Step One for Bringing Kuwait International Airport to International Status: Reform the Airport Visa Office


A country’s true level of modernization and development is most often measured not by the height of towers in the skyline or the width of its superhighways, but rather in simpler measures: how long and how many steps does it take to get things done?

Unfortunately, if we are talking about the steps it takes for international businesspersons and tourists coming into Kuwait to firstly understand the procedures to exit the airport and then to undertake them, Kuwait’s performance is abysmal.

Kuwaitis, on an individual level, pride themselves on welcoming people and receiving guests into their homes with open arms and with the highest detail of care. An analogy can be drawn to the importance of airports as institutions of reception into a country. One would not welcome their guests into the house through the backdoor or leave them waiting. Why should the airport be the same?

To give an idea of what happens once passengers arrive, foreigners holding passports that allow them to get their visa directly at the airport are given no indication on how to do so. There are no signs directing passengers smoothly from terminal, to the visa office and lastly through baggage claim and customs.

In fact, in most airports it is typical that luggage is claimed first, thus the natural logic of passengers is to proceed first to baggage claims, upon which they must instead go upstairs to the discreet corner where the visa desk is located. If they are lucky, they will find someone to help them understand this procedure, which is in no way logically obvious, however there is no one necessarily in charge of redirecting passengers.

The visa section requires that applicants pick up a sheet up paper to fill out located on the desk, take a number from an automated machine, and give their passport to a man who makes a photocopy. They must also present upon arrival the visa fee in Kuwaiti Dinars.

Many times, the visa officers give attitude to those who ask questions about what they need to do. However, it has never occurred to the airport staff to put a sign with all these different requirements in different languages before the desk.

Secondly, many visitors, once their number is called, have not yet picked up the form out of pure ignorance about the fact that one is needed. And why can´t this half-sheet form be distributed during the flight by the cabin crew to save time and explanations, as is policy in many countries?

The waiting time to be attended has never taken under and hour for me, often more time than the duration of my flight. I can never predict at what time to tell my colleagues to pick me up, because it is completely unpredictable. This is not how Kuwait´s premiere international transportation hub should function.

The biggest crack-line in the system is that as visitors are held up in the visa office, this means that their luggage on the conveyer belt goes unmonitored for up to hours at a time.
It is tossed aside in various corners of the airport baggage area.

One of the times that I flew into Kuwait, I had to wait 75 minutes in the visa office. I was nervous about my luggage being unattended for so long. Sure enough, even though my luggage was confirmed later by my airline company as having gotten on the direct flight to Kuwait, it was lost and to this day has never been recuperated.

Although I have no way to verify this, I can only deduce that it was lost or stolen from the Kuwait baggage area. Again, in many countries, baggage taken out of the airport is screened at customs to make sure the baggage ticket matches with the identity of the person. Why not Kuwait? And why do visitors have to wait to pick up their luggage in the first place. It would clear up space, save time and be more secure if it could be done before.

The inherent issue is not to figure out how to fix these “leaks” but rather a more existential question on the purpose of this visa desk in the first place. The desk has about a half dozen seats for officers, however, only a few of these are ever occupied at a time. Other countries in the region, such as Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon allow you to pass customs and take the visa at the same time, in an efficient, timely, and most importantly a professional and business-friendly manner.

Many people and businesses in Kuwait pay large sums of money to have an escort accompany a passenger from the airplane to customs, bypassing the delays and tribulations of the visa procedure. Thus, a lucrative business would surely be threatened if procedures were streamlined, however in order for Kuwait to modernize its airport, it will have to simplify this bottleneck.

Airports are the first impression from which several observations are drawn by visitors, for better or worse. Ideas of how friendly a country is, conducive to good business, and its overall professionalism are based on these first marked experiences. The airport is undergoing fundamental expansion efforts with new construction projects, how in bureaucratic procedures, the airport is in dire need of reduction and transformation. People will remember the airport mostly by how they are treated, not by its facades.

1 Response on "Step One for Bringing Kuwait International Airport to International Status: Reform the Airport Visa Office"

  1. ...the words right out of my mouth!

    Hope all's well.