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Touch of class but business bland

- New lounge at airport battles footfall foe, another one set to open

Calcutta airport flaunts a new international business class lounge but can’t find enough business class travellers to impress.

The average daily footfall hasn’t exceeded 300 since the lounge run by Travel and Food Services, the master concessionaire for F&B services at the integrated terminal, was opened earlier this month. It works out to one person using the facility for every eight fliers walking into the lounge at Mumbai airport.

Delhi’s international business class lounge has a daily passenger turnover almost seven times more than Calcutta’s.

“We have fewer international flights than the other metros. We have been talking to several international carriers over several months but have yet to get a positive response from them,” airport director B.P. Sharma said.

Sources in the aviation industry said barely 70-odd guests out of the 300 using the international business class lounge daily were business class travellers. “The rest of the people are those who have gained entry by clocking air miles,” an official said.

Mumbai generates about 700 business class passengers daily and Delhi about 650. Chennai averages 400 business class fliers.

“Less than 10 per cent of our clients are business class fliers round the year. Unless the volume of business class travellers grow, a facility like the new lounge will remain mostly unused,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India.

So low is the footfall that all 75 seats in the lounge are unoccupied for most of the day. With business being lukewarm at best, the lounge doesn’t stock the premium range of alcoholic beverages that adorn the bar shelves at other metro airports. Metro found Johnnie Walker Black Label the most expensive whisky on offer during a visit last week.

“There is an issue of pricing as well. The airport is asking for Rs 1,500 from each airline for every passenger who uses the lounge but the carriers are bargaining for Rs 900. The rate will be finalised soon,” a source said.

Mumbai airport charges Rs 1,600 from airlines for every passenger with access to the lounge but the facilities are better, airlines officials said.

“In Calcutta, our passengers don’t get private shower rooms or massage facilities. So why should we pay more?” a representative of a private international airline said.

Mumbai airport has separate lounges for first class and business class passengers. The new terminal has two entire floors dedicated to business and first-class lounges. In Delhi, some international airlines like Emirates have their own lounges for business class passengers.

“The problem in Calcutta is lack of volume. Had airlines got more business class passengers, it would have been viable for them to pay for such facilities,” an airport official said.

The new business lounge, spread over 500 square metres on the upper level of the international departure lounge, is a vast improvement over what business class fliers were used to.

The spread of food, choice of beverages and décor — everything is better compared to the previous lounge that became defunct earlier this year.

“The place undoubtedly has the look of a business class lounge,” said an official of a private airline.

Airport director Sharma said a second business class lounge spread over 350 square metres will become operational in the lower level by the end of September. “Wheelchair-bound passengers will find this one convenient. Now they have to take the elevator to reach the international business class lounge.”

The twin lounges are part of a Rs 16-crore project to create F&B infrastructure across the airport.