Authorities rip passengers off under guise of hassle-free travel

  • Customs, CAA staff minting money from travellers as ‘facilitation charges’ at BBIA

ISLAMABAD: The customs and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) staff at Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) has started asking for ‘facilitation charges’ from international travellers promising preferential boarding at departures, foreign and local travellers from Australia, USA and UK confided in Pakistan Today.

The staff is reportedly taking advantage of overcrowding at the airport as there are a large number of international flights landing in quick succession and there is a complete lack of checks.

Ahmed Rehman, a Pakistani American residing in the USA, on his recent visit told Pakistan Today that back in September 2017, when he arrived at the airport to board his flight, he was immediately approached by a man in customs uniform offering his assistance for quick boarding without hassle.

“I asked him how much will it cost and he asked for $50. When I refused, he lowered the price to $30, however, I walked away and stood in the queue,” he said.

Ahmed regretted that this kind of behaviour was rampant everywhere. “I wonder what foreigners make of all this and what idea they would get of us as a nation because of a few rotten apples in our midst,” he concluded.

Usman Sadiq, a software engineer working in Australia for past three years, had a similar experience at BBIA. “They don’t spare anyone. Foreigners and locals are equally good if they are willing to pay the facilitation charges. Some people cough up money because they hate the hassle and wait. I guess it is mainly due to their encouragement that this practice is alive,” he said.

Sharing his personal experience, Sadiq said that many of his friends and acquaintances don’t mind bribing the staff. “They say it is a win-win as the staff gets some easy cash and they are spared the crushing wait time,” he added.

A Chinese national working in Pakistan, on condition of anonymity, said that during his last visit to China, as he entered the lounge, he was politely approached by a staff member who offered him ‘facilitation services’. “I was surprised that this man was offering me his services for a price so candidly and in front of so many people. He asked for 100 yuan and agreed to reduce them. However, I had no intention to avail his services, so I plainly refused,” he said.

Authorities at CAA are of the view that since the porters were hired, retained and fired by a third party, the CAA has been receiving complaints from the passengers. It was learnt that CAA is mulling over a plan to hire a single contractor to provide all the allied services like porters, baggage handling, janitors etc. to ensure strict check and balance.

It is pertinent to mention that Benazir Bhutto International Airport is all set to hand over the baton to Islamabad International Airport on April 20. The staff, including technical, administrative, security and porters, has already started to report to the new airport.

It is yet to be seen whether the customs department and CAA will bring their notorious and shameful practices to the new airport or will they turn over a new leaf.