The bar had been set high. Calcutta airport’s new integrated terminal would be comparable to some of the better airports in the world, or so we thought as the countdown to the inauguration began.
Maybe not as grandiose as Delhi’s T3 or the Dubai International. Maybe not even as passenger-friendly as Frankfurt am Main or O’Hare International. But it would certainly give Rome’s Fiumicino or Washington National a run for their ratings, we hoped.
The grand façade didn’t disappoint but the passenger experience did.
It was Thursday afternoon and the flight from Bagdogra had just arrived and taxied south towards the new facility. On entering the terminal, the feeling was underwhelming to say the least.
The floor already needed mopping. The display screens showed nothing but the logo of the Airports Authority of India. The conveyor belts were dusty. There wasn’t proper signage at several places. Worse, there was no airport assistance in sight.
It took the arriving passengers around 20 minutes to know which conveyor belt had been assigned to that particular flight. It could have taken longer had it not been for an airline attendant who had herself lost her way while looking for a restroom!
As they waited for their luggage, three ladies were having a conversation about how the more things change, the more they remain the same. The gist of their chatter was that at least one ladies’ restroom (near gate 3A) was in desperate need of cleaning.
“What’s the point in complaining? Nothing will change,” said one passenger to another. “If you want things to change, shoot an email to Metro!” the friend suggested.
Much of the inconvenience to fliers felt on Thursday could have been eliminated through intervention, the lack of which was the most chronic of the terminal ills at the old facilities.
Rome’s Fiumicino looks pretty much like the old terminals in terms of facilities. The difference is in the constant presence of an army of eager-to-help airport staff.
After a 40-minute wait for the bags to arrive, it was time to leave. Outside 3A, the surroundings looked magnificent. So did the flyover-like ramp leading to the top floor, the artwork on the ceiling, the tinted glass exterior and the patch of green with the flags just ahead.
Walking past some men at work, anyone would have felt that given time things would get better. But when 20-odd cabbies almost pounce on you immediately after, optimism disappears as quickly as it arrives.
As the car leaves the premises and the beautiful blue-and-grey structure fades into the distance, the only two things you carry with you is some doubt and deja vu.