Dubai: The mention of airports conjures up a range of feelings for different people. Excitement, anticipation, curiosity, tension.
Some travellers find themselves out of their comfort zone in airports and the distraction often ends up in lost baggage, missing children, or even a depleted pocket.
Airports literally operate on a whole different plane and customer service is the foremost requisite to ensure that day-to-day operations go smoothly.
The award-winning Dubai International prides itself, among other things, on its unique customer service.
Handling over 50 million passengers each year, it ranks as one of the busiest in the world and requires an efficient immigration department to handle the heavy load of passengers travelling by more than 80 different airlines in the hope of getting to their homes, hotels or workplaces in quick time.
Keeping this in mind, the airport has installed 40 passport control desks at Terminal 1 and 52 at the new Terminal 3. They are managed by specially trained staff who offer top-drawer services to the record numbers of passengers lining up at the immigration counters.
The airport is seventh busiest in the world by passenger traffic and the fourth busiest by international passenger traffic.
Given the flow of passengers, the immigration officials of the General Department for Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) in Dubai are the unsung heroes of the airport as they efficiently ensure a swift and smooth arrival process.
Officers at the Residency and Foreigners Affairs section at Dubai airport said they have instructions from Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri, director general of the GDRFA, to receive and see off visitors in the UAE with a smile and kind words.
The GDRFA staff at the airport make it a priority to make every process a breeze for travellers.
“For women wearing veil, we have set up special rooms if we have to compare their face with their photos in their passport at the passport control,” said Major Yousuf Mousa, acting director of Terminal 1 and head of coordination and follow-up of GDRFA at terminal 1.
There are counters for special needs people at the arrival and departure lounges, he added. “The special needs counter is the first of it is kind in the Middle East,” he said,
Before entering the departure gates and passport control, the GDRFA has set up a special information office where people can finalise any issues related to their travel. “If they want to cancel visa for domestic helpers, pay fines, cancel any visa or if they need any services related to GDRFA the passengers can finish it before they enter the passport control gate,” said warrant officer Saud Hussain.
“At the information counter we try to solve all the travellers’ issues,” he said.
This saves time for passengers, the airlines and the airport staff.
“If we see families, or mothers with children, we try to direct them to the less busy counter,” Major Mousa said.
“We are aware that people have limited time in which they have to complete the needed passport control processes, so we do our best to complete the process to travel or to enter the country in a very short period of time,” he said.
“At T1 we work around the clock in four shifts with each shift manned by 50 officers to offer services to the public,” he said.
He added that the airport is busy through the year, particularly during festivals and religious occasions.
“We offer special help to people with families and children and also for people with special needs. As for old people, our staff will guide them to the fast-track section,” he said.
Major Mousa said an egate facility will be operational very soon for special needs people.
Terminal 3 is to be officially inaugurated by January next year and will boast the capacity to handle 19 million passengers annually. The new Dh12-billion Emirates airline terminal is set to open in January.
“At the passengers check gate we deal with passengers in a civilised manner and pay them due respect, said First Lieutenant Ebrahim Shahdadi, in charge of duty officers at T3.
The new terminal can accommodate 20 A-380 aircraft. The terminal extends above the ground under a metal shell to accommodate 20 aircraft, with the lower and upper levels of Concourse 3 connected by means of a special vertical transportation system (Sky Train).
Major General Al Merri said the latest egate system installed at the airport will serve to speed up and simplify the immigration process at entry and exit points, with smart gates provided for people with special needs.
“We are trying to make all possible efforts to achieve 100 per cent passenger satisfaction,” he said.
Major General Al Merri said that two gateways have been activated on an experimental basis ahead of the formal activation of 12 new gateways in the new concourse.
Terminal 3 offers visitors a comprehensive customer service centre that offers residency and naturalisation services around the clock, seven days a week. “This centre is open to the public and will receive all residency and naturalisation-related transactions and issues around the clock during the seven days of the week,” Major Al Merri told Gulf News.
The centre offers residency services, visit visa services, amendments of statutes, entry permits, fine settlement, domestic helper visas, cancellations, and other services offered at the headquarters.
He said that services offered at the centre include banking, typing, ID typing, and egate processing. At least 15 officers from the residency department are always at hand to assist people.
“This service will be done in less than 20 minutes,” Major Al Merri said. People can also visit the centre to extend visit visas or to pay fines. Emiratis can renew their passports at the centre.
The centre can also help people who have their residency issued from another emirate. “People who have their residency issued from other emirates, we can help them in some services such as cancelation,” he said.
“This centre is open around the clock to help the public. In the past some people have had their travel plans cancelled due to visa or residency problems but since this centre opened last year it has helped sort out 99 per cent of the travellers’ problems,” he said.
First Lieutenant Ebrahim Shahdadi observed: “We assign officers at the airport who can speak different languages to easily communicate with the public and to welcome people individually. We want people to be satisfied and comfortable.”
“Sometimes people have issues with their passports which may have expired, or with expired visas. We try our best to help people avoid legal issues,” he said. “We are trying to offer the fastest and best service to the public,” he said,
Abdullah Qanber, an immigration officer at Terminal 3, said speedy service is the buzzword.
Frequent travellers passing via Dubai International Airport do not need to wait in a queue to get their passport stamped, with an eGate card enabling them to complete due process in 5-10 seconds.
The eGate Card facilitates immigration procedures at Dubai Airport.
The new Smart e-Gate System installed across the immigration entry and exit points at Dubai International is easy, quick and efficient.
The new system obviates the need for prior user registration with GDRFA unlike the current eGate card, Shahdadi said. The new system quickly scans and reads passport information, captures biometric data, including facial recognition and retinal scans with the aid of high-accuracy cameras.
The system then tries to match the captured biometrics of the traveller with the passport information. All these procedures are completed within 12 to 14 seconds, while also maintaining a high level of accuracy and security standards.