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  1. #1
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    new delhi airport rant

    start rant

    if you want to pass the gory details, see the executive summary at the bottom.

    well, earlier this summer (i don't remember exactly when), they opened up this new terminal 3. it's an updated structured compared to terminal 2 (previously used for international flights) and terminal 1 (previously, and still to some extent being used for domestic flights).

    it is made to look big and modern. they have one level for departures and another for arrivals, and perhaps other levels also. they've built parking garages, people movers, and more. they've also built considerable infrastructure around the airport (some existed already), including highways, overpasses, and exits to facilitate access to the airport. they were working on extending the delhi metro to the airport - if the information in the brochures is correct, this stop is now functional.

    there are aspects of it that are still underway, which is natural - big projects are completed in phases, and you make available the core aspects and then work on making further phases available.

    my quibble is with my departure experience.

    if you look at the official airport website, they describe many amenities, including a shower and massage lounge and a nap and massage lounge.

    my plans were to take the shatabdi train back, which usually gets you into delhi at 11pm. i have a driver who picks me up, so the transfer from the train station to the airport is fairly smooth. i can be at the airport by 11:45pm. i was scheduled to take the 3:30am british airways flight, so that gives me plenty of time.

    but hearing about the sleep and shower lounges (not sure why these can't be combined - i wanted to shower and sleep), i decided instead to fly back from amritsar airport. for me, this means a drive to the airport that takes over an hour (as opposed to a 5 minute drive to beas train station). it also means arriving an hour ahead of the scheduled departure time (as opposed to 10 minutes before the train departure time).

    kingfisher had a flight that was scheduled to arrive at 7:45pm, which sounded rather perfect. it was supposed to start flying into the new terminal 3 starting that day. i was used to going to bed around 8pm, so even if i got into the lounge by 9pm, i could sleep for 5 hours before boarding my onward flight. or so i thought...

    kingfisher flew into the domestic terminal, as did many other flights that were to transition that day. it appeared from the choas that things weren't quite ready - not just for kingfisher, but for air india, and for other carriers as well, i presume. the problem was systemic at the airport level it seems.

    so fine - not a big deal. i had a half hour bus ride (that's how the transfer process is arranged) from terminal 1 to terminal 3. the ride takes you through the streets of delhi, not on dedicated airport roads - so you deal with whatever traffic conditions are there. i heard someone had a horrific 2 hour ride for this transfer another day.

    so i arrive at the new terminal. i take out my paperwork and approach the police officer so that i can enter the building. she sees that i'm taking british airways, which doesn't leave for another 6 hours and asks if i want to have a smoke. i tell her that i don't smoke. she then comments that my flight doesn't leave for another 6+ hours and asks if i'm sure i want to go in to the airport - because once i go in, i can't leave. i think it odd - i haven't heard about this restriction before. but i dismiss it, as i don't have plans to go anyplace else, at least not at that point.

    i go to the information desk and ask where the sleep and shower lounges are, and i am told they are located after i go through security. sounds reasonable. but, she asks which airline i'm flying, and i tell her british airways. then she tells me that they won't open up their desk for another couple of hours (11:30pm, it turned out to be). i tell her that i'm already checked in and have no checked luggage. she goes on to inform me that i can't go through security without an airline printed boarding pass. and no airline printed boarding pass until british airways opens their counter.

    so i'm stuck. i can't leave the airport at that point to find respite at a nearby hotel. i'm told again the only way i could possibly leave the airport is if i get the airline staff to escort me out, and that only happens if you're not going to fly. and i can't get to the sleep and shower lounge.

    there are 4 small food vendors in the terminal before the check in process - not much else. i figure they did this because people don't generally spend a lot of time in this part of the terminal when they're departing - they check in and then go through immigration and security. i wander back and forth and then decide to sit and wait for british airways to open their counter.

    they have advertised on big screens that there is internet access. great, i think - i can catch up on email and what's been going on in the world while i've been away the last two weeks. but, there's a catch. in order to get access, you have to have a cell phone with a local india telephone number to which they'll sms you your access code - there is no other way to get online through their wifi service. that seems rather not well thought out - specially considering that this is an international terminal where you'll have people from all parts of the world. and generally speaking, they're not going to have an indian cell phone number - india has made it more difficult to buy prepaid sim cards if you're not local. it seems that prepaid sim cards are used by very bad people who do very bad things as a means to communicate. and to hinder their communication, a requirement came into place some years back that required you to be a local resident in order to buy prepaid sim cards. so much so - that some 4-5 years ago, when i was in bangalore for some work, i wanted to pick up a local sim card. i was still an indian citizen at the time, and the address listed in my passport was a new delhi address. they wouldn't sell me a prepaid sim in bangalore because i was not local. one of the guys at the office was kind enough to buy it under his name so that i could have a local number while there. so no internet access for me at the airport.

    then, british airways opens up at 11:30pm, and i approach the bag drop off line (even though i have no bags to drop) so that i can get my boarding passes from them.

    i get that and clear immigration and security.

    great - on to the lounges!

    it's interesting, in order to get from security to your gates, you go through this shopping area that has a winding pathway through the stores. it's kind of in poor taste. put the stores there. if someone wants to go in, they'll certain go in. making you walk through the stores, at least in the beginning of that area, is being a bit pushy.

    in the middle of the shopping area, you find escalators that take you upstairs, and you can walk further on to get to the gates. upstairs is where the lounges are, as well as a food court. so i head on upstairs. i see two lounges. one is for those flying business and first class, and the other is a paid lounge. 1500 rupees gets you into the latter. this paid lounge has food, a seating area that looked rather packed at the time, internet connected computers - a nice respite from the rest of the airport.

    i ask about the sleep and shower lounges.

    it appears they aren't yet open - won't be for another few weeks they say. i find this rather odd, because the airport website describes them as being available.

    onward, i saw the frustration people were having with their domestic flights.

    the monitors that display the flight information / status appear to have preprogrammed information that doesn't get updated (at least not frequently enough) to represent what is really happening. so they'll display that a gate is open for a flight when it's not. the gate will open a little later, and then they'll announce that the gate has now closed (meaning you've missed boarding your flight) when really it hasn't.

    some people going to mumbai on air india missed that the flight boarded and departed, it seems.

    another bunch of people were upset about some other air india flights.

    the air india staff was on the phone trying to figure out what was happening with this flight and that.

    my dad, uncle, and a couple of people traveling with them, were coming in from amritsar on air india. they put my dad on one flight, and my uncle and the other two people on a later flight - even though the first flight came fairly empty.

    my dad mentioned that when his flight arrived into delhi (in the new terminal), there was no one to meet them to open the door and clear them through to security. so he climbed up to the departure level and found someone and had them come down so that everyone else could be let in.

    i was trying to enquire about the flight from amritsar that my uncle and the other two people were on, and i couldn't get a straight answer. one person told me it's landed. i assured him it hadn't. then he told me that it's en route and should be here in another 15 or 20 minutes. i asked what about his air india flight to new york (which was scheduled to depart before he would arrive). the guy told me to go tell the air india staff at that gate to wait for him.

    20 minutes later, no information about the incoming flight. on the departures level, there is no monitor that shows information about arriving flights.

    i track down another air india agent. she makes some calls, and is told that the flight from amritsar won't be here for another hour. it's only a 45 minute flight in that aircraft, so that means it hasn't left. and the other guy had told me that it was 15 or 20 minutes away.

    we learn that the flight arrived when i see my uncle walking up the escalator.

    fortunately, their flight to new york departed late and my dad, uncle and their two friends made the flight.

    later on, i boarded my flight, and i think we left pretty darned close to on time.

    end rant

    executive summary of issues

    not all of the airport facilities that are advertised are open - like the sleep and shower lounges. it's fine if not everything is ready - just describe it as such on the official airport website.

    you can't leave the airport once you come in. i would have gone and rested at a nearby hotel and come back 4 hours later if i had the choice.

    internet access is only available if you have an indian cell phone to which the access code can be sent via sms. this is not a well thought out solution for an international airport.

    you can't clear security without an airline printed boarding pass, even if you checked in online. and you can't get an airline printed boarding pass until your airline opens up a counter, and that doesn't happen until closer to the departure time of one of their flights. lounges (including the shower and sleep lounges, once they are open) are located past security.

    the transition of certain domestic flights to the new terminal didn't happen on the scheduled date. there was choas in general surrounding the arrival and departure of flights.

    end executive summary

  2. #2
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    Gosh, m, how frustrating! I totally get how frustrated you were trying to locate family members. That can be really scary. I won't go into details but American Airlines lost my Mom many years ago and she had a number of medical issues. She had been separated from her traveling nurser by the airlines saying their crew was qualified. Clearly they wre not.

    MSP has undergone some renovation in the last several years and there was equal confusion as you experienced among employees and travelers. For me, I don't travel as much as I would like and did in years past but I always try to look at these "mishaps" as adventures and it helps to keep my frustration down as well as my " snap at people factor".

    As always, your narrative is fabulous! Have you considered writing a book?

    N8
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  3. #3
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    Maverick:
    oh yes. All this sounds terribly, terribly familiar: the lack of planning; the general chaos. We have got very slick about "claiming" a whole bunch of things on websites that have no basis in reality! All of this is not new to me as an "old Indian"--but what is missing now, that we used to have plenty of before, are "people" on hand who would be very helpful. In the past, one could navigate a lot of this because there were so many people around who would find out, be helpful, and generally be resourceful. We have done away with human resources; and we are not yet "there" in terms of "automation"--so yup: I can understand.
    I do have to stick up for the Chennai International Airport: gotten much better; and very efficient!

  4. #4
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    Maverick:
    For prepaid SIM cards: yes; you have to be "local"--but so it is here in the US. You can't get a pre paid phone without a local address. I have had to stand in for quite a few international travellers! Recently, a cousin moved here on a full Fullbright: yet could not get to open a bank account, get hooked up for utilities (electric and gas), etc etc., just on the strength of his visit here. He needed someone else to sign on. Very different from when I came to this country. So I do think a lot has become tighter---and it is even harder in Europe...from what I am told--where foreigners do have to carry passports to Hotels!

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shiva View Post
    Maverick:
    For prepaid SIM cards: yes; you have to be "local"--but so it is here in the US. You can't get a pre paid phone without a local address. I have had to stand in for quite a few international travellers! Recently, a cousin moved here on a full Fullbright: yet could not get to open a bank account, get hooked up for utilities (electric and gas), etc etc., just on the strength of his visit here. He needed someone else to sign on. Very different from when I came to this country. So I do think a lot has become tighter---and it is even harder in Europe...from what I am told--where foreigners do have to carry passports to Hotels!
    hi shiva,

    i understand that they have certain requirements in order for you to purchase a pre-paid sim card, but why tie the internet access at an airport to you having an indian cell phone number? why not let you get access to the internet with payment via credit card?

  6. #6
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    Maverick,

    I completely understand your frustration with the new terminal. Much like you, I showed up early expecting to be able to take it easy before my flight home. I arrived about 8 hours in advance expecting to get something to eat and use the internet. I was shocked to find out how little one can actually do at the airport. In some ways, the experience is quite "Indian," in that I received a lot of non-explanations for why I could not enter the airport or gain access to the internet. At the same time, the new terminal is supposed to be the first step in Delhi becoming a new hub for international travel. If that's the case, the people running the terminal need to rethink the way things work. Long layovers are standard in international travel, and they are even more common in India when you mix train rides with flights (the train schedule and flight schedule seem deliberately out of sync!). At least there should be an outer terminal before check in that allows travelers access to good food options and wi-fi. Set up a booth to buy internet time. The bottom line is that the terminal needs some changes.

    Just for the record, I've been traveling in India a lot for about the last five years. I have realistic expectations about what to encounter in terms of service. I was just quite surprised by how a terminal intended for modern business travel seems distinctly unfriendly to international travelers.

  7. #7
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    hi bramhubbel!

    welcome to the forum!

    i think i was less so frustrated and more so disappointed.

    like you, i hope that the terminal will evolve and move past the current idiosyncrasies. but i'm not holding my breath.

    my travel to india takes me to beas (a small town about an hour from amritsar).

    i can fly into delhi via a european city (british airways via london, air france via paris, klm via amsterdam) or via a u.s. city (continental via newark, air india via jfk or american via chicago).

    i get into delhi late at night. in the morning, i can hop on a flight to amritsar that departs at 5:30am, then do a one hour drive from amritsar to beas. getting to the airport an hour before, having a 1.5 hour flight (with kingfisher), and then a 1 hour drive results in a 3.5 hour trip. not too bad - and, it gets me there in the morning.

    or, i can hop on a train that departs at 7:20am and gets me into beas around 1pm. new delhi train station is pure chaos. but the train ride is very comfortable.

    for a short trip, i prefer the kingfisher option.

    coming back, there is a train that departs beas at 5:30pm, gets into the new delhi train station around 11pm. the klm and air france flights depart around 1:45am, so that's cutting it a bit close for the departure. but the british airways flight goes out at 3:30am, and there is plenty of time to make that flight.

    going forward, i think i'll take the kingfisher flight from delhi to amritsar, and take the train back from beas to delhi.

    there is supposed to be a hotel opening up at new delhi airport. i don't have any details on it, but that will hopefully prove a nice option for those with a long layover.

    i stayed at the westin gurgaon (it's a starwood property that just opened last month). they too are going through their opening pains, but i expect they will move past them. despite the issues, their service was excellent.

    i usually stay at the itc maurya in delhi (another starwood property), but the westin gurgaon is supposed to be closer to the airport so i thought i'd give that a try.

    i'm a sucker for the personal service. both the westin and the maurya delivered to this end - when you arrive at the hotel, they ask your name, greet you, take you up to your room, and you do the check in paperwork in the comfort of your room rather than at the check in desk in the lobby.

    if you've been picked up by the hotel car from the airport or taxi, they won't ask your name - they'll know who you are.

    and when you come down to the lobby to dine or to head out or whatever, they'll remember who you are. the last time i stayed at the maurya, i was surprised they remembered me from a previous stay.

    i've stayed at le meridien near connaught place and at the sheraton in delhi (also starwood properties), but didn't experience the same personal service there.


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