~Not So Happy Memories~
Once upon a time, any traveller arriving in India was hit instantly by culture shock the moment they stepped off the plane; the airports were dreadful. Whilst I used to enjoy the exotic scent of joss-sticks, it was harder to turn a blind eye to the dirt and the cockroaches and there was no way I was going anywhere near the airport toilets even though I knew the lines for immigration, bag collection and customs were going to be a challenge. In 2009 we got our first sniff of 21st century Indian airports when we flew through Hyderabad and Bangalore - both of which were modern, state of the art hubs of cleanliness and efficiency. There couldn't have been a bigger contrast with the old Indira Gandhi International airport in Delhi.
~Dragging Indira Into the 21st Century~
We knew that a new terminal - Terminal 3 - was being built in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games and that it was going to be enormous. We hoped it would also be rather lovely and we weren't disappointed. Stepping off our plane onto the air-bridge last October we weren't hit by the normal humid 'fug' of India. Stepping into T3 we were greeted by a blast of air-conditioning to rival the best US shopping mall. Everything around us was spotlessly clean and new.
Curiosity was too much for us so we trotted off to try the toilets, male and female identified only by a large photo of either a female or male head. After so little sleep, I struggled a bit. Once inside everything was so clean that we really did wonder if we'd landed in a parallel universe rather than another country. And not only was everything clean, but everything worked too. From toilet paper being there, to flushes working, water coming smoothly out of undamaged taps and paper towel dispensers actually dispensing paper towels. This was a world away form the old IGI airport. Admittedly we did land just a couple of days after the Commonwealth Games had ended and I do have some doubts about how long everything will continue to be perfect, but I was very impressed and surprised by the new terminal.
~Wear Comfortable Shoes - it's a BIG place~
As we started the rather long trek to passport control - it's a big airport, everything's a long way - we did have a giggle that any designer could possibly have chosen such disgusting carpeting but other than that we were open-mouthed in wonder at the new terminal.We hit passport control and were through in just a couple of minutes. No crush, no long lines, just efficiency all around us. It's only fair to mention that we'd taken an overnight flight from Heathrow which arrived about 10.30 in the morning which is a quiet time for flight arrivals. Most of the flights that leave Europe during the day time arrive late at night when things are much busier and if you're mad enough to transit through the Middle East with Gulf or Emirates or similar carriers, you may well arrive at stupid o'clock in the morning at the same time as lots of other flights.
We passed into an area of arrival duty-free shops and were almost relieved to see that workmen had the flooring up for repairs - now that was more like India. We went to the baggage area where our bags did take a silly amount of time to arrive, but this left lots of time for my husband to go off and change money.
We headed to the customs area, handed over our customs slips and found ourselves in a really rather quiet area with shops, cafés and what we needed most, the pre-booked taxi counters. The old airport used to throw you out on the mercy of the crowd to fight off the seedy little men trying to get you in their cabs but they've moved all that outside of the actual terminal building so you can go and arrange transport without any hassle.
There are bus services to the city and the Metro now connects all the way to the airport but as a party of four going in the wrong direction for the Metro or the buses, we wanted to take a pre-booked taxi. There were several desks to choose from and we took Mega Cabs where there was only one other person waiting. I gave the assistant the address, she took a look at the size of us and our luggage and gave us a price of 520 rupees for the journey (approximately £8). We paid and she issued two copies of the receipt - one for us and one for the driver - and explained to go outside to pillar 14 (clearly marked) and look for the car with the registration number on the ticket. We should then give the driver one slip and keep the other.
Despite the car looking a bit small for the challenge (those CNG gas tanks have stolen most of the space in the boot of the taxis), the driver and his friends got us and all our bags in and not one person had their hand out for a tip. We've never had such a smooth arrival in India and within 40 minutes we were at our B&B, more than happy with the driving skill and communication from the driver. Going to India just keeps getting easier!
Just to give a little bit of balance to the glowing praise of Terminal 3, we flew down to Aurangabad from the domestic terminal 1A a week later. I won't write too much about this since the domestic flights were intended to move to T3 within the next couple of months so an in-depth discussion of them would be rapidly out of date. Allow plenty of time to get your hold luggage screened and then checked in, and to pass through security which is admirably thorough. We flew at 1 pm on a Saturday and the airport was very quiet and nothing took very long (even more so since a 'fixer' decided to 'fix' on us and whiz us through the formalities of the check-in process in return for a small tip.
Airside Domestic is quite well equipped with several snack bars including a McDonalds, forex, book shops, a jeweller and very clean loos. The terminal is wi-fi enabled and the service is free of charge but you'll need to give a telephone number so they can SMS you a code to use it. My phone was in my checked luggage so I missed a trick there.
Our return to England was through T3 and I was a bit disappointed by the place. There was nothing wrong with the facilities it was just the total sense that you could have been absolutely anywhere in the world in any airport and there was nothing Indian about it. The check in area was enormous, they've now dispensed with the old pre-check in baggage screening and we sailed through passport control and security because there were just so many staff working the counters. Once we'd got to the departure area we found a very swanky, clean, modern shopping and restaurant area - my only complaint would be that it was completely lacking in any sense of Indian identity - for heavens sake, they even have WH Smiths. The food court had a great range of cheap dining options including some that were uniquely local and we stuffed ourselves with Chinese food from a place called NoodleWok and my sister took advantage of the need to use up her last rupees by buying us all drinks in the bar - including the first glass of wine for two weeks.The walks to the departure gates are long and marred by the shockingly ugly carpets but at the moment the moving walk ways are still operational and that helps. There's plenty of seating and more toilets in the boarding area. Terminal 3 has taken Delhi airport from a run down hovel where nothing worked to a beautiful sparkly new hub that's on a par with any modern airport worldwide. The city should be proud of its achievement.
On a recent trip to India I had to stop off at Indira Gandhi International Airport (aka Delhi Airport) on my outward journey in December 2010 and my return journey in January 2011.
Arriving at Delhi Airport for the second time to my recollection (on most previous trips, I'd either stayed on board the plane whilst passengers got off and on or I was too young to remember the airport) the first thing I thought was how modern it all looked compared to the rather grotty Calcutta Airport that I have been through numerous times in recent years. I had been through Delhi Airport the previous year and was a bit confused as it all looked very different when I got off the plane and walked what seemed like miles to get through to the departure area!
Travelling from London Heathrow to Calcutta with a 1.5 hour stopover in Delhi to transfer planes I assumed we (hubby and I) would have some time to have a look around the airport shops (and have a ciggy or two too). This wasn't to be the case. Walking the fairly long distance from the plane to the transit desk we ended up standing in a queue for no apparent reason for well over an hour only for some joker to check our onward boarding passes and tell us which way to go. We were not surprised when a fellow British traveller grumpily asked one of the two chaps at the transit desk "How many people live in Delhi?" we didn't hear the response but the chap then said "Well maybe you could get a few more people down here on this desk in that case!" Going through this ridiculous process was bad enough and we were worried that we only had just over 15 minutes to get to the departure gate and board the flight, in the transit area there were no screens to say whether flights were leaving on time, we then had to get through the next round of security which was even more frustrating having gone through this already at Heathrow. I know, I know, the Indian airport staff are far more thorough than the staff at Heathrow (do you note my sarcasm here?) so we shouldn't begrudge the whole stand in a ridiculously long queue and go through security again as we obviously must have snuck out of the airport between going through security at Heathrow and reaching security in Delhi to load up with weapons and whatnot! This security was slow and tedious and took another 45 minutes before we got to the section where the shops were which we were unable to browse as our flight was showing as due to depart on time so those of us flying on to Calcutta literally dashed over to the departure gate to board our flight. All in all our flight to Calcutta was delayed for over 2 hours but at no time during our wait at the departure gate were we advised of how long the delay might be, actually we weren't even advised that there was a delay. The board continuously showed the departure time of 13:30 although we didn't board till well after 15:00 and took off after
Here's where it got more confusing, our flight was due to depart at 13:30 or so yet it was after 13:30 and no signs of the flight boarding. Hubby said he was going to wander off to the shops quickly and I was to call him on the mobile if it was announced that we had to board. He didn't hang around the shops for long. Amongst the various designer shops he had a look around; he found the same shirt he was wearing which he'd bought in London over a year ago for £100 which was being sold at Delhi Airport for the equivalent of £190. He saw several other designer items which he owns and had bought at normal retail price in the UK for sale at Delhi Airport for more than 80% of the price he had paid, he was not impressed. No wonder no one was actually buying anything in the shops, he told me! At least the seating at the departure gates was plentiful and comfortable and I was impressed that there were a handful of very comfortable looking full length reclining seats at our departure gates which I didn't try out for fear of falling asleep and missing my flight!
On hubby's return from browsing the shops, I decided to venture out for a smoke and was delighted to find an open area for smokers as opposed to the grotty indoor smoking room I had experienced the previous year. It was also a good opportunity to have a walk around in (relatively) fresh air and stretch my legs after over 8 hours on the flight to Delhi. The area provided was pleasant to look at with numerous bins dotted around. There was also an indoor smoking area in the departures area which was a 10 minute walk from the departure gates we needed for our flights, unlike the smoking room I had used the previous year this room had no seating available although it had large and rather noisy extractor fans installed.
The travelators were in good working order even though I found it amusing that I could see the ghastly patterned carpet through the bottom of the travelator. Not sure what drugs the designer of that carpet was on but it reminded me of something dodgy from the 1970s!
The toilets were extremely clean and it was a pleasant surprise to use toilets in an Indian airport which were fully stocked with toilet roll, hand soap, working taps, clean sinks, counters and floors and hand towels as well as working hand driers. I used 2 different toilet areas at Delhi Airport (on my outward and return journeys) and found both to be faultless. It was also a nice experience to come across staff in the toilets who did not stick their hand out and ask for a tip (as has happened to me at Calcutta Airport on several occasions and at Vizag Airport on this same trip).
I can't say my experience of dealing with the airport staff was particularly pleasant, but on the other hand, I can't say anything specifically negative about them. My main complaint was the ridiculous amount of time it took on our arrival from London to get through the transit desk area which will stay in my memory for a very long time - really unpleasant when you've already had over 8 hours on a plane and are feeling tired! Not forgetting to mention again the very tedious process of going through security again which was mind-numbingly slow. Also very annoyingly, at this juncture we were asked to put luggage tags on our hand luggage which should have been handed to us at the transit desk (which weren't) and people through up such a strop that the chap here backed down and provided us with tags himself rather than making us walk back to the transit desk. This also happened on my return journey! Aside from here where the security personnel did not speak any English I found all other staff I had any contact with had good spoken English skills.
I did not purchase anything in the airport on this trip having been very annoyed with Delhi Airport the previous year when trying to buy a bottle of water on my homeward trip and trying to use some leftover rupees I was advised that I could only use dollars. When I said I was from the UK and had just returned from India and wanted to use my leftover rupees I was told it was dollars or nothing. I therefore decided I didn't need to spend any money at the actual airport this time, if my rupees or pounds sterling weren't good enough, they could do without my money!
If you're interested in knowing what sort of shops are available at Delhi Airport they included Hugo Boss, Swarovski, Accessorize, Mont Blanc, Samsonite, William Penn and Bijou Blanc. On my return journey I had the opportunity to browse some of these stores as there was a 2 hour wait for my flight back to London.
Overall I would rate Delhi Airport as a decent enough 3.5 out of 5 stars but unless they sort out the chaos that was the transit desk and the painfully slow security control for transit passengers I wouldn't whole-heartedly recommend the airport, but it's definitely better than other Indian airports I've visited in recent years including Calcutta, Vizag and Bagdogra Airports.