Forget the stress. Forget booking the helicopters. Forget leaving 4 hours before the flight — well, maybe.
Last week, I devised an experiment: a journey from two city centres to their new suburban airports in rush-hour traffic. After all the complaints about congestion, graft, inefficiency and sheer distance, I wanted to see for myself if these new airports and their arrival really represented “India’s astonishing inability to plan for its future and fix its sagging infrastructure,” as The New York Times reported in May.
My first goal on a Thursday morning was simple: to make it to our office on Church Street in Bangalore by 10.30am. I happened to be flying from Chennai, so the flight time was negligible; everyone told me, though, that I should allot at least two or three hours for the drive into central Bangalore. I had had nothing but horrible experiences with the old airport. In the fall of 2005, my then 13-month-old baby and I remained stuck in traffic for an hour on our way and arrived at the airport, drenched in the city’s infamous rain, our sweat, and her tears (possibly some of mine, too). Ironically, around the same time, a news show spent an hour discussing, “Is the Bangalore dream dying?”
No, I bitterly thought. It’s already dead.
But new airports bring new dreams, as the folks at Bangalore International Airport Ltd — led by Siemens AG — have asked us to believe. I arrived at the Chennai airport at 7.05 (for the record, that city-to-airport journey took 35 minutes). The flight left at 8 (on time) and touched down in Bangalore at 8.47. I prepared to be dazzled.
First, the skywalk wasn’t working, so we had to deplane from the back onto a bus. There’s nothing like anticipating a brand-new airport and its 21st century ways — and then having to hang onto those straps for dear life and balancing a purse, a laptop and a small suitcase. Somehow, the runway resembled a mall parking lot in the middle of a recession. Empty. Inside, the airport left me underwhelmed only because it felt anonymous, like it could have been in Frankfurt or Chicago. Thankfully I got my bags within a few minutes and hopped into a taxi at 9.15.
The next hour or so was, embarrassingly, a blur because I fell asleep. Mind you, I rarely fall asleep in cars here, given the bumpy roads and honking, but this highway was smooth. Even as we entered the city, a bit after 10, the sudden and constant honking became a strange lullaby and I woke up only to note the time.
I reached the office at 10.27, dazzled by a commute under 90 minutes.
Next up was the trek back to the airport, this time in evening rush hour.
By lunchtime, paranoia set in and I grew antsy to make it for my 8.50pm flight to Hyderabad. Yes, I planned to travel from one allegedly disastrous airport to another. After stalling and three cups of tea, at 6.02, we set off.
The roads, again, jammed. At 6.16, a cow walked by, faster than us. At 6.30, I panicked because we had not even moved a light. Curses ensued.
At 6.32, something miraculous happened. We began cruising (in Bangalore, that means: Go. Stop. Honk. Go. Stop. Progress). The driver assured the next 5km would be tough but the final 30km would take under 30 minutes.
At 7.02, we hit the highway. At 7.12, we pulled up and I grinned. I’ve done it again — under 90 minutes! I should win an award. A woman came up to me to advertise a service where Toyota Innovas outfitted with wireless Internet and entertainment systems can get you to the city centre for Rs300.
Yeah, I’d come here again. But leaving Bangalore, with enough time to browse shops and buy two shirts and dried fruit, beat arriving.
Onto Hyderabad. My flight actually landed early and I practically danced across the air bridge. Fittingly, Indian classical music played, along with colourful figures and plentiful plants greeting me. Helpers seemed everywhere; I almost asked them for advice on marriage, they were so knowledgable. At 9.53, I was escorted into my car rental, loving Hyderabad — until I was asked to fork Rs1,150-plus.
Gulp. For a cab?
I arrived at my hotel in the city centre at 10.57; the car got a little lost, or else we would have been even earlier. Of course, that is not rush hour, so the next day, to truly test these allegedly far-flung airports out, I booked a 7.50pm flight back to Delhi.
We left at 5.07 from Somajiguda in the city. And the familiar rhythm of jerky traffic (but much less honking) began, but by 5.31, we hit a highway — and at 6.04, we arrived. Under an hour. The Padma Shri, I deserve.
City centres, especially urban areas that continue to grow, are no place for airports. These cities and their airport promoters did not adequately plan every detail in time for the opening — but now the facilities seem to be working just fine. It’s time for passengers to quit complaining, embrace the new mode — and hope the takeaway biryani stays warm on the flight home.
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