For NRIs, India has now arrived

New Delhi Airport  

By Kul Bhushan

‘Oh nooooo!’ groan many non-resident Indians (NRIs) as they stood in long queues for immigration after arriving at Delhi airport. Battling jet lag after a long-haul flight and then waiting in an almost immobile queue becomes their first experience of coming to their motherland. No more.

Earlier, as NRIs arrived from New York, Toronto, London or Sydney, they would get a culture shock on entering Indian airports. Not now, for in addition to Delhi, new airports have been built for Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune, among others. When NRIs came from some of the world’s best airports like Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lampur and Dubai, they would sigh, ‘Oh, when will India catch up?’ Well, India has caught up as T3 ranks among the top 10 in the world.

‘Wow!’ could be their first response now as they land at the swanky new Terminal 3 (T3) of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport that opened earlier this month, with its first commercial flight landing July 16, 2010.

As they line up at the arrival immigration canyon, the NRIs will gape at the golden discs with delicate feminine hands in elegant postures. At 95 immigration counters, smartly dressed officers in gray blazers and ties, will process their passports. If the NRIs have a PIO or an OCI Card, they can be cleared quickly at special counters.

Once they sprint out from passport control to the baggage claim concourse, their bags are most likely to be moving on the conveyor belts. ‘Baggage claim has always been the biggest bottleneck at Delhi airport,’ moaned one NRI on a travel site. Others complained that they missed their onward train bookings due to airport delays. Not likely any more.

The T3 has 14 baggage reclaim conveyor belts to speed up this chore. If an NRI has nothing to declare and brings in gifts or goods valued under Rs 8,000, he/she breezes through customs and enters the arrivals hall. A host of services are on hand here from taxis, car rentals, hotels, currency exchange, telephones, shopping and lots more.

By the end of this year, the NRIs can ride the direct Delhi Metro Airport Express (DAME) link from the airport to the city centre. In less than a half-hour ride on this most modern rapid transit system in the world, he/she will be in Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Circus) and change for any other Metro station on the network.

The NRIs’ departure from Delhi airport will be no ordeal either. Gone are the chaotic scenes at the entrance to the departures lounge, the hassle of getting security checks for baggage, the long waiting at check-in counters and immigration control. The new airport has no security checks for baggage, has 168 check-in counters, 95 immigration counters and the capacity to handle 34 million passengers per year.

If an NRI arrives early, checks in and clears immigration, there is plenty to do in terms of duty-free shopping, snacking and being entertained with TV channels.

The humongous steel and glass terminal extends over 5.4 million square feet, has 78 gates or aero-bridges, 97 automatic walkways and five-level baggage screening system with a capacity to handle 12,800 bags per hour, 215,000 square feet of retail space and parking for 4,300 cars in a multi-level building connected to T3 with covered walkways.

T3 has nine parking slots for the world’s biggest double-decker Airbus A380 plane, six more than Heathrow. Covering 20 acres, T3 is the largest public building, with a length of 1.2 km end to end, constructed since India’s independence in 1947. T3 was completed in 37 months by GMR compared with the 45 months China took to build the terminal in Beijing before the 2008 Olympics. Costing $2.7 billion, it can handle 75 planes in an hour with the latest Cat III runway landing system and 97 moving walkways.

T3 became operational with the first Air India flight from New York with a big load of NRIs zapped with the new terminal. Another landmark was the first commercial flight of the Emirates A380 Airbus July 15. The Emirates double decker Airbus touched down from Dubai with 512 passengers, mostly NRIs, marking the world’s largest commercial aircraft’s arrival to the world’s latest terminal. This flight was part of a drill to reaffirm the operational readiness of the world’s sixth largest passenger terminal.

Instead of moaning on arrival at Delhi airport, NRIs will now beam with pride at the grand airport. For them, India has, literally, arrived.  

A media consultant to a UN Agency, Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 50 countries. He lives in New Delhi 

* Published in print edition on 23 July 2010

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