OPINION

Bengaluru International Airport - A Few Rants

November 11, 2008
Vinod Joseph

Very recently I was in Bangalore after a gap of almost four years. My Bangalore break was very brief, less than two days, and I hardly had the time to do even one-tenth of all that I wanted to do. In the limited time I had, what struck me most about Bengaluru was its new airport. A beautiful and reasonably clean airport, easily accessible through a world class road, it has replaced the much reviled HAL airport which clearly wasn’t sufficient to meet growing Bengaluru’s needs. I have a read a few reviews criticising the inadequacy of the luggage conveyor belts, but we collected our luggage in record time. The Meru cabs outside the airport were unbelievably good and took us to our destination in comfort and at a reasonable rate.

However, there were a few things about the new airport which struck a discordant note.

On our way out, after clearing immigration, we had a good two hours to kill before catching our flight. It was eight in the morning and we were hungry. I looked around and found just two restaurants – a pizza hut and an Italian restaurant – and a Kingfisher Sports Bar. I don’t know about you people out there, but I don’t fancy pizza for breakfast. Nor do I like to start drinking at eight in the morning, even if it is at a branded sports bar (ever wondered what the connection is between sports and drinking?).

This left the Italian restaurant. It was very clean and very empty, though there were quite a number of people at various gates nearby waiting for their flights. The menu listed only Italian bread, coffee and pastries. The waiter confirmed my worst fears. ‘Yes, we serve only Italian items,’ he told me proudly. They didn’t have ciabatta bread and I had to settle for a ham sandwich made out of focaccia bread. I wanted to scream. Why on earth can’t Bengaluru airport have a restaurant that serves Indian food?

No, I am no chauvinist and am all for diversity everywhere, including in cuisine. I enjoy western food much more than the average Indian does. However, I find it intolerable that Bengaluru, home to ragi mudde, bisi belle bath and masala dosa, should have a world class airport without a single Indian restaurant inside the airport. Our bill for the focaccia sandwich, a croissant, a caffe latte and a chocolate chip muffin came to around five hundred rupees, which I think is decent for an international airport. At least 90% of the people at the airport at that time of the day were Indians. I am sure that most of them would have shelled out this amount for a warm Indian meal before catching a flight that would take them away from home.

The second irritant, which is more serious than the first one, was the inadequacy of baby changing facilities. The toilets outside immigration control didn’t have any baby changing area, but we were told that we would find one after clearing immigration. And as promised, we did find a set of toilets which claimed to provide for ‘baby change’. My wife took our infant daughter into the women’s toilet and came out looking very irritated after ten minutes. ‘The baby changing facility consists of a sofa,’ I was told. ‘That’s it?’ I asked. ‘Yes, that’s it.’

What made things worse was that there were no wipes or paper covers for the changing surface on the sofa. A previous user had soiled the sofa, which had been cleaned in a very unsatisfactory way. I hate to sound snobbish and uppity, but the mid-size shopping mall in the small British town we live in has better baby changing facilities! If Bengaluru Airport is to be of international standard, this is something which ought to be taken care of. Also, I don’t understand why the baby changing area should be tucked inside the women’s toilet? What if a man is travelling alone with an infant?

The third irritant (not a serious one, but I may as well get it out of my system) was that the men’s toilet did not have double doors. This may not sound like a big deal, but the toilet I used was right next to a couple of gates and all those sitting there could have had a clear view of the urinals every time the door was opened.

Bengaluru is growing. Bengaluru has a million needs, a zillion demands and very finite resources. However, the lacunae of the type mentioned above can be taken care of by a bit of extra care and thought.

Vinod Joseph is a professional who works long hours. When Vinod gets some free time, which is not very often, he likes to write. When he is not in the "write" frame of mind, he reads. Vinodís first novel Hitchhiker was published by Books for Change in December 2005. Vinod blogs at www.winnowed.blogspot.com. The usual "employer caveat" applies and Vinod's employer has nothing to do with Vinodís writings. All views expressed by Vinod are his personal views.
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#1
Aaman
URL
November 11, 2008
07:42 PM

The BIAL is a colossal waste of taxpayer money and another example of privatizing profits, socializing losses - soon enough, they will go to the government, cap in hand for a bailout package, and for money to build a "new, better, improved" terminal, nominally to fix everything that's wrong with this one.

The domestic side is cramped, crowded - one doesn't look forward to spending an hour or more in its environs while waiting for a flight, as opposed to Hyderabad's new airport.

#2
smallsquirrel
November 11, 2008
07:49 PM

I have found that MOST airports in india not only do not serve indian food (I hardly call a shitty microwaved samosa at Coffee Day indian food) but really do not have adequate facilities at all. You can only get an old sandwich or a sugary muffin. It's terrible. The worst was that at the old airport, in many sections, once you passed security there was NOTHING. I remember trying to fly to Mumbai once... flight was at 7 AM... arrived early before coffee, flight delayed... left waiting in the waiting lounge without so much as a bottle of water for 4 hours past the scheduled departure time.

as for your claim of a great road to the new airport... I have heard no such thing. I have heard only that the road is inadequate, not finished, no services or stops, and that the supply of buses and cabs is not even close to sufficient. Did something change or did you have very low expectations?

#3
Chandra
November 11, 2008
07:57 PM

Vinod

I have done a lot of domestic travel from the new Airport and you do get Indian food. I am not sure about the International terminal .

#4
Chandra
November 11, 2008
08:00 PM

Aaman

Why are you saying it is a colossal waste of money?

SS

Yes, the road to the Airport is fine. It is reaching the road from the city that is a massive pain.

#5
Deepti Lamba
URL
November 11, 2008
09:24 PM

They should have started the metro to the airport while the airport was being built. Don't people plan all these things before hand?

#6
Ledzius
November 11, 2008
10:45 PM

The road to the new airport is risky and accident-prone. You get people run over every now and then. Not to mention vehicle collisions at intersections. There have been instances of buses set on fire by angry mobs after someone gets run over. Not a great way to impress someone who is setting foot in Bangalore for the first time.

It makes no sense to have the airport so far away from the city when the highways in India are a joke.

PS - In Chennai, the so-called hi-tech corridor, the Old Mahabalipuram Road collects tolls, but you find cows merrily parking themselves in the high speed lanes.

Anything and everything we do in India is half-assed. In which case, why bother with trying to portray an "international" image? It is pitiable.

#7
Ledzius
November 11, 2008
11:02 PM

The HAL airport could have easily been upgraded in a phased manner. I am sure there was enough land around. The new airport has only 8 air bridges. I cannot believe that couldn't have been accomplished at the old location. The other side of the runway appeared to be relatively open, so a new terminal could have well been constructed over there.

The real reason, I believe, is kickbacks by the consortium and appreciation of land value in an around Devanahalli. Some politicians had a great deal of wealth to be made, esp. through the latter.

#8
Ledzius
November 11, 2008
11:20 PM

I remember at the old airport, not a single chocolate bar sold past security check was an Indian brand.

So much for our patriotism and self esteem.



#9
Vinod Joseph
November 12, 2008
12:43 AM

I ought to have clarified that my return trip to the airport was made very early on a Sunday morning. But when I left the airport on a Friday evening, the airport road was crowded, but we had a good trip.

SS, I found the cab service from the airport quite decent.

#10
blokesablogin
November 12, 2008
02:05 AM

My husband commented the same- he wished he had had hot idlis for breakfast before he left for the US. I guess people who make these decisions do not know how soul satisfying traditional food is, especially when plagued by jet lag, check-in times etc.

#11
Ledzius
November 12, 2008
02:20 AM

blokes, the people who make these decisions don't care about the average Indian. All they are concerned is about pleasing white foreigners in the name of projecting an "international image". To them, projecting anything ethnic or native is seen as shameful and an embarrassment.

This is the harsh reality some 60 years after Independence.

#12
suresh.naig
November 12, 2008
02:56 AM

One month back I had to drop a colleague of mine at BIAL and while returning around 12 noon, I was caught on camera, near yelahanka, for over speeding.

I was doing a good 106kmph, against the permissible 80. As I was paying the fine, a Sardarji was caught for over speeding driving his swanky Skoda.

Before paying the fine he argued, 'what's the big fun, constructing lovely roads and fining for over speeding.' He also pointed several cars escaping the camera and swishing past.

I told him, 'we have to follow the rule of the land, you are safe, until caught', to which everyone laughed including the traffic police personnel.

#13
commonsense
November 12, 2008
07:59 AM

Led:

""So much for our patriotism and self esteem.""

So you too have allowed yourself to be "Led" down this fairytale? it's about making money; and the wrong assumption is that indian travellers do not wish to part with their money. patriotism and self-esteem?

#14
smallsquirrel
November 12, 2008
12:59 PM

ledz, I am sorry but I do not buy that. I think it has more to do with the perception and the reality of what sells. I think we might be the minority when it comes to what we want to eat at the airport. I think it is more economically-driven than what you have said.

#15
Aditi
November 12, 2008
02:23 PM

I actually agree with Ledzius on this one. Having experienced not just the directed commercialism but also the behavior of vendors at airports towards Indian patrons versus international ones, I am inclined to believe that there is some truth to what Ledzius is saying. Leave alone airports, even shopkeepers at malls etc. make it a point to say the word "imported" as if it somehow means "better". In Goa I experienced a lot of what I promptly labeled "firang-philia" :) I stood at the counters at Hotel Radisson waiting to be assisted only to be ignored continuously while the Indian staff at the counters catered to the white tourists. I listened to their sycophantic "Yes madam" "Yes sir", their odd accents and their sugary servile countenance and was embarassed for them. If it were economically driven, SS, frankly they would've found ways to make Indian dishes economically viable by giving it odd names and including it under the vague label of "oriental food" etc. Indian restaureteurs do it all the time. At an Indian international airport, that too in Bangalore, I believe Indian food would sell more.

P.s Mumbai airport isn't any better either in this regards I think. I detest those cold cucumber sandwiches and microwaved samosas.

#16
smallsquirrel
November 12, 2008
03:36 PM

OK, I can buy that. I guess. But I do not think it is because they are embarassed by idlis and the like, I think it is that they are catering to tourists from other places... and then... isn't that economic?

I am not saying that phenomenon doesn't happen, I just think this is not a good example of it. I think that when you have an international waiting lounge, you have to figure that you're gonna have a lot of travelers who are not indian and you have to cater to a wider audience, so to speak.

Not having them available at the lounge for travel within the country, though, might be an example of this issue. although I suppose if you have to award catering contracts to only a couple companies, and the same companies will be setting up shop in both lounges... your hands are tied. I would definitely assume you're making more money from the international travelers for many reasons and go that route. That is what would make business sense.

#17
commonsense
November 12, 2008
08:26 PM

AN:

""Leave alone airports, even shopkeepers at malls etc. make it a point to say the word "imported" as if it somehow means "better". In Goa I experienced a lot of what I promptly labeled "firang-philia" :) I stood at the counters at Hotel Radisson waiting to be assisted only to be ignored continuously while the Indian staff at the counters catered to the white tourists.""

it happens everywhere and has been happening for a long time, and not just in india. all about perceptions, sometimes misguided for sure, as to how money and how much of it, can be made faster. trust me it happens even in japan and in singapore, where the folks are supposed to be more "nationalistic" and proud of their japanese and chinese culture respectively. it happens in greece, too and they are "white". all about making money really!

#18
Ledzius
November 12, 2008
11:43 PM

I would also like to add that South Indian cuisine is looked down upon even when foreigners are not involved.

At many Indian restaurants in Bangalore, if you order S Indian thali, you need to prepay, and they wouldn't bring you the finger bowl (that's a privilege accorded only if you order N Indian).

That's assuming they serve S Indian at all in the first place. Many "Indian" restaurants in Bangalore will have Malaysian noodles and American chopsuey on their menu, but if you ask them for idli or sambar, they will laugh at you.

I am not blaming foreigners at all, it is the Indian mentality, with S Indian being at the lowest end of the pecking order, followed by N Indian.


#19
Ayan Roy
November 13, 2008
12:45 AM

Heck no! I love South Indian food! Except rasam and buttermilk..

Actually, I love almost anything and everything that grows/moves.

As for Airport food, whatever it is (in India), it is grossly over-priced. I would rather get stuff from outside/home.

When I entered BIAL for the first time, I was awe-struck at the seemingly 'Howard Roark like' architecture. Then, with some closer inspection and exploration, I saw the colossal inefficiency in the design, operation and utilization of the building, and the tremendous waste of space. I was dismayed.

Has anyone noticed - The gap between consecutive mobile aerobridge terminals is lower that the wingspan of a 747 ?!; two 747s could never fit side by side - thus one aero-bridge always goes waste when a plane is parked on the neighbouring one. No wonder they are hardly used. What a waste!

#20
Chaitanya S
November 13, 2008
01:18 AM

Vinod,

As long as the food in the above mentioned restaurants tastes decent, I don't feel we should be too fussy. It's not like any of us are alien to pizzas or pastas.

Did the guy in the Italian restaurant crack up when you asked him whether they served Indian stuff ?

#21
Ledzius
November 13, 2008
01:19 AM

The airbridges are seldom used more for cost reasons. When I traveled to Singapore recently by IA, they parked the plane far away even though 6 airbridges were free.

I wonder what's the point of all this, trying to justify a new airport so far away from the city on the grounds on better facilities, but once you get there it is no different, or even worse, than the old one in many respects.

I guess this is how we conduct business in India. Anything new here?

#22
Vinod Joseph
November 13, 2008
05:07 AM

Chaitanya we should be fussy. We should crib and complain. Otherwise, things won't improve.

No, the guy didn't crack up when I asked if there was any Indian food. I had an irritated look on my face and it was obvious I knew that there was no Indian food when I asked the question.

#23
Satish
November 13, 2008
05:11 AM

I had same expierence in International terminal on 1st Nov while traveling to Dubai, While I had few Choice at New Domestic Terminal, But so called International had nothing to your choice, they will make you wait for 20 Min to give you a plate of Idli costing Rs 190/- and coffee 90/- , This is too much to ask for a dry old iddly frozen.

It is better to make your tummy full before going on the trip.

I love to get at least good and freash 4 Iddli per plate for Rs 100/- (takeing Premi amt also) which is reasonalble to me to pay at airports not that exhobratant rates.

regards
Satish K

#24
commonsense
November 13, 2008
05:35 AM

i thought most folks know about "airport prices" and "airport food"...pretty much a global phenonenon...hardly restricted to india, although i agree it is good to complain!

but seriously folks, in this age of make money by hook or by crook, does anyone really believe that airport business-wallahs are in the business of upholding indian/southindian etc. culture, pride and tradition? welcome to the culture of making a buck. not endorsing it, but this is unfortunately how it is.

#25
smallsquirrel
November 13, 2008
08:41 AM

ledz, seriously, I have no idea where you get this stuff. I ate south indian thali all over bangalore for 2 years straight and never once had an issue finding it or ANY south indian foods in Bangalore. I think you're exaggerating seriously.

Yes, if you go to a place that serves north indian primarily, then there might be a problem. But my god, do you never go to a darshini? All of them in residential neighborhoods are either kannadiga or tamil. Or go to pavithra paradise, or anywhere... I simply do not understand your supposed dilemma. I mean hell, even sukh sagar has bisi bele bath and chow chow bath.

#26
commonsense
November 13, 2008
10:15 PM

what really gets me all riled up is the fact that at BIA, they do not distribute free rava idlis, as they should.

#27
Ledzius
November 14, 2008
04:10 AM

SS, I didn't complain about the availability of S Indian food in general. But mostly it is in darshinis or maybe as high end as Sukh Sagar where you can find them.

Most other Indian restaurants (the kinds you would want to take your date to) don't have any S Indian items at all on their menus.




#28
Ledzius
November 14, 2008
04:16 AM

In today's TOI -
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/Bangalore/Citizens_unhappy_with_6-month-old_airport/articleshow/3709982.cms

Excerpt - "Absence of Kannada culture, capacity constraints, improper seating and toilet arrangements, expensive restaurants and poor connectivity were among the grievances highlighted. "

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