A traveller’s guide to the good, bad and ugly of Delhi’s new airport
What was GMR — the company which built and operates Delhi’s posh new airport terminal, T3 — thinking when it laid a vast acreage of garish, thick pile carpeting along its unending walkways? On a recent round-trip to Lhasa via Kathmandu, I struggled to drag a light, cabin-sized four-wheel Samsonite from the departure hall to my gate. Along the way, I passed other passengers and airline crew members wrestling with reluctant ‘strollies’ over the soft carpeting.
Carpet, a drawback
In conversations with travellers, the carpet was identified by virtually everyone as the biggest drawback to what was otherwise a fairly pleasant experience using T3. Apart from the difficulty of wheeling luggage, some passengers also complained of being assaulted by a musty smell as soon as they got off the plane. Most said a stone or tile floor of the kind GMR has laid in the arrival and departure halls would have looked cleaner and been easier to negotiate; if at all carpeting was required, a thinner pile of the sort a few airports have would have been better, an Air India pilot said.
If the carpeting is ugly and impractical, there is much that is good about the new airport. The check-in area is large and well-signposted. The ATMs were not operational, which meant convincing a guard to let me go down to the arrivals area to access a functioning machine. The immigration and security check area is properly designed and staffed, allowing passengers quick passage through to the main departure hall. Among the shops already open, the duty free store has a decent selection of alcohol, perfume and tobacco, including competitively priced Havana cigars. The two WH Smith outlets have a reasonable range of fiction and non-fiction books (I bought Tim Weiner’s History of the CIA) but spotty air-conditioning meant the browsing experience was not entirely pleasant. There are shops catering to the standardised taste for shoes, clothing, fashion accessories and electronics that globalisation has induced but not much by way of Indian products and design that tourists may wish to buy on their way out.
One coffee shop
All told, for an airport of its size, the primary departure concourse is a little small. The range of shopping is much more than in the old terminal but seems less than what is on offer in major Asian and European hubs. Worse, there is only one coffee shop, which had a five-deep queue in front of each order counter – this at 8 am, hardly peak time for international travel. There is an inadequately air-conditioned and stocked ‘food court’ on the first floor which looked like it would get unpleasantly full once a normal complement of hungry travellers arrive. It was impossible to judge how well the large U.S.-style ‘Sports Bar’ is doing; to this traveller, at least, its neon-lit loudness was unappealing. Free WiFi access is a big plus point, considering most international airports charge for internet use. But none of the drinking water fountains installed all around seemed to be working.
On the return journey, the aerobridge took several minutes to reach the plane, teething troubles, the crew explained. At the end of the aerobridge, the sliding door to access the terminal was shut. Some passengers instinctively walked up a non-signposted ramp to the side only to be shooed down by guards because that was the way to the departure area. When a guard eventually arrived, his biometric card failed to activate the door. After several minutes, another officer arrived but he too couldn’t work the door. Finally, he managed to open a side entrance so that we could get in.
Despite the moving sidewalks, the immigration counters took several minutes to reach. Once there, however, getting through was a breeze. And our luggage was already on the conveyor belt by the time we reached it. Inbound duty free is still being stocked but the selection of whiskies was more than reasonable. The toilets in the arrival hall were clean and modern, though inadequately ventilated. At peak load times, this could cause problems.
The best part of my T3 experience was the ease with which I could exit the terminal and board a taxi. Everything was clearly signposted. In the old terminal, getting into a taxi was always a traumatic affair. Here, the cars neatly line up and there is no struggle with the usual gaggle of touts and hangers-on that arriving visitors always had to endure. The authorities should make sure things stay that way.