Penang airport operator blames airlines for congestion

Penang International Airport senior manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim says there are 61 check-in counters but not all are staffed even during peak hours. (File pic)

GEORGE TOWN: The operator of Penang International Airport (PIA) today dismissed claims by an airline that the airport has become too congested because of poor design.

PIA senior manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim said the congestion was due to the airlines’ lack of staff and poorly managed check-in and baggage drop-off systems.

“PIA has a total of 61 check-in counters and out of these, more than 30 are dedicated to the local airlines operating there.

“However, our daily observation shows that not all are staffed, even during the daily peak period between 11am and 1pm.

“Usually only about 70% (of the check-in counters) are being utilised due to insufficient manpower resources by the airlines. No doubt, this can lead to long queues,” he said in a statement.

Recently, aviation hospitality consultant Jeremy Clark posted a video of a queue at the AirAsia check-in counter that stretched almost three-quarters the length of the entire terminal.

This led to AirAsia issuing a travel advisory, asking its passengers to go to the airport early and to do their check-in online.

AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes said the situation was likely caused by the airport’s poor design, calling the terminal “horrible”.

“Something has to be done with airports. Penang a mess and over-crowded. Kota Kinabalu full and an empty beautiful terminal 2. KLIA well we all know about that. And the management of Malaysian Airports,” Fernandes tweeted.

Nadzim said while PIA was sufficiently equipped to handle passenger check-ins, the airlines must ensure that their self-check-in kiosks and self-baggage drop (SBD) facilities were working to reduce the queues.

“Checks in the last two days have shown that at least two of the self-check-in kiosks provided by the airlines are not operational and, in fact, some SBD counters have also been used as manual counters due to lack of staff to guide passengers on how to use the facility,” he said.

He said the airport management was working closely with stakeholders to improve travellers’ experience at the terminal.

He cited as an example the immigration arrival counters which were relocated on July 15 for quicker clearance.

In the meantime, Nadzim said Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad, the airport operators, had submitted plans to the Penang Island City Council to upgrade the airport.

“Construction work is expected to start in the first quarter of 2020 and the first phase of the expansion to a capacity of 12 million passengers per annum will take three years to complete,” he said.