It was sheer luck that nothing untoward happened on Sunday when Delhi's tony T3 airport terminal went on the blink for over four hours, said an unnamed source. But then an airport rated the fifth best in the world can hardly rely on a repeat performance of Sunday's luck were this to happen again. Imagine the situation. People visiting Incredible India or those coming home touch down at the end of a long journey only to be bundled into buses since the aerobridge is not working, trudge the million kilometres to the immigration counters where their papers are processed by candlelight, scramble about for their luggage which has been offloaded manually and then find that the electronic doors to the exits cannot be opened. Sounds like a C-grade Biblical exodus epic.
Why was there no Plan B, you may well ask. Experts, always the wiser in hindsight, say that it was decided at the time of the Commonwealth Games, that other less than savoury showcase of India, that there was no need for any secondary source of power other than gensets. To think that diesel gensets could keep this gigantic airport up and running in the case of power failure is certainly a triumph of hope over reality.
The implications of this power trip-up are enormous. For a start, the CCTV cameras didn't work. So any record of those four hours are simply not there. The air traffic control and runway lights worked, owing more to some divine intervention when that particular line stayed afloat. Otherwise imagine the chilling scenario of incoming flight landing blindly.
At the best of times, this much-hyped airport is difficult to navigate. It is exceptionally large and only the able-bodied are really capable of walking the walk to immigration or the departure gates. It is quite a common sight to see the young and able hogging the free carts while the elderly and people with children struggle along on the travelators. Then there is the hideous carpet which looks like the stitched together pelts of animals of unknown provenance. As for the décor, let us say aesthetics were not top of the mind when it was designed. But all this pales into insignificance when it comes to what happen on Sunday.
Of course, now explanations are flying thick and fast. To most of us, the fact that power flows at all times through a busbar and that when that malfunctions no power at all gets through is of cold comfort, not that we understand a word of this. The prospect of being trapped in that vast Saharan expanse of airport with at least another 1,000 frightened passengers with no one to tell you what has happened and what will happen is enough to put you off traveling.
In airports like T3, which handle such mega volumes of passengers and cargo, it is incumbent upon the airport authorities to have several back-ups in place. It is not the footling question of people using the cover of darkness to smuggle in that extra bottle of Black Label, something exercising officialdom, but the very real danger of a terror attack or physical harm to passengers, especially the elderly and the disabled. There will no doubt be the usual enquiry committee, which will after much deliberation tell us what we already know — that this was the result of poor planning and even poorer management. We have often thought that traveling to and from India is often on a wing and a prayer. We'll certainly need the prayer part if shocking Sunday is anything to go by.