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Air rage begins on the ground

Four hours before your flight is a good time to reach IGI, goes conventional wisdom. That’s an indicator of how messed up things are at the airport, reports Sidhartha Roy.
Hindustan Times | By Sidhartha Roy, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2008 01:08 AM IST

If you have a flight to catch at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, reach the airport at least four hours before your flight departs. If you don’t, you are sure to miss your flight. Passenger queues and, consequently, waiting time to board a flight were never so long than they are now at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, the rush blamed on an ambitious renovation and modernisation programme the airport is going through.

That has meant boarding a flight has become an hours-long ordeal, stretching often to four hours at the end of which, if lucky, you board your flight — and, if unlucky as several passengers reaching even three hours before their flights are discovering, turn back home having missed their flights. “The IGI Airport was never good but it was never so maddening. Even six months ago when I last visited it, the queues were not this long and the terminal not so congested,” said Naunidhi Lamba, a Toronto resident.

Problem begins

The ordeal begins for passengers on the approach roads to the airport itself. Even late in the night, the roads are congested despite the newly opened Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway. “After you enter the IGIA approach road from National Highway-8, a long queue of cars greets you. Sometimes the queue starts from near the Centaur hotel,” said a senior official of a foreign airline.

DIAL says: Traffic congestion has reduced now and we are coming out with a new traffic plan shortly. The drop-off area would be widened by 18ft by April and there would be free porter, more trolleys, traffic marshals and tow-away vehicles to keep the area free.

Enter the ordeal

Gate no. 3 of the departure terminal is meant for 10 airlines, including Air India, American Airlines and Saudi Arabian, and any of the other three gates can be used for other airlines. Most passengers, however, don’t know this and complain about lack of enough signboards. Entering the airport after checking of tickets and passport has become the biggest hurdle lately. It can take you up to 45 minutes at Gate 1 and more than an hour at the other gates.

DIAL says: There is a waiting lounge for relatives but they prefer to stand outside gates. By April, gates would be widened with two queues each and there would be a ninth gate for staff.

X-ray hurdles

“The X-ray machines are all over the place at present and installed haphazardly. They also block a large area, restricting passenger movement,” said a senior airline official.

DIAL says: X-ray machines would go very soon as the inline baggage screening system is being installed.

Check in, freak out

There are 72 check-in counters and more are immediately required. “As airline offices have been shifted out, our back-up office is not accessible and there is a lack of computers,” an airline official said.

DIAL says: The number of check-in counters would go up to 100 by April and there would be eight ‘check-in islands’ instead of the present four.

Immigration delays

According to passengers and airlines, this is the biggest bottleneck that has come up during the renovation process. The wait here could easily go up to one hour and this area sees the worst congestion. Though there are 28 immigration counters, six are always closed and the rest are also not operational all the time.

DIAL says: The number of counters would go up to 52 by April.

Security checks

“This is another time-consuming queue that causes long delays. Security personnel sometime check suspicious bags manually, resulting in more delays,” the airline official said. Also, The number of security channels is just eight.

DIAL says: Number of security channels would go up to 16, again by April.

Boarding blockages

“Space for boarding queues is extremely limited, leading to chaos. Simultaneous boarding from Gates 9, 10 and 11 is another problem,” an airline official said. “If the passenger has to be sent back to X-ray area for missing stamps, the delay gets longer,” he said.

DIAL says: All the aerobridges are operational at present but there number would remain the same at IGIA for sometime.

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