Friday, April 15, 2016

A flight too far


Travails of the domestic flyer at modern airports 

Story first published in +Medium (Click on this to read)


Modern International Airports are purposefully designed like huge shopping malls aimed at seducing passengers — hanging out before flight departures — to eat, buy and otherwise spend money. While landing and airport usage charges pay for the operations, commission on shop, spa and restaurant sales are the real profit engines. That’s the revenue model on which commercial airport run. Hence, the unending walks to the boarding gates.

This works for long haul flights with early check-in and extended lay-over. But, for domestic or short-haul (as in Europe) — this can be a real pain as it increases pre-boarding time — to provide for the distance from check-in to the gates. Bulk of Domestic traffic comprise Business Travellers for whom time is at a premium. Much of that is wasted . Even if they treat the run to the plane as a substitute for their morning constitutional or evening run, the distance to baggage claim and, sometimes, the wait for bags to arrive on the belt becomes excruciatingly frustrating. And, all this is sheer torture for senior citizens — as our airports are far from “old age friendly” with buggies and wheel-chairs usually difficult to find.

That is why smaller city airports for domestic and short-haul flights make sense. In India — budget airlines like #Indigo6E did well to stay back in the old terminals in Delhi and Mumbai — while ‘full-service’ players like Jet have moved to the newer T3 and T2 respectively. Perhaps, from the airlines’ point of view it helps to have common ground and commercial infrastructure. Besides, Jet and Air-India have greater number of international connections and code-share flights — for which a common terminal is the way to go.

However, for the domestic passengers it can be a killer. Delhi T3 — it is still manageable as the Domestic Departure section is more sensibly designed. Though in Delhi too one has to commute a long distance from Security-Check to the Boarding Gates it is far more easily negotiable. The shopping area is much smaller and there are mechanised walk-ways all along. Availability of buggies and wheel-chairs are also better. But, Mumbai T2 is another story. It’s a forced tour of a “museum” — that becomes tiring after the first experience. There are no conveyor walkways till much after the shopping arcade. In adopting international designs — architects forget the fact that — the ordinary air-travellers in India are less fit than in Europe, Americas or even other Asian countries. Besides, we “Desis” travel with much heavier hand (cabin) luggage — beating the 6 kg limit with impunity — making it a punishment of sorts.

So, the bottom line is — I will think twice before taking my next flight out of or into Mumbai’s T2 — unless I have hours to kill (and lot of money to blow up) at the airport. That means — what’s #Indigo6E’s gain will be #JetAirways’ and #AirIndia’s loss. Not that they care, really.