CLJ = Unicorn International Airport

As part of my ongoing mission to film in Romania, I spent about an hour today at the Cluj International Airport, the first time I’d been there since the debacle in April, wherein Cluj lost a number of flights to archrival Targu-Mures Airport.

The airport wasn’t my main destination today but since I had about an hour to spend there, I decided to investigate. I went from one side to the other and spoke to a number of people, including some Wizz Air flight attendants, taxi drivers and a guy sweeping up trash. I also spoke at length to both of the women working at the information booths.

Nothing has changed whatsoever at the airport. There are enormous sections of retail space that are completely empty. There are two cafes (one with seats), a handful of vehicle rental agencies, a couple of cash exchange places/banks and ticketing offices and that’s it. I did confirm that there is a duty free shop but it is after security for people traveling internationally, so that’s the only place I didn’t actually visit.

I must say I was quite disappointed overall. The two new terminals are gleaming and spacious and look wonderful but it’s almost like one of those ghost malls in China – shiny but virtually empty. For some bizarre reason, the old terminal (which isn’t connected to the new terminals so you have to walk outside to get to it) has both a newsstand as well as a full-service restaurant. Why they are still using the old terminal is beyond my ability to comprehend as there are no flights (to my knowledge) landing or departing from there.

I spoke to the woman at the information booth in the departures terminal for about 30 minutes and she was incredibly helpful and nice. She showed me some locations on a map but was unable to give me a copy of the map since they had “run out” and she was using the last one on hand. Other than that, all she had as far as written material were pamphlets in five languages (Romanian, German, English, Italian and French) on basic travel information inside the European Union.

While I was standing there, a number of other people came up to ask questions, and literally every single one was “what gate does flight X leave from?” or something like that. The lady told me that 99% of her questions are along those lines, although she did tell me some especially clueless passengers come up to her and ask her things like “what do I do?” upon arrival at the airport. I guess some people are flying for the first time and literally don’t know how to check in for a flight.

I then proceeded to the arrivals hall and got there in time to see a couple of international (from western Europe) flights arrive. Sadly, the lady at that information booth barely spoke English and had no map at all. When I asked her the same questions, she didn’t know the answers and seemed visibly uncomfortable speaking English to me.

And last but not least, there was a huge stand for holding pamphlets or brochures from local companies. I expected to see brochures from hotels and restaurants and the like but saw only three (total!) from one pensiune. There were about 20 brochures advertising Stihl chainsaws (why?) and all the rest were from the Iulius Mall. Most of the slots on the stand however were empty.

I think it’s great that Iulius Mall is taking full advantage of advertising their retail facility to the traveling public but it’s a crying shame that there isn’t a “Welcome to Cluj” brochure there for visitors. There were none in the brochure stand and absolutely none available at either of the information booths.

And the “icing” on the cake, a familiar sight at (seemingly) all Romanian airports, was the line of “sharks” outside of the exit doors, taxi drivers who accost people and start shouting “taxi, taxi”. Mind you, there is a long queue of taxis in plain sight and yet there is no one directing exiting passengers to the front of the line. Instead, various drivers are left to exit their vehicles, come up and harass people relentlessly just so they can get a fare and not have to wait their (fair) turn in the line.

I was going to a special destination outside of town so I personally disregarded the queue and haggled with a bunch of drivers to take me where I was going (sorry – it’s a secret for now, wait for the film project to be done!) and ended up taking an old beater Daewoo with a driver not using the official meter. I’m sure he ripped me off a little but it’s okay because I “broke” his window, which could roll down but not roll up.

So there you go, that’s the Cluj International Airport in all of its glory, as witnessed by me personally, posing as a “clueless tourist” and wandering around, asking questions. Got to love it!

Note: the County of Cluj owns and operates the airport, which is a separate political entity than the City of Cluj, the destination of most passengers disembarking there. I wonder if any of the lackadaisical attitude of the airport’s management has to do with this disconnect, because other than the landing fees from the airplanes themselves, the County really doesn’t see much economic benefit from all those passengers.

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