Long Lines, Chaos Still Regular Feature Of Saipan Airport

Marianas Visitors Authority at a loss over who can solve the problem

By Junhan B. Todiño

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 27, 2017) – There are still long lines in the arrival area at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport and no solution has been implemented, Marianas Visitors Authority board vice chairman Vincent M. Calvo said on Wednesday.

“We can’t figure out who to approach to make a solution a reality,” he added.

Calvo, who presided over an MVA board meeting on Wednesday, said the airport authorities should come up with a master plan to address all the issues at the airport, adding that there’s a need to upgrade it to accommodate the needs of passengers.

MVA board member Chris Nelson said there is disorder in the area where newly arrived passengers have to wait before approaching the immigration counter.

“The human touch is not there,” he told the board, referring to some ground handlers who, he said, are treating passengers like they’re leading cattle.

He recounted his experience when he arrived from Seoul, South Korea, adding that the other newly arrived passengers seemed confused in the waiting area because the immigration station was empty and the line of people was not moving.

MVA Managing Director Chris Concepcion said there’s some progress in the waiting area with the installation of three television sets, water dispensers and some chairs.

“But it’s still not ideal,” he said, adding that long lines at the immigration counters remain a major concern.

He is hoping that the airport will soon be able to purchase four automated passport control machines which MVA is funding.

MVA board member Jerry Tan said MVA management should sit down with ground handling operators at the airport to work on the problem.

“We are not sure if everybody really knows what they are supposed to do,” he said.

He said the problems in the waiting area can be minimized if proper signs are installed to guide passengers.

U.S. passport holders are separately processed, Tan said, but added that some Chinese tourists on the CNMI visa-waiver program or parole-in-place end up on the line for U.S. citizens.

“Everybody’s cutting into lines and the ground handlers are losing control because you can’t deal with 20 Chinese who jump into the line at the same time,” he added.

Tan said the airport should install signs indicating the lines for U.S. citizens, green card holders, H visa holders, L visa holders, CW permit holders, those with Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA, and those on the visa-waiver program.

“There’s chaos because they don’t know there’s another line,” he said.

He said ground handlers should not wait until an immigration waiting line is empty before allowing other passengers to move forward.

Concepcion told the MVA board that he has asked the Commonwealth Ports Authority to put up signs to help control the crowd in the waiting area.

“Apparently, they’re not done yet. They are too slow. I think we need to do it,” he said, adding they could provide the signs and just ask CPA to install them.

Concepcion said the MVA management will also try to meet with ground handlers to discuss possible solutions to the problem.

Nelson said perhaps they can hire a crowd-control specialist who can help ease and smooth the situation.

In an interview, Tan said he agrees with Calvo’s suggestion about upgrading the airport facilities.

He said the tourism industry is picking up, and a master plan is needed to address the needs of a recovering economy.

CPA needs to deal with the problems at the airport and find ways to address them, he added.

But Tan said the problems at the Saipan airport could be partially attributed to airport congestion worldwide, especially in China.

He said CPA has no control over airlines.

“That crowd will always be there no matter what — we can’t control the weather or the congestion, but we can control the crowd by installing helpful signs,” he added.

CPA earlier asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire more screeners for the Saipan airport.

A CBP official said they were actively recruiting new officers to work here, but added that there was “no quick solution, as training for CBP officers could take up to two years.”

A lateral transfer of CBP officers is also difficult, the official said, “as most do not want to move here — and if they have a family, that can be very costly.”

Marianas Variety
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