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Didi, save our terminally ill airport
Holiday rush adds to horrors
little has changed at city’s gateway of shame

An airport terminal that makes a mess of handling 10,000 fliers a day has reached breaking point with the passenger count shooting up to 14,000 this summer holiday season.

All the familiar signs of chaos — snaking queues, dirty toilets, vanishing trolleys and bad behaviour by staff — were visible on Sunday, proving that the city’s gateway of shame hasn’t taken a step towards redemption since Metro started highlighting flier woes last year.

“Daily traffic has increased by more than 20 per cent, but there has been no improvement in infrastructure,” said an airport official who did not wish to be named.

Airport director B.P. Sharma blamed an unprecedented surge in holiday traffic for all the problems, insisting that the authorities were doing the best they could to make fliers comfortable. “The domestic terminal is equipped to handle 4,800 passengers a day but we have been receiving around 14,000 over the last few days,” he said.

Metro finds out how pressure has brought out the worst in the airport.

PARKING

Sandip Basu, a resident of Lake Road, realised last week that Howrah railway station does a better job of traffic management than the city airport. “I arrived at the domestic terminal to catch a Delhi-bound flight and felt disgusted by the sight that greeted me. The lane in front of the terminal was so clogged that I was forced to get off my car at a distance and walk with my luggage,” said the 38-year old company executive.

Taxis, the main troublemakers, continue to be a law unto themselves. “They enter the lanes earmarked for private vehicles and nobody reins them in. Discipline enables you to make the best out of a tough situation, but here it is the opposite. More the pressure, more the lack of discipline,” said a businessman stepping out of the terminal at rush hour on Sunday.

An airport official blamed a traffic rejig for the chaos. “The taxi parking lot has been shifted to the exit route because of construction, blocking one lane. Vehicles with VIP stickers are also parked in that lane,” he said.

QUEUES

Subhashis Dutta was headed for Bangalore last week after a holiday in the city when he got stuck in the security-check queue for nearly 30 minutes. “My Jet Airways flight was scheduled to take off at 6.15am and I was worried when the minutes ticked by and the queue moved ever so slowly. I reached the boarding gate on time but the flight was delayed because many of my co-passengers were way behind me in the queue. The flight took off at 6.40am,” he recalled.

Dutta said he hadn’t seen a more chaotic airport. “How can they not provide fliers a place to sit while they wait for boarding? It’s such a shame,” he said.

The torture starts from the entrance and doesn’t end till a flier is past the boarding gate.

“There are two entry gates but nobody uses the one that is for passengers as well as visitors because there is nobody to guide anyone. Nothing seems to have changed since last Puja,” said surgical oncologist Gautam Mukhopadhyay.

City-based businessman Kumar Aswani was to take a flight to Delhi two days ago when chaos stalked him at every step.

“My flight was at 9am and I was at the airport by 7.30am. It took me 10 minutes to enter the terminal, 15 more minutes to get my luggage scanned and 40 minutes for security check,” he said.

The in-line baggage system that all modern airports have has been installed but the staff are still not “fully trained” to operate it, an official said.

The number of counters in the domestic terminal is 50 to Mumbai’s 118. The plan to expand the security hold and add more counters for security check has yet to be implemented. The entire domestic terminal makes do with six X-ray machines and 12 frisking booths.

“From June 15, we will have a larger security hold, one more X-ray machine and three extra frisking booths,” airport director Sharma promised.

According to an official of a private airline, several morning and evening flights are being delayed by 15 minutes on an average.

TROLLEYS

Sanjay Purohit, 50, arrived at the airport to take a JetLite flight to Delhi on Sunday when trolley trouble struck. “It took me more than 20 minutes to find a trolley and I had to walk till the exit gate… I couldn’t find a single one there either. My vehicle was parked in the lane and those behind me were constantly honking. It was so frustrating,” he said.

Nearly 300 damaged trolleys have been dumped in front of the airport police station instead of being repaired, negating the addition of 200 new trolleys.

The 80-odd employees whose job it is to retrieve the trolleys left by fliers in the parking lot and elsewhere continue to take things easy. “Trolleys get damaged regularly because these are not retrieved and maintained properly by the staff. Nobody can take them to task as they are backed by political parties,” an official said.

The number of trolleys in use is less than 2,500, which works out to one trolley for five passengers during the holiday rush.

“The contractor is not getting the trolleys repaired. We will soon seek new bids,” the airport director said.

CLEANLINESS

Businessman Raj Metharamani knows the airport is being stretched but can’t understand what prevents the authorities from maintaining the minimum level of cleanliness.

“You have to cover your mouth with a handkerchief before entering a toilet. Even railway toilets are better,” he complained.

The airport had procured mopping machines last year but already two of them have developed snags. “The equipment is hardly maintained,” an official said.

BEHAVIOUR

If running into problems at every step leaves fliers frustrated, the behaviour of the Airports Authority of India staff makes many of them promise never to seek assistance from an official.

“Nobody answers queries or hears a complaint properly. Once I was searching for a trolley and was rudely asked by a staff member to ask the airport manager about the shortage,” Metharamani recalled.

“The Citu-backed employees’ union has instilled this culture. We will change this within a few months,” promised Union minister Saugata Ray, the chairman of the airport consultative committee.

Do you think Mamata Banerjee’s intervention can help improve the airport?
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