RGIA: Badly missing out on international experience; has a long way to go
The first greenfield airport in the Public-Private Partnership, RGIA, comes a cropper when it comes to giving a truly global experience to a traveller.
HYDERABAD: International travel excites almost everyone without any exception, more so if one is a first time traveller. Though I have travelled a few times, this is the first for my wife Sailaja and also for the two of us together.
We had dreams since we are used to budget airlines Indigo's offers, including the deprivation of the facility of an aero bridge, most of the times.
But the colourful dreams about a swank international airport experience fizzled out real quick. Since I have made it amply clear that I took an Indigo to fly to Dubai, it is a given therefore that there can be no business class journey.
Now, let us talk about the economy class travellers' travails at the International Terminal in Hyderabad.
Girish Kalamati, a Dev Ops engineer working in Germany, expressed his disgust through a video tweet.
The first greenfield airport in the Public-Private Partnership, the GMR International Airport Ltd, or Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) comes a cropper when it comes to giving a truly global experience to a traveller.
Miniature sign boards that confuse the international traveller include the nomenclature. The first blow on the face comes when you find two sign boards — international departures, and Haj Terminal. Why is it just a Haj Terminal? Isn't it also the terminal from where all international carriers takeoff? There is no religious connotation to my irritation. What if I am going to Tomorrowland or Ibiza? Will it be called an Ibiza terminal ? Let's give it to the intellect of the airport operator or the Airports Authority of India or Ministry or Civil Aviation or Ministry of External Affairs , whoever operates the same. They might have kept the need of large number of Haj pilgrims in view while christening it the Haj Terminal. I have no fight and will get used to the name.
Now let me get straight to the point, and talk about how we were put through the grind, forcing me to sport a smile even while taking the shabby and discourteous treatment of people who were manning every passenger touch point.
- At the very outset the long serpentine queue of cars and milling crowds at the very approach of the terminal speak volumes of the poor infrastructure. Mind you, I covered the construction of this prestigious airport from the day one, as a business journalist of a popular national English daily newspaper.
- It's an effort to get a trolley and then further pull it. No adequate parking facility. Forget about lofty thoughts of kerb-side check-in and all. We can't even think of such things in the near future.
- Then pulling the trolley past the queue of the business class travellers, not very grudgingly as their number is also no less, if not more, is an irritating experience. The business class travellers are just a cut above, compared to the 'mango people' (Aam junta) like me flying 'cattle class'.
- Then you reach gates where there are the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) guards, unfriendly gun-toting wooden-faced blokes with a needlessly put-on seriousness.
- They come across as the stumbling blocks and look like they are on a mission to prevent the passenger from undertaking any kind of travel. He checked my ticket and didn't wait for me to show my wife's ticket and he has the gall to say she cannot travel. This is at 1 am in the dead of the night. After sporting plastic smiles, we could convince the "officer" about our eligibility and gained entry into the airport.'
- Huge crowds gather there and there are no refreshments or any other passenger amenity any modern airport boasts of providing. An announcement or two pass off without being clear in the cacophony of milling crowds. After the luggage check in, we get to the most irritating part of the journey, Immigration.
- The officers are attired in the most unimpressive manner. And, some of them engage the passengers in unnecessary conversations testing the patience of those waiting in the queues. In some counters, another officer comes and engages in a chat (surely not required at that point in time) with those manning the counters.
- The surroundings, the ambience and the airs and antics of some of the officers (not all) are a big put off. Then you go into the boarding area. The international boarding area and the shopping are below par as compared to even the domestic terminal in Hyderabad.
Now over to Dubai International Airport.
- As you arrive, you get into the swanky aisle where an internal metro train picks us up and drops us at another station where we go for immigration, luggage pickup and checkout.
- The queues for first-time visitors, repeat visitors, residents are all different at the immigration. The courteous manner in which you are guided to pass through is just something one has to experience oneself. Clean, modern, opulent immigration counters ensure the process is completed in a jiffy.
- You will be pleasantly surprised to receive your stamped passport along with a 1GB data pack by 'du' mobile phone company as a complimentary welcome kit into Dubai.
- The baggage pickup and the exit are all coded so well that even a first time visitor feels confident. A pleasant entry into the city of cities.
- Now, embark on return journey. When you enter the terminal 1 (as it is an Indigo), there is an ease with which you find whether the check in is open for your flight which is scheduled for departure five hours later and this information is on multiple display boards, with information about where the zone is located. Easy peasy.
- Once you are done, go to immigration which is again very professional and neatly done. Cross the area to be ushered into the great celebration of duty-free shops from cigarettes, liquor, perfumes to cosmetics.
- Go have your tipple at any of the bars on the first floor. Proceed to board and you are immediately off the world class experience. As you land in India, you stand in longwinded serpentine queues amid people sneezing, coughing, yawning, making you feel that you have landed in a shabby dungeon.
- Immigration in GMR Airport arrival is ancient, very unclean, annoying with officers engaging themselves with either their own colleagues or passengers in chats and then letting each one in at a snail's pace.
- Then subject your hand baggage to x-ray. The counters are operated by whimsical personnel of Customs who at will close their counter and go running to another colleague pushing through those standing in queues. There is really no one to question these unprofessional persons.
- Nobody knows what's allowed in or what's not. They have a pattern to intercept people on suspicion. Maybe they sniff it well, thanks to their experience. Not sure about those who sinned, but ordinary souls like me have to pass through the ordeal regardless of whether I have some contraband or not. But thankfully the green channel apparently is indeed a green channel.
- The less said about our cabs or taxis, the better. This is another experience and the shenanigans of the cabbies should be publicised as often as possible.
At last when you reach home, you let your shoulders rest, breathe comfort and then are happy that you came out of the excruciating experiences unscathed.
Let us stop blaming our inefficiencies on the burgeoning population. The International Airport is run by bureaucrats who want to make life as miserable as possible. My question is whether will those concerned act and make lives easier for all air travellers?