Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is This Really India? Hyderabad's New Airport Sparkles

We finally made it to Hyderabad late on Sunday night, or very early Monday morning to be exact, arriving at the sparkling new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (Shamshabad). In one word: WOW!

Being in the travel business and having worked specifically a lot with the Indian market I had been hearing about this new airport for a while, as well as the one which recently opened in Bangalore that we're flying out of next week. I vividly remember flying in to Mumbai (Bombay) ten years ago and thinking to myself "I can't believe this is the richest city in the country" because the airport was an absolute shit hole. I had also flown in and out of a few other Indian airports including Goa, Cochin and Chennai (Madras), all of which were nicer than Mumbai but nothing spectacular.

Shamshabad is spectacular. Seriously.

It's not quite as grand as Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, but it is incredibly clean, bright, modern and efficient. And I don't just mean efficient by Indian standards, I mean actually efficient. My first words to The Future Mrs. Logistics as we walked in to the terminal were "For all we know we could be in Zurich right now." The Future Mrs. Logistics was even more impressed, having flown in and out of the old crappy airport over a dozen times during her 7 months working here, to the point where she was almost in a state of shock.

We should have suspected that the times they were a-changin' when we landed, as all of the Indian passengers actually stayed in their seats until we reached the gate. This NEVER happens on flights to/within India.

Apparently the old airport only had one immigration booth, and Indian passengers had an annoying habit of waiting until they got to the booth before filling out their immigration cards. According to The Future Mrs. Logistics getting through immigration at the old airport was at least a one hour process. Well the first promising sign at Shamshabad was when we saw other passengers filling out their cards at desks before they got to the booths. And yes, there's now more than one immigration booth. In fact there were at least 20 of them, and even more impressive was the fact that every single one of them was staffed and being used. In contrast I remember flying through Charles de Gaulle right after 9/11 where they had at least 100 immigration booths with no more than 15-20 of them actually being used. In addition to being questionable for security, it also struck me as odd that such a socialist country such as France couldn't fill up the rest of those booths with civil servants given the country's high unemployment rate.

But I digress...

My booth was staffed by some pussy wearing a ski mask and heavy coat who apparently couldn't handle the chilly 68 degree temperatures of the airport. He was also one of those guys who felt the need to look at every single page of my passport because that's the type of thing that makes him feel important. Regardless it was still a pretty quick process.

What impressed us the most was might be the world's most technologically advanced baggage carousel, which featured some sort of laser sensor from the future that used a coordinated time-delay-response-mechanism-thing to prevent new luggage from falling on to bags that were already on the carousel. The Future Mrs. Logistics was speechless (something The Doctor always appreciates).

But what struck me most was just how beaming with pride everyone was at the airport. Although it's been open for 5 months the novelty has clearly not worn off yet, and likely won't anytime soon. The locals are clearly conscience of this achievement as it represents all that modern India is capable of. Bangalore also has a new airport which also opened this year. We're flying out of there next week so I'm looking forward to seeing how it stacks up to Hyderabad.

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