Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

About two weeks ago, a report was issued that classified world's airports into different categories.

In that report, Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International Airport was ranked one of the worst airports in the world due to its lack of services.

Allow me to clarify one thing that the report in question is not prepared by any credible or official aviation or consulting agency. It is prepared by a blogger and is based on the experiences shared by travelers.

In any case, the relevant officials should look into the matter closely and do something to change the perception of our airports.

Ironically, just a few decades ago, Saudi Arabia was one of those few countries, which had three international airports, in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran, and about 20 airports to handle domestic flights.

There was a time when all the three Saudi international airports enjoyed a great reputation worldwide in terms of efficiency, passenger satisfaction, and speed of check-in and entry process. Most importantly Saudi airports were known to be the most secured airports in the world.

Around 39 years ago, when Saudi Arabia had three international airports, countries like China and the former Soviet Union each had only one international airport - in Beijing and Moscow respectively.

Saudi airports were the largest in the Middle East and Saudi Airline had the largest fleet of modern aircraft of different sizes and models.

Until recently, Dhahran International Airport was a main hub for travelers from all the Gulf states to be connected to Europe and the United States through direct flights.

Also, as far back as 1959 Dhahran airport was known to be one of the few major hubs for flights boarded by passengers from the Middle East for the United States and other destinations. So what has happened, now? Why do Saudi airports get the lowest ratings?

Passengers always look for ease and comfort when traveling through an airport — clean and efficient facilities, frequency of flights, comfortable waiting areas, professional staff at the luggage handling and ticketing counters, well-behaved customs officers, passport control personnel and safety procedures that ensure safe departure and smooth arrival.

In other words, an airport is an area that needs strong coordination among many people from different agencies. Saudi airports had all the means to beat all airports around the world.

The Saudi government had spent billions of riyals to build new airports, new terminals and to upgrade existing airports and the related facilities. But, what we need the most are trained personnel to deal with people of different nationalities.

Airport officials are supposed to deal with all kinds of passengers in a courteous manner and to help resolve their issues.

Due to religious tourism, Saudi airports have to deal with a huge number of passengers on a daily basis. But somehow we lag behind other countries when it comes to customer (in this case passenger) satisfaction.

Our airports don't only need to upgrade their infrastructure but there is a great need to improve the overall operations. Thanks to the new technology, we can achieve great results with proper planning and effective management.

It is no secret that an airport could prove to be a huge source of income. In addition to that it creates a positive or negative image of the country in the minds of travelers.

Airports are open billboard for public relations for countries around the world.

We should focus on improving the quality of service at Saudi airports.

Women should not only be hired for the passport control department but they should be encouraged to work in other areas as well.

Women are always more patient and more willing to extend a helping hand. Nowadays people around the Kingdom and especially in Jeddah are waiting for a new airport.

In terms of infrastructure, the new airport will be one of its kind but there is a great need to focus on the quality of service and other facilities.

Without improving the service quality, such huge infrastructure will be of no use.

We have more than 20 airports all over the Kingdom and it is important to manage these airports in better and more efficient ways.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Saudi Airports Need Better Management reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.