The crowd at the city airport on Tuesday morning. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta
Sept. 26: The rush to return home during Puja or escape the festive chaos has resulted in a record spurt in footfall at the city airport.
On Sashthi, NSCBI Airport registered a never-before passenger count of 60,000. The average daily figure is around 35,000.
As many as 52,000 of the the 60,000-odd passengers who passed through the airport were domestic fliers. The skewed distribution is hardly surprising, given the handful of international flights the airport handles.
To manage the rush of domestic passengers yesterday and today, the airport authorities had to tap the under-utilised infrastructure of the international section.
"In the security hold area, where passengers wait to board the flights, we have created a swing door to allow four boarding gates of the international section to be used by domestic passengers," airport director Atul Dixit said.
An official said 26,281 domestic and 4,235 international passengers flew out of the airport yesterday. Almost an equal number arrived in the city.
There were long queues at the check-in counters and the X-ray machines of the domestic airlines.
In the arrival area, similar queues were seen at the pre-paid taxi counter.
Puja is the time when tens of thousands of Calcuttans who work or study outside return home. "This is the second year I am outside Calcutta and I realise that I can't miss Puja at any cost," said Aishwarya Mukhopadhyay, an undergraduate student at St. Stephen's College, Delhi. She will return home on Saptami.
The airport usually wears a deserted look during most of the day - except the morning and afternoon rush hours. But throughout today flights to and from the city were almost full.
This Puja, Darjeeling and Sikkim are out of bounds for tourists because of political turmoil in the Bengal hill station.
"Instead of Sikkim and Darjeeling, tourists from Bengal are exploring more of south India this year. We are experiencing a surge in demand for the destinations such as Munnar, Wayanad, Kumarakom and Kabini (Kerala), Coorg (Karnataka), Ooty, Pondicherry and the Andamans," said Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox & Kings.
The passenger surge at the airport started on September 21, the day the footfall soared to 45,000.
Despite the surge in the flier count, the air fares over the next few days are within the "normal range". A one-way fare from Bangalore to Calcutta was about Rs 6,000 this afternoon.
It was around the same for a one-way trip from Calcutta to Mumbai.
Tour operators said seats were available on several flights to and from Calcutta.
"Over the past two years, the number of flights from Calcutta has gone up manifold. The number of domestic passengers has also increased but not proportionately. So, the price surge and the scramble for seats that we used to see during the Puja is not there," said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east), Travel Agents Federation of India.
Yesterday, 189 domestic flights had taken off from Calcutta, compared with 147 flights around this time last year and 112 in 2015.