Race to the Chennai airport



Let’s take to the roads

Start time: 3.10 pm

End time: 4.10 pm

Cost: Rs. 75 (petrol + parking, approx)

There are challenges ahead, I keep telling my partner, and we need to be wise and choose the best possible route to win this competition. We start from Central with the sun beating down on our faces, and are ready for the unpleasant road ahead.

Get set go The team synced their phones to the same time at Chennai Central, the start point for the challenge

Get set goThe team synced their phones to the same time at Chennai Central, the start point for the challenge


A couple of kilometres and we reach the Express Avenue junction where we face the exact conundrum that Robert Frost faced several years ago when “two roads diverged and sorry we could not travel in both”. Like the American poet, we decide to take the road less travelled by — preferring the quieter Llyods Road, TTK Road, Kotturpuram route to the bustling Mount Road. In an hour, we learn that it is a great choice.

As we ride ahead at a fairly good speed, we are interrupted only near schools...with children busily getting on autorickshaws to get back home.

We stop at a couple of places to take selfie videos of our journey, and in an hour, catch sight of ‘Welcome to Chennai Airport’ boards. We are first, much to our glee. Moral of the story: if you don’t have a lot of luggage, take the bike to the airport.

A tap away

Start: 3.10 pm

End: 4.16 pm

Cost: Rs. 300

My cab has been “two minutes away” for the last six minutes, and I’m getting anxious. I call the number on the app, and a comfortable, lazy voice tells me, “Walltax road.”

He’s been here the whole time! I scramble over to the road to the left of the station, and spot the car. The man at the wheel is unimpressed at my late arrival, and even more so at my near non-existent Tamil skills. Nevertheless, we begin our trip.


After a few minutes of stony silence, I ask him to play some music. He says curtly, “Tamil only.” I try to explain that I’d like to listen to it, and I must have succeeded, because his face lights up and he begins a full-fledged playlist of devotional songs.

All prejudice goes out the window, and he asks me where I’m from, trying not to look too confused by someone carrying just one flimsy shoulder bag from station to airport. The conversation is stunted, but comfortable, and we part ways at the airport with smiles.

Life in a metro

Start time: 3.10 pm

End time: 4.18 pm

Cost: Rs. 70

A quick sprint to the swanky new Chennai Central Metro Station, located opposite the Central Railway Station and we discover that our calculations have gone for a toss. The next Metro to the airport is 17 minutes later giving our competitors a head start.

We find a place to sit and wait for the train to head above ground for our phones to start working again. We cross Koyambedu within 20 minutes and the Metro moves outdoors.

A view of the Metro line near Koyambedu

A view of the Metro line near Koyambedu


But when our phones start working again, our colleagues tell us that they are at Alandur, dashing our hopes.

By the time we run through travelators to reach the airport departure, our colleagues are already there. We have finished third.

Despite the comfort of a direct line, what matters most is finding a train as soon as you reach the station. Until the frequency increases, it would perhaps be wise to use the Metro during rush hour, when traffic is at its peak.

Round and round

Start: 3.10 pm

End: 4.55 pm

Cost: Rs. 38

“I’ll tell you an easy way,” says auto driver Baskaran at the Central Station bus stop. “The Metro station is right across the road,” he tells me. “But if you still want to take the bus, go to the Broadway bus terminus. There are no direct buses from here.” I hop into 54L even before he finishes his sentence — I know I’m going to lose, but I want to put up a good fight.

The man at the information section of the bus terminus can’t believe I’m taking a bus to the airport. “There’s 21G. But why not take the suburban train?”


21G takes me on a mini-tour of South Chennai — we drive past the Marina beach into RK Salai and trundle into the heart of Mylapore and Mandaveli. I watch school boys wrestle their way into the bus; overhear a conversation between two middle-aged men about the “mechanical big city life”; look on helplessly as the bus conductor harasses a senior citizen over his bus pass…one hour in, I’ve crossed only half the distance. Finally, the bus deposits me beyond the international terminal.

MTC is the most inexpensive mode of transport. But it also is the slowest — take it if you’re in the mood to admire the city from a window seat. Not when you have a flight to catch.


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Printable version | Aug 18, 2022 8:38:36 am |