What caused the great Indian airport jam?

The government is talking to domestic airlines to find ways to ease congestion.
The government is talking to domestic airlines to find ways to ease congestion.

Summary

Many airports have lengthy queues at entry, check-in counters, security and immigration and crowded baggage claim areas.

As more passengers take to the skies, airports in India’s top cities—Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru—are witnessing heavy traffic. However, these airports are capacity-constrained, leading to congestion and frayed nerves. Mint explains.

What is causing congestion at airports?

There are lengthy queues at airport entry, check-in counters, security, and immigration. There is crowding at baggage claim areas too. This is the result of an unexpected surge in demand for air travel because of the holiday season—the last two years saw muted demand during this period because of the pandemic. Air traffic has been 1-7% above pre-covid levels of 4 lakh daily flyers for the past 10 days. Consequently, the personnel strength of CISF at check-in, the number of X-Ray machines and automatic trays for security, as well as baggage belts, have fallen short in handling the demand.

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Which airports are most affected?

The congestion is more severe at airports with maximum connectivity such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad. The worst-hit is Delhi—the busiest airport in India and 10th busiest in the world. Delhi handles the largest share of international as well as domestic air traffic in the country with a 27% share in international segment for the country and 20% in overall air traffic in India. The airport, with three terminals, has a capacity to handle around 70 million passengers per annum. Over the last 10 days, the airport has handled over 190,000 passengers daily, which is close to its full capacity.

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Is airport congestion an India-specific problem?

No. Globally, air travel continues to face disruptions. Europe’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, needs to hire around 25,000 staff to manage peak hours. Schiphol in Amsterdam has imposed a 20% cap on capacity to manage traffic. The aviation industry laid off thousands of people during the pandemic, and expects staff strength to realign by mid-2023.

What is being done to decongest airports?

The aviation ministry has recommended a reduction in the number of flights and more manpower at all check-in and baggage drop counters between 5 am and 9 am; increasing the number of X-ray machines and baggage trays for security check. The government will also analyse manpower requirements at immigration counters and, if required, additional personnel will be deployed. IndiGo, the largest airline in India, has asked fliers to report 3.5 hours early for domestic flights from Delhi.

By when can we expect seamless travel?

There is no immediate solution, and the government’s action plan will only bring temporary relief. Increasing the number of personnel at entry, security, and immigration will take time. Higher usage of contactless travel platform—Digi Yatra—for passengers without check-in luggage is expected to ease the congestion a bit. Cities like Delhi and Mumbai need additional infrastructure. However, the Jewar airport in Noida and the Navi Mumbai airport are expected to be operational only by 2024.

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