Sunday, June 9, 2024

The World’s Most Inhospitable International Airport

I have tended to make fun about our claim that we are unique. Truth be told, as I grow older and wiser, I am beginning to think that I may have been wrong all my life – I think we are indeed a unique country populated with an incomparable breed of unique humans. This realization began unravelling in me - one after the other - when I found myself completely lost at the Arrival area of Paro International Airport, yesterday.

Upon arriving at the airport bang at 11:00AM when the DrukAir flight on which my son was arriving from Bangkok, I got held up because the electronically operated gate that bars me entry into the Arrival area would not open.

The nonchalant woman inside the gate’s cubical looked at me blankly - even as I looked at her inquiringly - it was obvious that we were stuck. Sadly, energetic thinking is not in our unique nature - if it was, the woman could have let us pass through the Exit point located just behind her - which was wide open and inactive at that time of the day.

Even as a long queue of cars began to snake behind me, I noticed an officious looking man in Gho, with a name tag on a lanyard dangling from his neck approach the dysfunctional gate – as if he was on a leisurely stroll at the Park. But he did manage to lift the horizontal bar of the gate and we finally gained entry into the Arrival areas of the airport.

Problem 1:
The airport authorities have obviously failed to think of putting in place a suitable power back-up system, in the event of electrical/mechanical failure, which is not unusual.

Problem 2:
The fact that someone else is required to come to override the electronic circuitry every time there is a power failure can only mean that the woman manning the gate has not been suitably trained in the manual bypass operation of the gate.

Once inside, I tried to find out if the flight had landed. Everyone was clueless - I asked a number of people. I looked around and I was sure that all of the close to 100 people standing on their legs all over the open parking space - like they were pawns on a Chessboard - had any idea at all. And the reason? - the country’s one and only international airport DOES NOT HAVE A FLIGHT INFORMATION BOARD! As a result, you do not know if a flight has landed, if it is landing on schedule, if not what is the new ETA, if a flight is delayed or, if a flight is cancelled entirely.

All that you can do is - like the Maheng (water buffalo) in a famous Bhutanese parable - look up to the sky every time you hear a distant drone of an approaching aircraft.

Are we so pathetic? We do not have the decency to install an Information Board to keep our guests and visitors informed of the status of a flight. How much does it cost? How technologically complex is the process?

Are we proud to be able to force our visitors to pay four times the airfare they would have had to pay elsewhere - for the same flight hour and distance? And to what end? – to find themselves in a vortex of void and cluelessness?

For sure I think there may be some logic behind the concept of the imposition of SDF of US$100.00 per person per day. But if the tourists are already paying US$100.00 per person per day to be able to experience the sights and sounds of the Last Shangri-La, what is the logic behind asking them to pay additional fee of Nu.1,000.00 per person - to take a passing peek at Taktsang at the end of an arduous uphill trek of 3-4 hours? Isn’t Taktsang part of the sight for which they have already paid a daily Tax of US$100.00?

Coming back to the Arrival area of Paro International Airport - why is it not possible for the authorities to make it a little bit more hospitable? Why can’t they create a covered waiting area? Why can’t they put chairs for waiting people to sit on, as they wait? Why can’t they provide overhead roof – so that people who are waiting can be protected from scorching sun and lashing rain? Why aren’t there any toilets within easy reach?

Why can’t the authorities build a covered walkway for the tourists and the visitors – so that they can walk to their waiting transport under the cover of an overhead roof? How difficult is it to create these most basic amenities?

Doesn’t the alphabet “D” in the SDF stand for “development”? Wasn’t that imposed in order that we may develop, and improve things for the benefit of the visiting tourists, to make the country and our tourism infrastructure appear hospitable and welcome - to improve their experience? Doesn't SDF need justification?

Who is responsible – Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority? Department of Air Transport?, Paro Dzongkhag? Department of Tourism?, or Department of Immigration?

Is it possible that we can plead with the PDP government to consider allocating, at the most, one hundred thousandth of that famous Nu.15 billion ESP they keep dangling at us - to improve things at the Paro International Airport?

Talking of which ..... why aren’t the ABTO and the GAB taking up the issue with the authorities? Why is the lackadaisical attitude allowed to perpetuate for generations? For how long can we hope to continue to pull wool over the people’s eyes?



  1. Absolutely agreed Ata

  2. ABTO is now just a figure and I feel it really needs a change in management… whole staff has been there since its establishment … GAB can make some noise for their guide’s comfort .. but DoT is the main to provide such facilities

  3. I do totally agree with such truly practical issues la. These days GAB is under control and it’s in the hands of taxi drivers for Indian tourists la..what GAB could do when it is functional?

  4. Valid points sir

  5. The above mentioned organisation are not at all functional when it comes to doing productive and developmental work. They are as good as not being there at all.

  6. How difficult can it be to install a LED screen! Passengers pay airport tax, which is included in the air ticket.