It would be fair to say that Islamabad Airport presents a picture of the current state of the country whose capital city it is named after. Actually, in the good old Pakistani tradition, it has been renamed by the current government as the Benazir Bhutto International Airport. If there is a change of government at the next election, it could be renamed as Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan Airport. Let’s wait and see.
This airport is main entry point for foreign visitors to enter Pakistan and gain their first impressions of the country and its people and where they breathe a sigh of relief when sitting in the departures lounge, having probably decided never to return.
When left the airport in my current home of Birmingham, checking in was the quickest and most orderly I had ever experienced. But, when leaving Pakistan I had decided to arrive in plenty of time; at least three hours recommended on my ticket. I had a bag full of books’ with plans to buy a couple more from the duty free shop. So the more time, the better. Sadly, in the end I was left with little reading time.
There were a number of flights leaving around the same time. Nothing unusual about that, given it’s an airport and an international one. But given it was built many decades ago, the staff and the systems (is there such a thing!) are unable to cope with the demands of today.
Anyway, I entered the airport and joined one queue after another. The place was crowded beyond limits, with passengers but also with staff, with their varying uniforms to, no doubt, denote different roles and status. Perhaps they will downsize when the new airport opens next year or find them real jobs within a proper system.
After at least a couple of hours of just standing around in a noisy environment, I did not know whether I would be finished in time to catch my plane, given all the queue jumping that was going on assisted by the airport’s employees. It was now that I began to get agitated. My friends and family will bear me out that it takes some doing to get me worked up like this. An airport employee, almost in the passing, had told me that I needed at least one, possibly two copies of my passport, duly verified by someone somewhere at the airport. I thought to myself why had I not been told about this before, especially as the practice had been in place for a few years. I thought they could have told me when I booked my ticket on the Internet, when the airline staff phoned me soon after I had booked my ticket or even when I was phoned in the village, twice, to be told the plane had been delayed. Why wait till now when I am three or four people away from being given my boarding pass? So, I said to the staff member that I was not now going to drag my suitcase and hand-luggage, heavily laden with my reading books, across to the other side of the airport so that I can photocopy my passport to satisfy some jobsworth. I said I would take my chance and see what happens when I reach the end of the queue. I thought they can photocopy my passport if they want to.
So the wait continued. A little while later, when I was probably two people from the end, the man behind me said that he also did not have copies of passport. By this time I had come off my the proverbial high horse. I said to him: “how about he keeps and eye on my luggage while I copy my passport and when I return I could watch his stuff so that he can do his copying?” He seemed a trusting sort, a big thing in such a low-trust environment of the airport and country generally. He gave me his passport and said that I could copy it for him and he would pay me. I took his passport and went away for a few minutes and got the job done. When I gave it to him he offered to compensate me for the cost incurred. I said “no worries” and refused to take the money. We didn’t really start up a conversation as happens with me often. We did not find out where we were from, where we were going, even our names. Just as I was about to go forward, I saw the man helping the lady behind him and then, refusing to take her money. Who knows she might have done the same for the person behind her and the little act of generosity -costing me 70 Rupees, 50 pence in English money , just enough to get on the bus for one stop- might have continued forever along the long line of passengers desperate to catch their plane!