Kazakh airport returns seats after passenger protest

Almaty Airport forecourt, Kazakhstan Image copyright Russavia/Wikimedia Commons
Image caption Almaty is the country's main international hub

Passenger power has persuaded an airport in Kazakhstan to put back seating it had removed from public areas.

The story broke when Irina Smirnova, a Kazakh MP, complained about conditions at the airport on her Facebook account, illustrating her post with photographs of weary passengers sitting on their luggage for a lack of somewhere to sit on the concourse.

"Here's something new at Almaty Airport. They've removed the seating from the public area. And they say it's a world-class airport. I don't know. I've visited many countries, and they all have seating. What if your flight's delayed? Where's the customer service? Where's the common sense?... And by the way, there's still seating in the VIP lounge," Ms Smirnova wrote.

The news prompted a mixture of surprise and anger, and soon made its way into the national media.

'Dirty socks'

The beleaguered airport acknowledged that "there are people unhappy with this", and sent out its press secretary, Natalya Sokolova, to explain its position.

"Yes, we have removed seating, but only in the public areas of the ground and first floors. Anyone can access these areas - not just passengers and those accompanying them, but taxi drivers and homeless people, about whom we frequently receive complaints. Men have been lying about in dirty socks," she said, as reported by the Nur.kz news portal.

Image copyright Irina Smirnova/Facebook
Image caption Irina Smirnova's post drove online protests

The airport's insistence that this is "international practice" drew particular online ire.

Many Facebook comments agreed with Ms Smirnova that airports abroad have ample seating, and those that don't at least have plenty of cafes nearby - "even if you have to pay to sit".

One reader posted a photograph of comfortable loungers at Istanbul airport for transit passengers to sleep, and many wondered about provision for the disabled.

The specific point about homelessness irked others.

"I've never seen homeless people at the airport," wrote one member of the public, who suggested that the airport might consider providing a shelter for them if this was such a problem.

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It took a day of this barracking before the airport gave in.

"We have assessed the public reaction, and some of the seating will be put back in place - primarily for passengers with children and the elderly.

"The airport management is deciding how much seating to return, but there will be enough for these priority passengers," its press service said, according to the Tengrinews site.

'Carpets in a yurt'

The airport was at pains to point out that there was always seating in the check-in area after passport control - not to mention the departure lounge - for actual passengers, and urged customers to check-in online to avoid waiting around on the airport concourse.

"We are looking at other options to maximise your comfort, such as increasing the size of the check-in zone," the press service reassured the public.

One Facebook commentator made the positive suggestion that the airport should learn from Kazakh nomadic tradition by "laying down carpets, like in a yurt".

Image copyright Almaty International Airport/YouTube
Image caption Seating never used to be a problem

Reporting by Azim Rakhimov and Martin Morgan

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