For the past 21 years I have used the Chennai Airport for domestic and international travels. Over the years, I have noticed many dysfunctional elements that tarnish the airport experience for many passengers. This is especially true for those who are not used to airports and the processes involved.
Even as Chennai airport sees heavy footfall and connects many important destinations, the maintenance of the airport and the facilities for passengers leave a lot to be desired. When you combine all the road-blocks one encounters, the airport can sometimes appear as a ‘death-trap’, where it is extremely difficult to get to an already costly mode of transportation.
Access to bus stop and railway station
Getting in and getting out of Chennai airport on foot is extremely difficult. For many who opt to travel by bus or train, rather than by car, they have to get off at their respective stops – Tirusulam Railway Station or the bus stop opposite the airport – and walk with their luggage to the airport.
Footpaths from these stops to the airport are absent, and there is no bus stop within the airport, so one would have to lug their suitcases and bags around as they cross a rather wide road into the airport, where no proper entrance is really designated. From the entrance you can see cars whizzing around and yet again no pedestrian walkway into the building.
Just outside of domestic arrivals there is a covered walkway, leading to a prepaid taxi area. Here the walkway is made of paver blocks, with many of the blocks broken. These blocks often obstruct the wheels of the trolley and can even cause damage to them. This is one of the reasons why most trolleys in the airport seem to be broken or dysfunctional. The walkway ends abruptly with a number of trolleys and cars blocking its end.
Getting out of the airport is also extremely difficult. When you try to leave from domestic arrivals, you come out of the gate and enter a long covered road, with a Madras Coffee House on the side, as a well known marker. This road has gone through around 15 different traffic diversions over the years. Sometimes it is blocked, sometimes it is open for pick-ups. No one really knows the status of this road as a result. Usually many people are seen crossing this road to reach their vehicles, yet there is no speed breaker for vehicles to slow down. A traffic warden is present to manage the road, yet this has not done much to reduce confusions for those who cross, or for those driving their vehicles.
Pick up points and guidance
If one were to look at Bangalore’s Kempegowda Airport, where there are areas where pedestrians need to cross, and vehicles also make use of these roads, you will always see traffic marshals in fluorescent safety jackets guiding pedestrians across, while they stop vehicles going past. In addition, the pickup points for different types of vehicles are clear, unlike the Chennai Airport. There is a clear lane for buses, clear lanes for Uber and Ola autos and taxis.
In the Chennai airport, a lot of the time pick up points for autos, taxis, cars, etc are all along one road, making things extremely difficult. In addition, there is a pick up point shelter, where only around 10-15 people could fit in. This shelter is littered with broken trolleys and hardly protects passengers from the heat and rain
Often when asked, Airport authorities or those working at the airport mention that such a mess in moving in and around the airport is because of construction work that is constantly happening to expand the airport. However, priority is not given to the needs and conveniences of the people, especially pedestrians, who continue to make use of the airport even in these times.
In the case of Chennai Metro construction, it can be seen how pedestrian pathways are often made on the side so as to reduce the confusion that the construction might cause. Barricades are present by the construction to reduce any danger. The same could be done for the airport, yet no corrective measures are being taken.
A multi-level car parking plan is in the works at the airport, and is often spoken of as a solution to the above issues with getting in and out smoothly. However, if one were to imagine such a concept working in real time, passengers would have to lug their baggage to find the taxi level, or their pick up vehicles across multiple levels. Many people in fact suffer from the anxiety of traveling. People want to get in and get out, and the airport seems to not allow for this to happen smoothly.
Faulty railings and poor excuses
The railings along ramps are often broken and shaky, not offering any practical support for those who need it. A common excuse from the authorities when asked about shaky railings, is that often taxi and auto drivers lean on them, causing them to break.
However, it is common sense that people would lean on railings, it is convenient for one to rest on, and so the solution is to then consider this at the planning and building stage. These railings shouldn’t be hollow and should be made of strong iron so as to bear the load of those who use it.
The ramps are also rather dangerous to use. For one, the tiles used are not rough and even with a mild drizzle, they become quite slippery. Ultimately this poses a number of dangers to people and can easily cause accidents.
Long lines a result of low resources
On a trip back from Dubai, I reached the airport at 3 am only to see long queues of at least 700 people at the immigration line. Only 2-3 counters were tending to them despite at least 20 counters being present. The lines are especially inconvenient for those with children, or those with disabilities. For one, no instructions are clear. When people land, they are made to fill in documents they didn’t know they had to fill prior to the journey. In total I waited for around 45 minutes.
When I was done with immigration, relieved that I could go and pick up my baggage, there was a man there asking me to show the stamp on my passport. This also results in long queues, despite the fact that immigration officers wouldn’t let passengers pass through without stamps. People start looking through their books for their stamps, resulting in a frenzy. Often the officers are often quite rude and dismissive of people’s doubts and fears, adding further to the chaos.
What is the point of making weary international passengers go through such an arduous process? Most people don’t know what this is all about and have to dig through the passport pages to find the stamp and this adds to the delay. I have arrived at other airports in India and nowhere else is the arrival seal checked, except at the Chennai Airport.
There are also different lines for children, for senior citizens, etc. Yet people start moving into the children’s line, just to finish the process. There is no sense of order. In fact, guidelines are also scanty. All sign boards present were in English and barely visible.
Another strange practice at the international baggage claim in Chennai that I noticed was that many of the bags had chalk or permanent marker on them. On going to the source of the bags i.e. behind baggage claim, where the bags are X-rayed and sent on the conveyor belt, there was a man marking almost every bag with chalk and permanent marker. Apparently, this is to signal to those at customs that such a bag has ‘suspicious items’ in it. However, upon observing the X-ray and consequent marking, there seemed to be no discretion practised in the marking.
Raising the issues with authorities
A key method of raising these issues has been via social media. Often many people have similar concerns and tag the Chennai Airport twitter handles. In response to the railings issue, I had raised this on Twitter to which the Chennai Airport handle stated that auto drivers leaning on the railings is the reason for the same. They then mentioned how they would sensitise them to not lean on the railings.
Another method is the complaint board website where many people raise complaints, however, many have resorted to social media now, even though the airport Twitter handle often responds in a very perfunctory manner, with no specific solution.
Despite the experience and grievances raised by many, the experience and amenities available are yet to see any change. As airports in other cities continue to set standards in these parameters, Chennai finds itself left behind.