Indian Airports

Flying was once upon a time a status symbol, only to be indulged in by the rich and privileged, while the rest of us drones contented ourselves with creeping along, hugging Mother earth like worms...until the Air Ministry or whoever it is went mad. Now you have a flight a minute to any destination in India...if you can find a spare runway or ATC, that is.

Flying has become an absolute form of purgatory in India today. If we just got all the criminals consigned to Tihar to do a coast-to-coast round trip of India by air, I'm pretty sure most of them would reform on the spot. I've had an excruciating three weeks of constant travel and I'm surprised to note that I lived to tell the tale. Aged by a few years in those few days, but still alive.

Last week, I reached the airport an hour and fifteen minutes before the flight was due to leave, but had just about managed to complete checking in by the time they announced boarding for the flight. Also, the airlines really like to watch out for your fitness - the luggage trolleys are stacked way over at the far corner at the Kingfisher terminal, so you have to make a mad dash there and back by which time the policeman has threateningly waved your car and driver on so then you chase after them...

Recently, I was forced to visit the ladies room at Delhi airport immediately upon landing, only because I'm pregnant and bladder control has become a thing of the past. Otherwise, I've been known to hold it in for 5-6 hours rather than risk going to a public loo, that too in an Indian airport. So here we are in Delhi. Yes, yes, we know GMR is still WIP and the new airport is yet to come up. But is there any reason why they can't start improving the small stuff right now?

The lighting inside is strictly from solitary confinement cells in some gulag. The grey and pink mottled counters are always soaking wet, so you don't have any place to put down a bag or a bawling infant. The floor is usually damp with some suspicious looking liquid. The toilet I used had no seat, so I had to hold position in mid-air over the ceramic fitting, which hovering may be easy for aircraft but is tough on a 12-month pregnant woman who was no sylph to start with. There was no toilet paper in the loo but plenty on the counter, half soggy already, for the purpose of drying hands. There was no air dryer or paper towel dispenser. The flush barely worked. The place stank and I thanked God I'd been swimming all week and improved lung power so I could hold my breath through the entire ordeal. Crowds of 'safai karamcharis' ( cleaning crew) were hanging around, taking up all available space in front of the sinks but clearly not being as efficient at their main job.

The Hubli airport, a tiny little one that gets barely 2 flights a day, did much better in terms of general cleanliness and loo cleanliness - dry, clean floors, TP - check; flush working - check; smell of disinfectant - check. And no, the argument that it gets less people doesn't work for me - I'm sure the delhi airport has thrice the cleaning staff that Hubli does.

Even the new airport in Bombay has horrendous loos for women - and what's with the lighting? Has anyone bothered to do any research with womnen and found out that apart from bodily functions, we also use the loo to put our faces back on after a journey? Making us look like vampires at the get-go DOES NOT HELP.

And while on Bombay airport, getting from one terminal to the other is a nightmare. I had to change flights, and first of all, there were no signposts anywhere, so if I hadn't been relatively familiar with the layout, wouldn't have known where to go. No ground staff from the airline I flew in on was visible. I had to lug the trolley out the terminal into the hot, blistering sun and all the way across the road crammed with taxis, weaving in and out of the traffic as dexterously as I could to get into the other terminal. Another bonus at Bombay - the Kingfisher boarding gates floor only has one loo meant for the handicapped. So if you're not handicapped, you have to climb back up a floor ( no escalator, thanks very much) and use the loo on the upper floor. The lounge for people with whatever credit cards from Mastercard - is down a staircase, which is surely helpful to those of us in the habit of carrying hand baggage.

And of course Goa airport - can't believe it's meant to be an international departure terminal. There's no space outside for people seeing other people off, so the seers-off come right inside along with the see-es, creating a pandemonic entryway, where those of us traveling have to literally shove people aside to move in. the announcements are made in some foreign language, maybe Aramaic...or maybe that was just the quality of the loudspeaker. The little food they had available at the terminal was probably cooked around the time India liberated Goa from the Portuguese. After check-in, a process that takes forever, you are confusingly asked to get in line for a passport check and immigration, which is panic-inducing when you're an Indian citizen and haven't lugged the required documents along...Oh, wait, way over to the side, hidden by some pillars, is a little sign saying Security check, so maybe that's where you're supposed to go...

I have another set of flights to board this week, to Bengaluru, where the new airport is said to be an hour - or three - away from the city and a Rs. 1500 ride away...Someone find me a portable loo that's clean and fits into my handbag!!!


Mala said…
Hey - I was in Bangalore last Thursday and was pleasantly surprised. Lots of loos (lighting not great but atleast they were clean), and it took me only 60-70 minutes between the airport and MG Road (going AND coming - at 10 am and 5 pm respectively).
bird's eye view said…
Oh, that sounds great. I'm there Thursday and was planning to pack a food and care package for the commute!
memsaab said…
I've had pretty good luck in Bombay, but the Delhi airport is a true nightmare. It took me over 3 hours to check in once, and there is always a line at security with nobody who works for security actually working. They are usually huddled under a television nearby watching a cricket match or something. Passengers have to start yelling at them before they deign to come back to their stations.
Ponderer said…
As far as loos go, Delhi airport does take the cake in one of the worst in the world, I have a few more contenders for the running, Newark Liberty International - Horrible, Chicago O Hare - could give New Delhi a run for its money! Ahh the joys of flying, but have to admit ur blog's damn hilarious, I rolled on the floor laffing!
bird's eye view said…
Bangalore airport - the commute back and forth not so bad but the loos are stinking. And for some bizarre reason, they ask you to dispose your used toilet paper into open garbage bins instead of flushing them away...surely can't be adding to the fragrant atmos?

Memsaab - have had the worst experiences with security at delhi airport, and while pregnant at that. Lady security check person went off duty just when a long line of women came in for check, during the foggy winter months. came back after half hour reeking of parathas and pickles, having held us up from checking in, so the fog had settled in and we were forced to spend the night waiting for the fog to lift!!!

Ponderer - really, O'Hare is as bad? I've flown thru once years ago and that time it was quite ok
Ponderer said…
lol I have to say this bloggers really good at words, love her style of raves and rants. Keep them flowing!

@ Birds Eye View - Yeah Chicago OHare is creaking under the heavy load of ppl transiting thru, plus the staff there is pretty rude possibly tired of the huge rush of ppl transiting thru. Even the desi staff is rude! I try n avoid O'Hare but all the flights seem to go thru this. And Its a record that they never have even one single flight on time, not one single flight!
Anonymous said…
@ mala, give BIAL a few years and i can bet, it will Be jostling with New Delhi Airport for the unenvious position, call me a sketpic or what, we Indians just seem to lack any self-pride in our assets, one exception I'd say would be Delhi Metro! the only solution as far as i see is education, only educated ppl can develop some sense of civility but even then educated ppl do uncivil stuff!
bird's eye view said…
what the so-called educated ppl do is far worse, I agree with you. Like last week, when an entire line-up of big cars - and not one of them chauffeur-driven - was going out by the in gate of a colony, and glaring at moi who was trying to go in at the right gate - obviously doing something wrong!

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