Saturday, June 28, 2008

Airports in India

Caveat : I plan to be a little whiny today. So spare me those.. you know what.. whatever ;-)

My last two visit to India were official trips. As in, my company asked me to visit Cochin, where we had outsourced some work. On both occasions I took a brief vacation to visit my home town of Nagpur in central India.

I so desperately wanted to use train as means of transport (Train is still my fav means). But it turned out, that Cochin and Nagpur are light years away as far as Railway connection is concerned. The shortest time via train would have been 36 hrs !!! I had little choice but to keep flying between cities. And so I did.

But even that wasn't as easy as it seems. The most convenient flight connection was via Mumbai. And between transition time and connecting flights I spent like 12 hours to reach Nagpur. So much for the "super connectivity". On one occasion I missed my connecting flight thanks to the mind numbing efficiency of Air India, and had to spend the whole freaking day in Mumbai, waiting for the next evening flight to Ngp. Luckily my Aunt stays in Santacruz(W) so it wasn't that bad as I din't have to spend whole day, looking frozen at Airport.

During this time, I started observing the Airports there. Specially Mumbai Airport, since that was my most used one. And that's where I spent most of my time either reading Times of India or nibbling fingers and observing the system at work. To be fair to Mumbai, it's airport is much better than Delhi airport. I am talking domestic. I had a particularly embarrassing experience at Delhi domestic airport with my American boss by my side in the first visit. But that I will take for another day.

So Mumbai Airport is chaotic in a way, but still it seems to be working fine. One of my biggest problems with Airports in India is the constant and loud announcements. The NOISE. And Mumbai is no different. The announcements are many folds. There are flight arrival announcements and flight departure announcements. Then there are those "personalized service" announcements. Like ... "Last and final call for Mr. Gupta. Your flight to Baroda is departing from gate # 6 in 10 mins.." or something like that.

I was like, what the heck! Who is Gupta and why do I care? Why is this for public consumption?

And the announcements are not crisp and easy. They are done in two languages, Hindi and English, and are inefficiently long. Like if i had to write those announcements, I would have converted them into words instead of sentences. Actually I would ban those announcements, but*if* they were still mandatory in Indian system, I would turn them simple and easy to pick.

Like "Flight K26 to Nagpur is leaving in 10 mins from Gate 7". That's it. This announcement is clear enough. Anyone who cares to be on this flight, will figure out that s/he has to make it to gate 7, and throw that samosa plate in dustbin and run. There's no need to say, ..." And passengers are requested to please come with their boarding passes to Gate ..... or This is the last and final call.... " (God, I hate those LAST and FINAL calls.. announced ad nauseum)

The onus should be on the passenger to reach the gate, and not on the Airport authorities to "take the passenger to the gate" or spoon feed him/her. If the Arrival/Departure Schedule is not clear enough or not giving information when the passenger enters airport, there should be more charts put at convenient locations so that it's easier for passengers to figure. Why this excess spoon feeding and noise pollution? This is so MANUAL. This is so 1990s if not 80s.

The other thing that bugged me about the Airport was the number of times I had to display my boarding pass. I counted. It was SEVEN times. Yes, the number 7. As in the one that comes after 6 and before 8. WTF !!!! And it took me a while to adjust to that ticket-checking-obsession of the Airports. I kept forgetting I need to show it again at some "milestone" during my 'journey' from agent counter to the gate, and kept putting my pass back in my carrier bag. And everytime I had to take it out from the bag. It was clumsy. In some cases the checkers actually thought it was my first flight experience as I was being so naive.

After 2 major fights with Airport authorities on two occasions, one missed flight, 128 loud and noisy announcements, one missed baggage, and two dropped samosas, I have now gained some Indian Airport wisdom. I have figured that like anything else in India, the airport system is chaotic yet working in some very Indian way. And happily so. And I figured that India will embrace these modern systems of the world, as Airports camouflage more and more with the India's travelling needs, and Indianise them it in it's own peculiar way.

For all my cribbing about the Airport though, I have to add this. The Indian domestic airline service beats the American one, by 1000 miles at least. It's royal. It's regal. It makes you feel comfortable and wanted. And allows you to forget about the chaos easily. It let's you slip in back into the easy mode. I would rank Kingfisher and Jet higher than any airlines I have travelled, internationally and domestically.

On one occasion as the Jet flight took off to Nagpur, one of the stewardess addressed me by my last name and asked if I wanted something? I was like, boy, this is awesome. Last name basis service, now that's a first!


Blue Bike said...

I've seen many people complaining about Bombay airport, but the numerous times I've flown over there, I havent faced any problem nor have I witnessed any, things seem to work just fine. Rather faster. I havent been to Palam International, so cant comment on it. Generally, I carry a book with me to read during flights and the boarding pass serves as a bookmark so I never realized that you need to show it 7 times!!! The book is always in my hands and so is the bookmark :)

kautilya said...

I am sure Mumbai has the best airport. I wanted to delve on two specific issues - 1. Announcements and 2. Ticket Checking and I thought since Mumbai was what I have seen most, I used it as reference to comment on the larger Indian syndrome.
In fact I will go as far and say, if efficiency exists anywhere in India, it will be Mumbai where you are most likely to find it.