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Queues ground morning fliers

- Up to 10 people miss flights every day

More fliers miss morning flights at Calcutta airport every day because of long queues and deficiencies in infrastructure than for reporting at the airline counters past the 45-minute deadline for check-in, say officials.

Between five to 10 fliers have been walking into the airport manager’s office on an average every morning over the past few months to complain about being denied boarding passes despite arriving at the terminal an hour or more in advance.

The majority of them are apparently victims of the chaos inside the terminal, starting with the snaking queues for baggage X-ray. “Unlike in Mumbai and Delhi, people flying out of Calcutta airport have to queue up thrice to reach the boarding arena. The antiquated, manual system of screening registered baggage is the prime culprit,” an airline official said.

The city airport unofficially scrapped an inline baggage screening system that cost Rs 36 crore after putting it on trial for just three days last September. The inline system was supposed to replace the X-ray junctions for registered baggage so that fliers didn’t have to line up to get their bags screened and lug them to the check-in counters, where another snaking queue would await them.

Airports in the other metros have long had this system, but those flying out of this city apparently have to wait for the much-hyped integrated terminal to be inaugurated before they can hope for a similarly smooth check-in experience.

“Even if a passenger comes to the airport one hour before departure, he has to stand in the queue for luggage X-ray for 15 to 20 minutes on average in the morning peak hours. The queues at the check-in counters are just as long,” said an official of a private airline.

Although airlines know where the fault lies, there is little they can do to accommodate fliers arriving late for check-in. The rules stipulate that a check-in for a particular flight must close 45 minutes prior to departure, irrespective of the circumstances leading to a passenger reporting late.

Many airlines have been sending SMS alerts to people booked on their flights to report at the airport up to three hours in advance, citing “congestion” at the domestic terminal. “The airlines don’t have a choice. The 45-minute rule needs to be strictly enforced to reduce delays that can have a domino effect when one aircraft flies various routes in a day,” said an official of the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Calcuttan Sanjeeb Mukherjee, travelling to Delhi on business on April 9, learnt the hard way that a cushion time of at least two hours is a must for anyone flying out of the city during the morning or evening rush hour.

“I was to take a SpiceJet flight to Delhi at 7.15am. I reached the airport at 6.10am and found myself at the rear of a long queue at the baggage X-ray counter. Then came the queue at the check-in counter. By the time my turn came, they had shut the counter for my flight. I was aghast,” he recounted.

Mukherjee was forced to take an IndiGo flight, paying Rs 7,559 for a ticket.

A SpiceJet spokesperson said the airline sympathised with fliers like Mukherjee, but couldn’t flout the DGCA deadline.

So is the onus solely on fliers to report early to avoid missing flights? “Yes, given the state of the airport and the authorities’ failure to do anything about it,” said a senior manager of a private airline.

The current average daily passenger volume at the domestic terminal is around 11,000 and the number of X-ray machines in use is four, which works out to a lopsided man-machine ratio of 1: 2,750. On an average, 40 domestic flights take off from the airport between 7 and 9am.