any other airport. On many occasions I travelled through Dakar with a luggage without any question and trying to enter with same luggage into the Gambia and I’ll be questioned after scanning. Why?
Remember the old wise saying that: ‘First impressions are the most lasting ones’. Airports are perfect space for making first impressions and perceptions – Good or Bad!
As we navigate into a ‘New’ Gambia, we have to do away with certain ‘Old’ ways as individuals, communities and institutions.
Many involved in these actions may not be conscious of the discomfort and inconvenience caused to often very tired and jet-lagged traveler, as well as creating a negative image for the country. Cognizant of the fact that unless one experiences this it may not be that of an issue, my objective here is two-fold. Firstly, to tell my brothers and sisters concerned that the practice is not normal and is detrimental to efforts to project a tourist friendly country. Secondly, for the Civil Aviation Authorities and tourism authorities to look into the matter and take the necessary remedying steps.
Remember that millions of dollars are spent to attract visitors to the Gambia. We should not therefore nullify those costly efforts by driving them away through lack of failure of undertake minor but significant changes in our ways.