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Fear of first-flier disadvantage

- Airlines wary of teething trouble keep terminal waiting

Call it the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal jinx or the Lucknowi pehele aap syndrome, but Calcutta’s all-new terminal is struggling to find an airline to flag off first.

Four airlines approached by the Airports Authority of India to start international operations from March 1 are reluctant to be the first off the blocks fearing a first-mover disadvantage. A throwback to August 6, 1978, when a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal match started 45 minutes late as both teams refused to take the field first on grounds of superstition that the first one out would lose the tie. Finally, the two Maidan giants were persuaded to enter the field together.

That would be a tough act to follow at the swanky airport where Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet are said to be wary of the teething trouble (read infrastructure fill-in-the-blanks) at the airport. Delay in flights and misplacement of baggage are their biggest worries, with the harassment faced by thousands of fliers in the early days of Delhi’s Terminal 3 fresh in memory from 2010.

“We are yet to take a decision (on starting operations). Our primary concern is that passengers shouldn’t be inconvenienced,” said a spokesperson for Air India. “We’ll be ready to move in the moment logistics and amenities at the new terminal are ready.”

While the airlines have started shifting their infrastructure from the old to the new terminal, they were yet to agree to the March 1 flag-off. “The earlier date of operations from mid-February couldn’t be met so a revised date of March 1 has been proposed to the airlines. They are yet to confirm,” said a senior AAI official.

Sources said the airlines have expressed concerns over check-in, baggage handling, radio frequency and other infrastructure. “The baggage reconciliation system (BRS), IT infrastructure for check-in, radio frequency network for communication among ground staff and between pilot and ground staff and some other amenities need to be tested and made fully operational,” said Captain Sarvesh Gupta, chairman of the Airlines Operators’ Committee at Calcutta.

Bank ATMs, currency exchange counters, food courts, lounges and phone booths for STD and ISD are yet to be set up. The baggage discrepancy cell, a vital wing that looks into baggage problems, is also on the things-to-happen list, airline sources said. The airlines are also waiting to check out the various safety clearances.

Officials involved in the Rs 2,300 crore modernisation project, inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee in January, said some teething trouble was inevitable and would be solved as part of the daily operations. Try telling the first flier that.