THE Marsh Harbour International Airport, renamed the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport in 2014, is a national disgrace. Redeveloped at a cost of over $30m, its completion faced delay after delay. It was plagued by design flaws and cost overruns, though portions of it were ahead of their time. While critics pointed out vast unused spaces that would have to be air-conditioned and maintained, proponents of the design said it was built to satisfy future needs. So what if it were larger than it needed to be now, they said, when other airports were outgrowing their space, Marsh Harbour would just be growing into its.
The design is just one facet of a much greater problem.
The Leonard M Thompson airport, the third busiest in The Bahamas, is so dirty and so poorly maintained that if the hero it was named after could see it, he would turn over in his grave, push up the dirt and call for a re-naming until it was cleaned up.
Here, on a recent weekend, is what Tribune sources reported. Some of the report was accompanied by photographs.
The main departure lounge for both international and domestic flights was filthy. Candy wrappers, food, empty cups, chips, used snack packaging was on the seats and the floor. There were so many wrappers and pieces of trash it would be difficult to believe the area had been cleaned even once on that particular day. Three or four large black trash bags filled to the brim sat tied near an exit door in plain view, waiting for someone to cart them away. There was an attractive 700 Wines & Spirits display but apparently it had not opened yet so anyone wanting to buy spirits to take home had to do so from the store on the other side of security clearance and the gentleman working in the store would walk the goods through and hand them to the individuals who, despite not being able to carry more than 3.4 ounces of shampoo or toothpaste, could then hand-carry the rum or Kalik on the plane.
As for all the Bahamian stores that the airport pretended it would have, there was little more than promise offered. Yes, there was a shop that had a small selection of souvenirs, including Abaco Neem, the true pride of Abaco industry, along with Abaco ceramics. But most of the goods were the usual -- water, soda, snack food and t-shirts. Hardly a shopping mecca.
For the most part, the airport was eerily empty of enterprise. A few workers lounged in chairs in the ticketing area, their position best described as sprawling.
Two airport employees, one male, the other female, sat at the bar drinking. Though probably finished for the day and off-duty, they were still wearing their reflective sleeveless vests, a sight that could have been disconcerting for the average traveller unaccustomed to seeing airport staff possibly in charge of their safety sucking back beer and liquor.
The very competent gentleman behind the restaurant counter who handled money and food with equal opportunity sans gloves also had control of the TV. On one screen was a reasonable show, on the other, still photos which he changed from time to time of scantily clad seductive females, one that stayed on for a long time with stockings, garter belt and little more -- you get the picture.
But the worst offence was the men’s room.
One urinal was covered with a black garbage bag, obviously out of order. The other was so backed up that had someone used it, the splash-back would have sent him reeling. In the toilet compartment, water seeped onto the floor. The soap dispenser was empty and paper towel dispenser, designed to be hands-free, was loaded incorrectly and had to be cajoled into giving forth its gift of paper.
There was even trash in the alcove with the draping, photo and dedication to Leonard Thompson, a son of the Abaco soil who flew 25 combat missions in World War II until his bomber was shot down and he was captured by Germans in 1944, later released by Russians and went on to become one of the first aviation pioneers in The Bahamas.
Poor, dirty conditions at the airport were in contrast to so much of the islands of the Abacos from Treasure Cay to Green Turtle Cay to Hope Town on Elbow Cay where roads were beautifully maintained and you could drive for miles without seeing evidence of littering except near the Green Turtle Cay dump which is another issue for another day.
Abaco’s main airport is critical to the success of the Family Island in the northern Bahamas that has provided so much satisfaction to so many visitors, many of whom return year after year. There is no excuse good enough to explain away the bad condition of this newly renovated facility. A design audit is in order starting with the exterior where the drop-off area is too narrow. If a taxi unloading passengers and luggage fails to pull up as close as possible to the curb, a second vehicle cannot pass. The second floor where a new airport lounge has just opened is undergoing a re-design process, including the possibility of adding restrooms. But why were plans approved without restrooms on an entire floor of the airport in the first place?
In February, the government signed a technical assistance agreement with Vantage, the Vancouver-based company that manages Lynden Pindling International Airport under the NAD umbrella. Perhaps the new Member of Parliament for the Abacos, the Hon Darren Henfield, another proud son of the Abaco soil, can address how Vantage or NAD can assist in cleaning up what is now a national disgrace and an international embarrassment. After all, Mr. Henfield is also the Minister of Foreign Affairs and while the condition of a men’s room is not high on the list of foreign affairs issues, it can shape public opinion and flush business we pay millions to attract right down the toilet.