The first thing California-based Suvagata Chatterjee did on arriving at Calcutta airport on October 5 was search for a Wi-fi network so that she could call her parents to say she had landed.
Suvagata was shocked to know that the gleaming façade of the city’s new integrated terminal hides a shortcoming that would embarrass any modern airport.
“My iPhone plan doesn’t include international call facility, so I was banking on Wi-fi to make an Internet call. I asked around why I couldn’t use Wi-fi and no airport official could give an explanation,” the young woman recounted.
A co-passenger confirmed that the airport has yet to introduce Wi-fi for fliers, although it’s been seven months since the new terminal was opened.
“I could make a call from Hong Kong airport using Wi-fi to tell my parents that my connecting flight to Calcutta was on schedule. And to think I couldn’t get in touch with them in my own city, my home!” Suvagata said.
Wi-fi allows digital devices within a particular area to connect to the Internet and one another. For travellers on the move, especially foreign tourists, Wi-fi access is the ideal alternative to a high-tariff mobile phone connection with international roaming.
Many use the facility to check in by showing e-tickets on their tablets or send WhatsApp, Skype or FaceTime messages to those waiting outside airports to receive them.
“An airport without Wi-fi coverage inconveniences any international traveller expecting to download an e-ticket, book a cab or make a quick Internet call,” said a city-based businessman who frequently travels abroad.
The Airports Authority of India had apparently given the contract to set up a Wi-fi network at the new terminal to BSNL. Parts of the terminal did get Wi-fi connectivity under a pilot project, only for BSNL to withdraw it in May.
Airport officials said several rounds of communication between the AAI and BSNL had failed to end the impasse.
“A pilot project was started in March for a month but there was a delay at our end in making the system fully operational. Three months back, we wrote to the AAI to say that we were withdrawing,” Gautam Chakravarty, chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, told Metro.
According to a senior airport official, four to five passengers verbally complain to the airport managers every day about the absence of Wi-fi in the terminal.
Saurav Maitra, 23, arrived from Nepal on October 12, Ashtami, to spend Durga Puja with his family and tried making an Internet call to his car driver, only to discover that there was no Wi-fi coverage.
“All modern airports have this facility. So I had taken it for granted that the new terminal would have Wi-fi,” said Saurav, a doctor doing his internship in a hospital at Pokhara, Nepal.
Modern airports offer Wi-fi either free of charge or for a fee. Many airports offer it free for periods ranging from 15 minutes to a couple of hours, beyond which there is a fee.
Some airports put restrictions on bandwidth or websites visited. Dubai International Airport and Changi International Airport in Singapore offer free Wi-fi. Airports in New York and Paris charge for wireless Internet access.
Mumbai has had the facility since 2007. “When a passenger enters the terminal building, he or she can access Wi-fi immediately,” an official said.
Delhi T 3 has Wi-fi access, too.
“We know it’s a problem (in Calcutta), so we have tied up with a private service provider. Wi-fi will be available within a week,” V.P. Agrawal, chairman of AAI, said from Delhi.
Additional reporting by Kaushik Ghosh