The things technology cannot replace

Split second judgement calls and creative decision making is something which technology can never emulate


THE immeasurable value of the human touch.

At the time of writing, we had just seen the Tokyo 2020 Olympics come to a close.

Photos of the closing ceremony were colourful, inspiring and emotional.

It occurred to me that as much as technology has enriched an event such as an Olympics closing ceremony, giving us a visual feast of colour and sound, the thing that touches our hearts is that which is human.

It is in the smiles of the performers, the camaraderie between world-class athletes and the pride we feel when we see our national flag through the screen.

Out of habit, I found my mind wandering to the intricate and massive operational undertaking it must have been to make such a magnificent closing ceremony possible.

Despite the stressful pall of an omnipresent Covid-19, someone must have at one point said the words: the show must go on.

This sentiment resonated strongly with me. Airports, after all, have remained open throughout the pandemic. Keeping it open and operating safely are only possible because of the good work done by the airport workforce, which number by the thousands.

I recognise and value the efficiencies technology and innovation has brought into our lives. At the same time, as I took a quick retrospective lens to the events of the past month, I found myself with a renewed appreciation for the things that technology cannot replace.

Thank You Airport Frontliners

I may not know Malaysia’s Olympians personally, but the sense of pride and excitement I felt when I followed the news of their losses and achievements was just as vivid. That they can compete at the highest pinnacle of sports is the result of massive effort that may or may not be visible to others.

It was an effort that happened one day at a time, culminating into years of commitment and focus. While we may not be Olympians, I believe many among the airport workforce embody that very same spirit of commitment and focus. They apply it to their respective roles, their day-to-day tasks and in their interaction with all who pass through our airports.

Some roles are more visible than others. It is not a measure of importance. For those whose responsibilities include communicating and helping passengers directly, they carry the added weight of being a public representation of the company and its values.

They are the equivalent of the airport’s first layer of frontliners. They are also unique individuals whose actions speak louder than words.

Before the word ‘frontliner’ became part of our everyday vocabulary due to Covid-19, we at Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) had an annual initiative that began life in 2016 and which we still continue to the present. It is called: The Best Frontliner Awards.

When the pandemic arrived in 2020, I felt that there was renewed meaning to this initiative.

Certainly, awards do not define an individual. Like the Olympics, stories of the winners serve to motivate and to inspire. It is an opportunity to acknowledge and salute the men, women and teams rising above and beyond to achieve extraordinary things.

For context, the “Best Frontliner Awards” is a recognition of outstanding services to our guests. Beyond our own MAHB employees, employees of our external stakeholders such as government agencies and partners to the MAHB can also be nominated.

So, any individual or team from an airline, the customs or immigration departments could also win, aside from an employee from any of our 39 airports.

Beyond The Call of Duty

All the stories behind the winners are inspiring. The common thread is that there were men, women and teams rising above and beyond in extraordinary ways. This compassion and warmth, coupled with a strong sense of duty and care for another fellow human being, is something technology cannot replace.

There were lionhearts who through quick action and thinking, were instrumental in saving lives and assets at airport premises. Potential physical harm to a distressed passenger was averted and a fire that happened at midnight was quickly put out with no one being hurt.

Individuals and teams worked professionally, and without prejudice on repatriation missions to bring Malaysians safely back from various countries in lockdown due to the pandemic. For a flight involving Covid-19 positive passengers, their luggage were delivered safely to those affected at their place of quarantine.

Passengers who were stranded at our airports when international borders suddenly shut down were taken care of like family. At a time of worry and anxiety, our frontliners offered reassurance, kindness, and warm meals — the hallmarks of Malaysian hospitality.

Additional workload at odd hours were undertaken voluntarily without complaint, to raise the safety standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all who pass through our airports and for the safety of the airport community.

A stranded passenger who missed a flight was assisted with his interstate travel permit at the police station, guided onto a bus home to Johor Baru, and even provided with some food for the journey home.

Kindness was evident in the many stories of help that were given freely to guests in need, above and beyond the call of duty. The warm, reassuring presence of an airport frontliner to a passenger in need makes all the difference in the world.

Many instances also called for split second judgement calls and creative decision making, a human touch that technology cannot emulate. Machines can execute tasks with blinding efficiency, but only a human can provide service. Our airport frontliners show time and time again, what service truly means.

Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh is the group CEO for Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.