Airports across the country have never been busier. This is the first winter when a sense of normality has returned after over two years of Covid restrictions. And people are travelling for every conceivable reason, including a brand new one – to attend receptions of weddings conducted from late 2020 when there was a restriction on the number of guests allowed.
As a result, domestic air travel since the beginning of this month has returned to – or may even have exceeded – pre-pandemic levels. At some of the busiest airports, like Delhi and Mumbai, airlines are asking people to report at least three and a half hours prior to a domestic departure and four and a half hours ahead of an international flight. It’s not as if things were all right before the pandemic; there was a demandsupply crunch then too, and ambitious plans had been drawn up to expand capacities at airports. But the pandemic slowed things down, and no one ever expected air travel to bounce back with a vengeance so fast.
The government, meanwhile, is working overtime to smoothen things as peak Christmas holiday travel season starts this weekend. These efforts are showing results but will soon face their biggest test over the next month when flyer numbers are expected to swell further. TOI examines each passenger interface point:
Terminal entry
THE ISSUE: During peak hours, the struggle starts the moment you reach the airport departures area: just finding a place for your driver to park the car or cab is a challenge. Then, after you manage to reach the gate with your luggage, you have to stand in a long queue till your turn comes to show your ID and ticket or boarding pass and enter.
WHAT’S BEEN DONE: The government has rolled out biometric-based DigiYatra at some airports like Delhi and Varanasi and people using this app get quicker entry. Following reports of chaos, the government got airport operators to deploy more people for traffic and queue management with ushers directing passengers to gates with shorter queues. Bengaluru, and now Delhi, have boards indicating wait periods to enter the terminal at gates.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Expedite DigiYatra rollout at more airports.
Check-in and baggage drop
THE ISSUE: Airlines laid off a lot of people during Covid. Post the chaos witnessed this month, the aviation ministry found inadequate manning for these two jobs. This led to longer-thanusual wait times.
WHAT’S BEEN DONE: The government has asked airlines to ensure adequate manning at these places. Passengers are encouraged to web check-in in advance so they just need to drop check-in bags or proceed directly to security with only cabin luggage.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Airlines know how many passengers are booked to fly on flights and should accordingly have rotational manning to ensure adequate staffing for the ‘high tides’. India has a large number of first-time flyers or flyers who are not comfortable using technology and
use the traditional method to check-in and drop bags. Airports can have dedicated how-to-do-it-yourself videos to convert such passengers into tech-savvy.
Security check
THE ISSUE: This is the biggest choke point for travellers in peak hours. Delhi’s T3, for instance, can frisk and check cabin bags of 2,100 flyers per hour using the 17 lanes it currently has. CISF says in peak times 2,750 passengers turn up for security every hour. Once flyers reach the frisking stage, the tray system, which is used globally and is not unique to India, is a huge bottleneck. Personal electronic devices, chargers and power banks have to be taken out of backpacks. Belts and jackets have to be taken off. At some airports, flyers are asked to put them in separate trays — leading to a mad scramble for trays — for the X-ray. Which means, one passenger flying in winter with a laptop in a bag may require two trays: one for the bag, belt and jacket, and second for electronic devices. CISF estimates 80% passengers carry more than the one cabin bag they are allowed, so that increases the need for trays manifold.
WHAT’S BEEN DONE: Where space can be created at terminals, like Delhi’s T3, the government is getting additional frisking lines and more X-ray machines. CISF has deployed more personnel and cancelled leaves and weekly offs of its personnel. Airlines are getting strict about the one handbag rule now.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Use of technology by deploying full-body scanners so the time-consuming pat-down checks can be avoided for ‘clean’ passengers. This has been delayed a lot. 3D computed tomography X-rays can be used for cabin bag checks where passengers don’t need to take out electronic devices and liquids. More CISF personnel need to be deployed.
THE ISSUE: Foreign passport holders arriving in India need to submit their biometrics — four fingers and thumb impressions of both hands. This process is taking a lot of time, with many foreigners saying they waited over an hour to clear immigration. Airport operators say the software being used for the job needs to be upgraded. The time for Indian passport holders has also increased but not as much as for foreigners. This is leading to long queues at hubs like Delhi and Mumbai.
WHAT’S BEEN DONE: The aviation ministry and airport operators have taken up the issue with immigration authorities.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Increased use of technology is needed at immigration. There are tools available to expedite this process.


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