By the end of 2017 the new King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah is expected to be operational. Today it’s about 80 percent complete and will cover 105 square kilometers when it opens to travelers. Even before its official opening, the airport has won engineering awards for its forward thinking to handle an estimated 80 million passenger annually. This could be exciting for Saudis who take pride in the Kingdom’s architectural and engineering feats. And no doubt the airport’s design and infrastructure will live up to those expectations. But before we puff up our chests and establish bragging rights in airport technology, we must keep in mind the limitations we face in executing and maintaining such large operations. A case in point would be the recent string of disappointments airline passengers have faced at the south international terminal at Jeddah’s airport. Certainly air travelers are expected to come face to face with Murphy’s Law while navigating airports: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. But for the Jeddah Airport’s international terminal Murphy’s Law is not a cynical adage, but apparently it’s embraced as policy by airport officials. A recent string of mishaps at the international terminal has passengers fuming and airport staff without adequate answers. Passengers recently returning from Sharm El-Sheikh reported that they waited 30 minutes inside the plane without air-conditioning before steps arrived to allow them to disembark and board the buses for the terminal. Once inside the terminal, passengers were greeted with an awful smell. They then waited in the baggage area for more than two hours for their luggage on the belt. Flights from Istanbul, Dubai and Sharm El-Sheikh shared the same belt as up to 400 passengers jammed into the area. Worse, the belt would start delivering luggage, then stop for lengthy periods before resuming and then stopping again. All information screens were off, forcing passengers to guess, which belt their baggage would be. No staff members provided information or updates to passenger and the available staff members simply told angry travelers that they didn’t have enough staff to offload the baggage in a timely manner. Let’s face it, these things happen all the time in airports, but are generally isolated. Yet at Jeddah’s airport customer service problems are chronic. Airport management has demonstrated fairly routinely that it’s ill-equipped to handle crises, employee shortages, power outages and occasional flooding. Over the years Charles de Gaulle Airport in France has been plagued by strikes, yet travelers are often unaware of manpower shortage because airport officials have contingency plans in place for such interruptions. Heathrow Airport in London may be less effective, but idle passengers waiting hours for their luggage or to board planes are not chronic problems. Even Sharm El-Sheikh airport has done well. One passenger reported the airport to be clean, fully staffed and even had personnel to summon taxis for travelers leaving the terminal. These issues are not about airport budgets, but management, control, accountability and supervision. What plans do airport officials have in place in the case of an emergency? Staff shortages hardly seem excusable when travelers are waiting as long as two-and-half hours to retrieve their luggage or sit in a stifling plane as workers locate and then move steps to the aircraft for passengers to disembark. Saudi Arabia has demonstrated over the decades that it builds fine structures, complexes and technologically advanced university campuses. Most of the work stands up against the finest examples of architecture and infrastructure in the West. Yet we often fail to properly maintain that infrastructure because we can’t find qualified people to fill basic maintenance supervision and schedules. We have not learned basic management problem-solving techniques to deal with staff shortages or technical failures. It’s almost as if the customer is dropped to the lowest priority as managers scramble to correct a problem that should have been anticipated weeks if not months in advance. The problems at the Jeddah Airport’s international terminal are not exclusive to the airport, but is a countrywide problem. In hospitals, for example, sophisticated equipment designed to save lives gather dust in storage rooms because there are no qualified personnel to operate or maintain them. By the same token it doesn’t matter if we have the most technologically advanced airport in the world if we can’t solve simple issues of personnel and equipment failures.