(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The 12 noon radio news reported that the Kuala Lumpur International Airport started operations smoothly today with the first flight to Langkawi which had as its passenger the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. It did not report the terrible and monumental messes at the airport of the 21st century after that first flight, which has made Malaysia a laughing stock in the world.
I was scheduled to take the 11.30 a.m. flight to Penang on MH1140 and I arrived at the KLIA before 10.30 a.m. It was indeed a fantastic airport with most impressive and futuristic features. It was so modernistic that I find myself quite lost when I entered the airport.
However, I was quite disappointed with my first human contact, when I went to the check-in counter, as I find the check-in process to be slower than at the Subang International Airport. I asked and was told that there was no separate check-in counter for passengers without luggage, and everybody had to queue up, with or without luggage. Later, I found that there are passengers who had to queue up for one hour just to check-in for their flights.
I was also disappointed that the MAS clerk doing the check-in seems to be taking a longer time than usual, and when I asked, he said that he was operating a new system. I was to learn later than the computer and phone systems were down.
After the check-in, I decided to look around the airport as this was my first visit to KLIA. I went down to the arrival floor below the departure floor and found long queues of people waiting for taxis.
A couple from London told me that they flew in from Singapore, and their aircraft had to circulate for half an hour because of traffic control problems, and when they landed, they were locked in the aircraft for another half an hour as there was nobody to operate the aero-bridge. After they had disembarked, they spent one hour to locate their luggage, which had been misplaced. They then queued up for half an hour to buy a taxi ticket and had been waiting for another two hours for a taxi.
They said they had been travelling for 23 years and had never come across such a horrible experience before.
Their experience are not the worst however, The passengers of the MAS flight from Cairo, MH157, who also experienced the same ordeal of circulating the KLIA before landing and the aerobridge lock-in after landing, were still waiting for their luggage at noon, when I left the KLIA.
The KLIA is indeed the state-of-the art airport of the next century, with the latest gadgets, but the computers and phone systems are not only down, the monitors which are supposed to provide information of incoming and outgoing flights are mostly blank, giving out no information whatsoever.
At 11.05 a.m. I phoned up the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik to inform him of the monumental bungles at the KLIA. His personal secretary told me that Liong Sik was at a meeting, and I asked his personal secretary to convey my message to him, that he should cancel whatever meeting he was having and rush to KLIA as what had happened at the airport of the next century was a great disgrace and shame to Malaysia.
I do not know whether Liong Sik’s personal secretary conveyed the message to him, as I did not receive any call from him although I left my handphone number with her.
What happened at the KLIA cannot be described as "teething" problems, with passengers, proud to be using the KLIA for the first time, fuming at the total state of unpreparedness of the KLIA to start operations.
I understand that there are about 100 flights a day at the Subang International Airport, but these flights have been slashed down by more than half for the first day of operations of KLIA, but still, everything seems to have gone wrong, also resulting in flights delays. For instance, by 11.20 a.m., the earlier flight to Penang scheduled to leave at 9.40 a.m., had not left yet!
This was why I decided not to fly to Penang, and I would advise Malaysians to avoid using the KLIA in the next few days until the authorities concerned can give an assurance that they are ready start operations. I myself will avoid having to use the KLIA in the next few days if possible.
In fact, I call on the Prime Minister to suspend the operations of KLIA and to go back to use the Subang International Airport for all flights until KLIA can operate without hitches.
One fuming passenger told me that he was also at the first day of operations of the Changi International Airport, and he could even give me the date, i.e. lst July 1981, ( I do not know whether it is correct) and he said the Changi International Airport started operations smoothly without any hitches.
The first day of operations of KLIA is a symbol of Malaysia Tidak Boleh and a badge of shame and disgrace for Malaysia in the international arena.
The KLIA Berhad’s managing director, Datuk Jamilus Hussein should not have been awarded the Panglima Setia Mahkota (PSM) which carries the title of Tan Sri by the Yang di Pertuan Agong for his contributions in managing the construction of the RM9 billion airport project, until he could smoothly carry out the management and operations of the KLIA.
As it is, from being the pride of Malaysia, the RM9 billion airport of the century has been reduced into an international laughing stock in a matter of 24 hours!
I hope nobody would cause an outrage by trying to play down the monumental bungles at the KLIA today by dismissing them as "teething problems", for it is not "teething problems" when everything went wrong. It is not "teething problem" when planes cannot land for half an hour because of traffic control problems, when passengers are locked in the aircrafts because there are no ones to operate the aerobridges, when passengers have to wait for hours for their luggage, and then queue up for half an hour just to buy a taxi ticket and another two hours for a taxi.
For some unlucky passengers, this is not the end of their ordeal. On the way back to Petaling Jaya from KLIA, I saw six KLIA taxis broken down on the road-side, which means these unlucky passengers would have the further ordeal of being stranded on the highway for another hour to complete their KLIA Ordeal.