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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Delhi Airport

Just flew via Delhi Airport few days ago. Had to transit there for 6 hours or so both ways. Last time I was there was some 25 years ago so can't tell you what is new and what is old. But looking at new stores and shiny floors it seems like they have done some recent upgrades. And while I know that there is a new terminal being built right across the tarmac this so called "international airport" in the capital city of second most populous country looked "comically" small. Don't know if they have less number of traffic here or they are extremely efficient at managing the flow but the whole terminal is as big as your average Walgreens store...I am not kidding. There seemed to be 10 to 12 gates in total all jammed in the crowded lobby with 5 to 6 duty free shops scattered across it. My overall impression of airport was that the staff (mostly young college aged Kids) are trying to work as best as they can with what they have. With proper training and better facility (newly built airport) they can offer world class service soon.

I will give you the good, bad and so-so from what I saw -

There is no transit/transfer desk for travelers with international connections. So if you need to connect to another airlines after you get off the plane you will need to somehow spot a guy who will be yelling "all transit passenger this way" on top of his lungs. You need to figure this out on your own - no one tells you so. He will gather up all the transit passengers in one corner near the entrance of the terminal and will ask to people to come to his make shift desk one by one while jotting down the ticket, destination, and luggage information on a sheet of paper. No computers...nothing. (All the IT guys from India you hear about I think are too busy answering CISCO calls down in Bangalore - and are too busy to install one measly desk with computer in transit area). Then you wait until he is done with entire transit passenger that got off the plane. You will wait longer if another plane that arrives during processing of your group. He then will take you one flight of stairs (literally 30 yards from where you were waiting) to a transit area which is slightly bigger than your average doctor's clinic's waiting room. He then will disappear with the list clutched in one hand and walkie talkie in another. You wait on this tiny area until two to three hours of your departure when someone will come around asking who is going where and then hand you your boarding pass. And once you get your boarding pass you are allowed in the main area of the terminal ......for which by the way....you have to clear one layer of security - where guard will frisk you top to bottom. Everyone transiting is subjected to this ritual. I have two dozen questions and endless suggestions about improving this transit process but will keep it to myself since I am not planning to go via DEL for quite some time to come.

Finding a place to charge your phone and laptop is hit or miss. There were two places in the whole terminal where there are power outlets but the power sockets had two round pin holes - not the slotted type you have in US - so unless you have an adapter you are out of luck.

This did put some though into this and did put three to four charge stations for mobile phones with 10-12 different type of charger chords - and luckily none woked for my I-phone . So depending on the model of phone you have chances of charging your phone is hit or miss. They could have easily taken care of this problem for good by just having power outlets because most of travellers will have their own charger chord if they are treavlling with mobile phone anyway.

The very "manual" transit process that I talk about above can be viewed as equally good as well - especially for less frequent/less savvy travellers. You go and sit in the transit area and person will show up with your boarding pass, tells you when and where to board and assures you of your luggage transfer ...all of this...while you sit and sip on masala chai. He or she will even sit down and answer any other questions you may have, go through security procedures and then wave you off with a smile wishing you of pleasant flight. But for someone who travels more frequently this uninvited personal intervention could be irritating.

Another good thing about this airport is they have few of these lounges available to any traveller on pay per use basis. These are similar to airline business class lounges, and here you can have beer, use free internet, charge your phones and laptop (yes they have US type power outlets too!!!) and sit and rest on comfy chair while enjoying cocktail "Samosas" all for 20 to 30 bucks. And I also heard that you can even negotiate if they are not as busy. I have not run into this kind of lounge in any other other airports I have been to - usually you have to either pay an annual lounge fee or be travelling in business class to have this kind of access.

There are free foot massagers (yes Free!!) downstairs by Gate 1 and 2 - kind of ones you find in Boorkstone and Sharper image in the malls. I have to say they do provide quite a relief from long travel and you wonder ........how come other airports don't have it - even if it is on a paying basis. But then even here..... assessing the situation ....these massager may not last though...because I saw these "buffoons" sticking their foot with their shoes still on in the massager and complaining how come they don't feel anything - Idiots!!!

Internet is free but apparently one has to first enter the phone number in the computer and then they will send you the password to your mobile phone for free access. That is all fine and dandy but there is one mirror detail.......most of the international transit passenger may not have a mobile phone that works in India you see. But then....I thought not me....becasue I had an iphone -which supposedly worked in 200 countries.....no sweat right? Wrong!!! It did not work. And to my dismay there was this Israeli dude with a mobile phone with a size of old TV remote..... which apparently worked just fine. Thanks a lot for nothing.. AT&T!!!

There is a restaurant upstairs by the transit lunge. They've got a Hindi movie playing in a full blast (and no .....the waiter won't turn it down because he just paused to see this musical scene where whole village is singing and dancing on a mountain side). The decor is dismal but food is edible even with limited choices.

In summary gone are the days of rumors of people getting harassed at this airport. If anything they are very helpful and make the best of what resources they have available. They all seem young and energetic. So all in all you will have a unique experience transiting through this tiny airport.

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