Airport scenes passengers don’t see

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Airport scenes passengers don’t see

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Aircraft marshaller Kim Sung-ju stops an aircraft on May 15 as the airplane operated by China Southern Airlines lands at the Incheon International Airport. Marshalling is visual signalling between ground personnel and pilots at an airport. By Kang Jung-hyun

INCHEON - The airside area of an airport is generally accessible only to airport staff and passengers holding valid boarding passes who have gone through security. This section is where the real business of an airport takes place. Here, passengers feel as though they’ve entered a whole new environment, but for workers at the Incheon International Airport, it’s simply a place to work.

“This is your captain speaking. We’d like to welcome you onboard this flight to Xi’an, China,” said Park Jong-rok, a pilot of Asiana Airlines during an announcement for those on board.

“Flight duration is 3 hours and 10 minutes. Please be aware that we expect turbulence after traveling for one and a half hours.”

After the announcement, the captain met with his flight attendants. Then, the 48-year-old went on to examine the airframe based on a board approach checklist detailing 120 items.

When he joined the air force, he often flew an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet with a top speed exceeding 2,248 kilometers per hour (1,397 miles per hour) until 2001.

But Park is now at the helm of an Airbus A321-200, with an average speed of 841 kilometers per hour. The flight route includes China and Southeast Asia.

“It’s like taking the bus after you’ve been a race-car driver,” said Choi Jung-gyu, first officer of the airplane.

In another part of the airport, passengers board a Korean Air flight bound for Los Angeles. As they pass by, Sung Go-eun of the airline company checks their passports and visas for forgeries.

“Identifying a fake passport is similar to sorting out counterfeit bills,” Sung said, holding ultraviolet testing equipment. She is part of the SUS team, short for “suspicious.”

Since Sung joined the team last October, she has detected two people using fake passports.

Not all of the passengers are going on vacation. A 42-year-old Vietnamese man was waiting to fly home.

Having spent 10 years in Korea, he was arrested as an illegal immigrant a few days ago while he worked on a mushroom farm in Yeoju County, Gyeonggi.

“I haven’t visited Vietnam since I came to Korea in 2003, because I was afraid of the Korean police,” the man said, adding that he had saved enough money to purchase land in Vietnam.

“I feel thankful for Korea because I was able to make a decent amount of money.” He said his children, who were small kids when he was in Vietnam, have now become adults.

An officer from the Ministry of Justice warned him not to try to sneak into Korea again with false documents.

Many people come and go at the airport, but staff members are always there.

“Most people here leave their homes and prepare to go on a trip. But for us, the airport is much like home,” said Kim Yeo-jin, a licensed customs agent at the Incheon Airport.

Ironically, there are some people who never been abroad even though they spend most of their time at the airport.

In front of gate No. 43 at 1 a.m., a 59-year-old cleaner takes a rest with a piece of bread. The man, who refuses to be identified, said he can take a break from 1 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. The cleaner works from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. with 18 night-shift members cleaning up the 1-kilometer-long terminal.

“My job is to help passengers board their flights safely in a refreshed environment,” he said.

“I see thousands of tourists going abroad, but I’ve never left Korea.”



By Kim Han-byul [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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