President Halimah visits Changi Airport front-line workers for first time since Covid-19 pandemic struck

President Halimah Yacob visited Changi Airport on April 22, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Since Singapore relaxed its Covid-19 border measures on April 1, airport worker Mr Koh, who wanted to be known only by his last name, has been under pressure.

His job is to direct incoming passengers to taxis that will take them to the city centre. But with more people now arriving at the airport, waiting time can now go up to 45 minutes.

Efforts by the airport to incentivise cabbies to make the trip east have not been especially successful, he said, with not enough taxis responding to financial perks and even free coffee.

The 52-year-old said he and his co-workers are sometimes at a loss as to what to do. Travellers get impatient.

"They get unhappy and we feel bad. Sometimes there are those who are in wheelchairs or parents pushing their babies in strollers. They have to wait too after their long flights," he said.

Mr Koh is one of the many workers President Halimah Yacob spoke to at Changi Airport on Friday (April 22). This is her first time visiting airport front-line workers since the pandemic struck.

Passenger movements at the airport crossed one million people a month for the first time in two years last month.

On Friday, Singapore announced a further easing of its travel restrictions, with the removal of pre-departure tests for entry likely to give a further boost to the now recovering Changi Airport.

Madam Halimah met immigration officers, those manning goods and services tax refund stations and others to find out their concerns about the transition, as well as their experience over the past two years.

She said she came away with an overwhelming sense that people are optimistic, and that employees are excited now that they will have more work.

"The morale is really high. So you know, that's really good for the airport, the sense of optimism, hope and the desire to make sure that we do well as an air hub," she said.

"They have to make sure they provide seamless, safe travel for our passengers now that the borders are open to those who are vaccinated, and they have done wonderfully through the different stages."

She also praised Changi Airport for leveraging technology to introduce the virtual Changi Experience Ambassador during the airport's downtime last year.

The on-screen customer service allows users to select a language to then communicate with an off-site officer using a touch-screen display.

Madam Halimah said this helps a great deal on two levels - "you make sure that you optimise the use of manpower resources. The other one is, of course, when you interact in that manner, you minimise the potential for infection".

With passenger traffic now at 31 per cent of the pre-pandemic volume, airport workers who were previously redeployed elsewhere have now returned to their original stations.

An 80-year-old cleaner, who declined to be named, said she had been told previously to rest for six months before she was moved to clean Paya Lebar Quarter. Her team was brought back to Changi Airport just at the start of this month.

She is glad that the airport has reopened, although she said it does not matter much to her which venue she is cleaning. "Work is work for us. I am just glad that we can now return to slightly normal."

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