On our way back from Genting, we were stuck in the jam at Singapore customs for almost 3 hrs. We left Malaysia customs at 10pm (that took less than 30mins) and only cleared Sg customs at 1am. The long queue was expected cos it was National day long weekend. But what I didn't expect was the lousy service at Tuas checkpoint.
I was with MIL and RaeAnne and we queued rather long for the automated counter. The first one we were queuing for broke down so the roving officer asked us to join other queues. Never mind, when it was finally my turn, the same roving officer asked her superior, "How? If she is with a child?" And her unsympathetic officer just said kids cannot go through automated and asked me to go to manual counter. I told him I have already queued for the automated counters and I am not going to requeue. And he just insisted that I have to requeue and waved me away.
My grouses are :
1) There was ABSOLUTELY no signage to inform that children cannot use automated counters. Plus RaeAnne can walk and has her own passport, why can't she use the automated counter?
2) There are roving officers but they are only stationed right in front of the counters. I mean what's the point? You should station someone before he or she joins the queue. Why make someone queue for such a long time only to wave them away when it's their turn? After all, even at manual counters, we can carry our kids to clear customs. If kids cannot use automated counters, at least say so right in the beginning.
3) The roving officer did not use any initiative to 'scan and pick out'. With the 2.5 years old who was running about despite my reminder to stay in queue, we were pretty obvious. Why didn't she tell us to use the manual counter when she told us that the first automated gate was spoilt? She herself did not know how to handle kids at the automated counters and had to ask her supervisor. This shows that the staff lacked training.
4) Ok, if for a valid reason, they cannot allow us to use the automated counters. The staff should have the initiative to at least have walked with us to one of the manual counters and asked one of their colleagues to give us express clearance instead of asking me to requeue. I was carrying a 13+kg toddler and 2 luggage bags for goodness sake. Where was the empathy? After all, it is not the customer's fault for queuing at the wrong counter if there was no signage nor human direction.
5) Even if it was national day holiday and the staff was facing high traffic, service standards should be maintained. I have never encountered such problems at the airport customs before. I am trying very hard to recall if we had used the automated counters when we travelled with RaeAnne to Hong Kong and with the 2 gals to Penang. But I do remember that when they see travellers with young kids, they are usually very accommodating.
Or are ground travellers treated like second class citizens because we are too 'poor' to fly? After all, changi airport win awards every year so we have standards to maintain whereas the checkpoints don't. I don't understand why service standards have slipped.
When I requeued yet again and 'complained' to the officer at the manual counter, he asked me 'oh, you first time ah?' I told him yes, because it was my first time at the automated counter with a kid. I told him that ICA should have obvious signages or at least have the roving officers direct the people to the correct counters. He agreed and said he will tell his officer. I don't know if he was patronising me or if he did tell his supervisor, will he really bring it up to the higher level or just sweep it under the carpet.
Come on, after heeding to the government's call to have children, I have 2 kids in quick succession from 2008 to 2009 to boost Singapore's birth rates. With 2 kids under 3 years old, we don't get to travel often. But we are not alone, not everyone are frequent travellers (think very young and very old travellers), we cannot keep up with the latest machines and rules that ICA comes up with. We are the groups who will need special attention and directions.
I even told MIL that let's try the automated counters cos they are faster. And look how far I've gotten. I have lost my faith that automation and computerisation increases efficiency and save costs. The new Malaysia customs was much faster and they didn't even need to invest such 'high tech machines' to confuse and penalise their citizens. You can keep on investing in newer and better machines to improve the hardware but if the software (think BIG AND OBVIOUS SIGNAGES) and heartware (EMPHATHETIC OFFICERS) is not there, what is the price of efficiency and speed? At the customer's expenses. I wonder how many frazzled travellers have encountered the same problem as me, being turned away and asked to requeue after queuing mins to hours (depending on the crowd) for the automated clearance counters.
I am usually very proud of my country for our accomplishments and service standards. But I definitely felt lousy to be a Singapore citizen arriving home from Malaysia on National Day. :/