Bridging the Gulf between information and intrusion
Anna Healy Fenton
A passenger catching a Gulf Air flight in Manila recently was asked pointedly by the check-in clerk how much cash she was carrying and what her job was. This was just prior to the male clerk telling her how much she owed in excess baggage for her overweight suitcase.
She said he became angry when, instead of paying up, she gave the excess to her brother to take home. The passenger, a Filipina domestic helper, had listened closely as a British couple checked in ahead of her and noted they were not asked about their occupations or wallet contents.
So Gulf Air was asked if they were aware that passengers were quizzed in this intrusive way and since unpleasant conclusions could be drawn from this line of questioning, if not authorised, what did the airline plan to do about it?
The answer came back that Gulf's check-in in Manila is done by ground handling staff, run by independent operators.
'But these questions are often linked to visa and entry requirements in Gulf countries and India,' Gulf replied. 'They often want to know that you will have enough money to get back out of the country and are not intending to immigrate illegally.'
This was all irrelevant, since the passenger was on the return leg of a flight to London via Abu Dhabi, and not bound for a Gulf state.
More information was requested. After several weeks of silence, Gulf Air was reminded that an explanation was still owed. 'They [the ground handlers] haven't yet come back to me,' the spokeswoman replied, adding that she was 'not sure that there is any merit in the story'.
It was suggested that this was a matter of opinion. Eventually came a statement. 'We might expect such questions to be asked by immigration officials but never by agency ground staff that run Gulf Air's check-in facilities,' it said. 'We demand that any person who flies Gulf Air is treated with the utmost courtesy and respect by our staff and by staff serving Gulf Air as an agency.'
They said they would like to investigate the case. 'And if we find that the lady was not treated appropriately by the agency ground staff, we would like to apologise to her personally.'
That's as it should be but unfortunately, this is not the first report of staff at Manila Airport asking passengers inappropriate questions about money.
Seasoned travellers would no doubt refuse to answer but infrequent flyers such as overseas workers could easily be intimidated by a uniformed airport official and are therefore much more vulnerable.
Co-founder of online hotel bookers www.asia-hotels.com Jon Stoneham is sailing off on a six-month sabbatical next month.
After being bought by giant online travel portal Cendant last year, Mr Stoneham, who stayed on to run the business, will try to add to the 110 countries he has already visited when he, wife Sandra and daughters Nicola, four, and Alex, six, set off on a Tayana 47-foot yacht in April.
'It's 12 years old - big and slow - like me,' he laughs. The plan is to be 'gypsies around Asia' from Hong Kong to the Philippines to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and back again.
And before anyone asks, the inveterate reviewer won't be inspecting any hotels - 'except for moorings'.
filling the rooms
The year got off to a flying start for Hong Kong's hotels with average room occupancies of 85.4 per cent for January and last month combined, up 4 per cent from 81.4 per cent last year, according to the Hong Kong Hotels Association.
Average room rates reached $907 for the first two months, compared with $822 last year, a gain of 10.4 per cent. This raised average yields to $775 per room from $669 last year, an increase of 15.9 per cent.
The average occupancy for last month alone recorded occupancies of 85.3 per cent, compared with 75.9 per cent last year, even though Lunar New Year fell in February last year. Average room rate for last month was $860 compared with $758 last year, up 13.6 per cent. This took last month's yields to $734 from $575, up 27.6 per cent on last year.