Delhi’s Airports: The Torture Chambers

AirportEven as the expansion and upgradation of the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) continues at an agonizingly slow pace, several thousand overseas travelers, continue to daily suffer due to serpentine queues, a squalid environment and unfriendly immigration officials. And, as if this was not frustrating enough, the toilets at India’s second busiest airport after Mumbai continue to stink. Furthermore, getting trolleys is like a game of chance added with the constant fear of the under-renovation ceiling falling on one’s head.

The whole process of getting past immigration and clearing the security check is maddening. In fact, even a mere entry into the airport took me close to two hours. Luckily, I was tipped off in advance about this, otherwise I would have missed my flight and would have been unable to attend an extremely important exam in Jaipur.

Last week, to compound travelers’ woes, poorly manned immigration counters created enormous passenger congestion. Women collapsed due to fatigue and children began crying as outbound passengers had to stand in queues for hours to reach boarding gates while nobody cared about their plight.

A spokesperson for Air India told us that their flights were getting delayed because of congestion in the terminals. They also had to bear the brunt of the passengers’ ire because of lack of proper infrastructure at the airport. ‘We can only provide the infrastructure. Immigration is not in our hands,’ said an official of the Delhi International Airport Ltd. ‘Immigration counters are manned by the home ministry, the security is with the government agencies and the customs department is with the finance ministry. We have no say in these matter,‘ The official totally washed his hands off the matter, at a counter manned by insensitive government officials.

After inspecting the airport 15 days ago, civil aviation ministry officials had found a host of lacunae that was leading to the chaos at both the domestic and international terminals and had suggested immediate remedial measures. This comes after the airport – which collectively handles 20.44 million passengers annually – was curiously awarded the coveted ISO: 9001 certificate for quality on October 11 last year. But nothing much seems to have happened since then. The ongoing facelift has shrunk the airport further, resulting in an inability to increase immigration counters and security checkpoints. There are also fewer gates for entry.

The ambience, too, is not something passengers would like to remember. Some have even had epileptic fits and fainted in the sheer effort required to keep themselves on their feet in the midst of jostling crowds. The strike called by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) on Thursday and Friday turned the international and the domestic terminals into a garbage dump. Passengers were greeted with empty coffee cups, leftover food and dust. Not to mention the messy toilets and garbage, both inside and outside the airport. If this is the situation of our great capital’s prime, or rather, only international airport, god only knows what will happen to the budding airports of smaller cities that the government is planning to mushroom in the coming few years. Furthermore, how will we greet the tourists during the upcoming Commonwealth Games? I guess it is better to run an international metro than airplanes!

Saurabh Sharma

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