The friends who picked me up from Tan Son Nhat Airport on October 10 immediately launched into a discussion about a website's recent ranking of Vietnam's airports as among Asia’s worst.
All were frustrated and felt hurt. They asked me if I had heard the news in the US. I hadn't and have little time for such things.
It was only after coming home and reading Vietnamese news that I recognized that the issue had made headlines. The Sleeping in Airports website had ranked Vietnam’s two biggest airports, Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat, as among Asia’s ten worst.
The site's criticisms of Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat are accurate.
Local residents and the media have repeatedly complained about the problems described by the site, but no one listened.
The problem only became relevant when a foreign website mentioned it in a survey.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam should have listened and thanked the creator of the survey, instead of questioning its integrity.
Proper criticism should be duly considered; even groundless criticism should be examined for its motives and causes.
We should thank these critics for sparking a national dialogue and creating newfound interest in making improvements among the nation's leadership.
When Ha Long Bay was listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature by an obscure website, Vietnamese authorities welcomed the ranking as if it had come from UNESCO itself.
They even spent a great deal of money organizing ceremonies to mark the honor.
Sleeping in Airports offered us legitimate and justified criticism, but received only criticism in return.
Is this symptomatic of a larger problem?
Growing up in Vietnam, I was taught in school that those who praise us correctly are our friends and those who criticize us correctly are our teachers.
I was warned not to seek praise and not to shy away from criticism.
I've visited airports in Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Afghanistan, Iraq and Mongolia and saw they were worse than Tan Son Nhat in many ways.
The US is a country with highest number of airports--15,095 airports in total. Indonesia has 683 airports. Sleeping in Airports seems to focus on famous national hubs in a subjective manner.
Most surveys have their own ways of ranking and can’t be totally accurate or objective.
If they are right, we should take heed instead of becoming defensive and frustrated.
In order to be listed among the top ten best airports in the region, Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat must upgrade their bathroom facilities, improve their air conditioning systems, offer effective WIFI services and make sure they have sufficient foreign exchange counters, tax refund kiosks and tourism information desks.
There should be separate areas for passengers transiting or having their flights delayed or cancelled.
The most important thing that Vietnam's airports should immediately do is raise the bar on employee conduct and professionalism. These people are diplomatic ambassadors who represent the image of the country.
The problems experienced at Vietnam's airports can all be fixed.
The question is whether or not relevant agencies want to do so or not.
The writer is an overseas Vietnamese who lives in California. The opinions expressed are his own.