"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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User Name: TARIQA
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Some things just don’t change

Tariq A. Al-Maeena

I remember watching the visit of King Abdullah to the Jeddah Airport directorate a few years ago on state TV. He was there to review the plans in progress to turn this pitiful airport into a state-of-the-art facility that would welcome guests from the world over. I also seem to recollect that when asked point-blank as to when this project would be completed, the airport director confidently replied, “by 2012”.

Unless my calendar is wrong, 2012 is history. And if my eyes aren’t deceiving me, the improvement that has been done to the airport facilities does not warrant justifying such self-assured comments by yet another civil servant who has failed to meet targets and expectations. I do not know where the director is today, but I do know from personal experience that facilities and services at the airport continue to lag behind most of the airports found in Third World countries.

Along that theme, I received an email from one such visitor to our airport who had another issue to complain about. He writes: “As-Salam Alaikum. I am an 18-year-old Indian student currently living in Dubai with my parents and two siblings.

“Until 2005 we were residents of Saudi Arabia. So we are quite familiar with life in the Kingdom. We still make visits occasionally for Umrah, and usually, it is not a very memorable experience, considering all the hassles.

“Excessive charges for taxi fares and hotel rooms are nothing new. However, on the most recent trip my parents made, something really shocking happened.

“Every visitor who makes a pilgrimage trip usually returns with souvenirs, chief among them naturally being Zamzam water.  For years, stacks of sturdy jerry cans filled with water near the check-in counters had been a common sight at Jeddah Airport. For added safety, most people would seal and wrap them in plastic.

“However, this time, my parents noticed that these were ‘not allowed’.

“Instead, there were 10-liter plastic bottles kept inside cardboard boxes being sold for SR17 at the airport and the jerry cans that people brought with them from their personal pilgrimage to the holy city, which were painstakingly filled with Zamzam water, were just being thrown away. The reason given was that the jerry cans were not safe for air travel, and that these plastic bottles being sold at the airport were suitable.

“I cannot imagine how anybody can call these bottles ‘approved for air travel’. They are made of thin plastic, the same material used for the 1.5-liter bottles sold in grocery shops, and are kept in cardboard boxes, with a picture of an airplane, and a tick mark next to it. My parents report that several such bottles in their cartons belonging to other passengers were broken by the time they were collected at the baggage claim, and that they were just lucky that the two they had bought had survived the flight.

“When they got home, I inspected the bottles myself. Imagine the shock when it was printed, on the bottle itself, in clear English and Arabic “NOT SUITABLE FOR AIR TRAVEL”. It makes me extremely sad and angry that something like Zamzam is being used to exploit pilgrims in this manner, by people in charge of visitors to the holiest sites in Islam.

“I have lived in the Middle East nearly all my life, and I am very well aware and appreciative of the manners and hospitality of Saudis and Arabs in general. But if incidents like this continue to flourish at places like Saudi airports, then I don’t know what description of Saudi Arabia people are going to give to others who haven’t been here. Regards, Nabeel H.”

Is this a scam? Just who is the beneficiary of the sale of these cheap containers filled with Zamzam water to unsuspecting visitors? It is an obvious blatant act of deception and one that must be immediately addressed by the airport authorities.

Here is one passenger who took the time to bring to our attention an issue he contends is harming our reputation.

How many more such passengers have chosen to be quiet or to share their displeasure with various other experiences at our airports with friends and family?  It is no secret that Saudi Arabian airports have never ranked high on any of the respected global airport ranking surveys, and yet we continue to hear almost daily from pompous public service officials about how progress is being made in this sector.

If that is indeed the case and I am proved wrong, then I along with thousands of other travelers need to visit an eye doctor.

– The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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