July 29, 2009

The India experience

Know how you've had a million transits through various countries and you haven't felt a thing? Have you ever transitted through India? I did.. just this time... through our fabulous capital, Delhi. Here's the thing - when you transit through some city in any country as the port of entry, you have to do the customs there. Not a big deal... except for the pain of actually claiming the baggage and re-checking it after the customs. And it's not a big deal in any other country. Not here in India though. A 3 hour transit was just about enough. For what? Claim the bags... go through the non-specific customs... and then starts the "fun". So, I was told that there was a "regular" shuttle service between the international and domestic terminals of the airport. First, by "regular" in the normal sense in itself they meant once in 20 minutes. Well, having gotten used to international customs, I thought it was not-too-conveniently paced. But I figured it wouldn't be so bad if it was indeed 20 minutes with no additional "IST" clauses. But who was I kidding? The next thing I learned was that the ride took 30 minutes on an average. Why would this whole thing be called "transit"? I was frustrated... I can't imagine what the whole experience translated to, to the foreigners, especially the ones visiting the fantasy land of India for the first time. And the people at the airline counters weren't equipped to answer in English too well either. Half the time, people like me were chatting to the people in charge in Hindi and translating for the language-challenged folks. That done, the waiting "lounge" was excruciatingly small with the overflowing passengers and further overflowing luggage. After over 40 minutes of waiting, the first "shuttle", a complete run-down school bus variety vehicle pulled up to a curb of overly eager passengers (I don't blame them - each one had a flight to catch) who stuffed their luggages and themselves into the bus and within the blink of the eye, it was full. I decided to wait for the next one, having marginally more time than the people who'd jumped ahead of me. Another 40 anxious minutes later, no buses, more useless banter with the guys at the counter, more eager passengers and the news of one broken-down bus and one in accident. The guy at the counter finally suggests that it may be better for me to get a prepaid taxi. While I mutter curses under my breath and make my way halfway across the stupid lounge, the other one yells that the bus is here. To their credit for having bantered with me for so long, they helped my suitcase into the bus first and then assured me that I would make my flight. I chattered with everyone in sight and made a few short friends out there while the bus paced painfully within the airport making it's way to the domestic terminal from the backyard of the international terminal. 40 minutes later we are dropped off at what is obviously the destination. Only to learn that the terminal for the Air India flights was a level lower and we couldn't get there unless a smaller "golf-cart" took us. I was very nearly at the end of my tether and there was under 20 minutes for my next flight and I still had luggage to check in. The stupid surprise wasn't going as per plan in this leg at all. With 10 minutes to go, I reach the Air India counter only to be misinformed that the flight has departed... and then told that that it was cancelled and then finally told that I needed a proper printout to let me board. I was exasperated beyond measure and a few choice words started exiting my mouth. Realizing my utter frustration at the system, one helpful dude finally thrust a printout into my hands, guided me to a counter and told me that the flight was late by 10 minutes and that meant I could make it. A rush of adrenaline... a checkin.. a boarding pass... a delayed flight and 2.5 hours later, I was finally in Chennai, ready to carry on with the surprise.

We'd want our country to project the best we have to offer... we should be willing to make that effort to expose the advancement in the country. The unhelpful (and under-informed) staff, the complicated procedures, the run-down airport vehicles, the delayed flights... none of this have the vestige of giving anyone the experience of landing in Incredible India. Let's really hope that a good change is in the horizon... and soon. If only we could all individually help.


Kavitha said...

Hmm...the last time I transited through Mumbai, I thought they had a poor system. Looks like our capital wins that contest. Sad.

Jaya said...

Kavitha -> All's bad!! At least I know that in Chennai the international and domestic airports are right next to each other. That means you won't have too long to travel between them or wait. But here's the thing... I m NEVER gonna transit through Chennai! Sad to hear that the transit through Mumbai sucks too. Hmph.

Shiva kumar Shankar said...

The transit in Mumbai is pretty pathetic too! I had a overall horrific experience thanks to Singapore airlines (very surprisingly).
The so called Intl airport is in permanent disrepair. Same story as the transit bus, the domestic airport looks like a fish market or our local Koyambedu bus stand.

At the very end of it all, the Jet airways mentioned that Singapore airlines did not book any ticket for me in jet to connect to Bangalore (all this after arriving in Mumbai 24hrs after, when I should actually have been in bangalore). Grrrr, I am still ticked off when I think about it. Surprisingly though, the baggage somehow followed me perfectly all the way :O

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