At a time when India is aiming to become a global aviation hub, it is just not able to get the basics right.
On a recent trip, my family had a stopover at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. They were travelling with IndiGo, apparently the most “efficient” airline of the country. Their inbound flight arrived at Terminal 1 at 15:20 hours while their connecting flight was scheduled exactly two hours later at 17:20 hours from Terminal 2. On the inbound flight, IndiGo announced that the transiting time would be 35 minutes. My family decided to use the airport’s inter-terminal bus service rather than catching a taxi. They thought it would be easy to just catch the bus. But they were wrong.
A horrific experience!
Currently, IndiGo is the only airline which operates at both the terminals of the airport, meaning all the passengers transferring terminals are of IndiGo’s. The inter-terminal bus service at Mumbai Airport is handled by the airport authority. There’s a dedicated transit area in Terminal 1’s arrival hall from where passengers can catch a bus to the other terminal.
Once my family members reached the transit area, they were told by the airport authorities that the bus would be arriving in 10 minutes. However, it was not before 20-25 minutes of waiting that the bus finally arrived. There were even passengers who had a connecting flight scheduled to board at 15:10, 15:30 and 15:40 hours, a very tight connection with such a bad system.
Now, those from Mumbai might perfectly be knowing about the traffic of the city. Those who don’t, here’s what it is like. A simple 10-minute ride in Mumbai can become a 1-hour ride in no time. The transit bus uses the Western Express Highway – often choked with traffic – to switch terminals.
My family members were at Terminal 2 in approximately 20 minutes once the journey from Terminal 1 began. At Terminal 2, the bus drops passengers at the main entrance gates of the terminal. So passengers have to again go through gate check and security check, both of which can be time consuming processes.
Once at the terminal, my family members rushed directly for the security check as they had their onward boarding passes with the baggage scheduled to go through to their final destination.
The queue at security check was again a long one. They were able to clear the security check in around 20-25 minutes. After all these processes, they still had some time left for a quick bite in the food court before catching their flight to the final destination.
This was my family members’ experience of switching terminals at Mumbai Airport using its bus service. Now, let’s talk about the problems with this transit process.
A very complicated process
It has not been a long time that the Mumbai Airport authorities have started the inter-terminal bus service. When they started it, I was very happy that an Indian airport – particularly an airport handled by the Adani group which does not have the skill to operate an airport – had started a service like this. I thought that the transit would be airside, meaning that passengers would not have to go outside the airport boundary. Not in my wildest dreams had I thought that the inter-terminal bus service would be landside and that’s why I suggested my family members to make use of the service.
Now, as such, there are no advantages of this service being a landside one. There are only disadvantages. The problems with the transit bus service in general are:
- There are no clear markings as to where the passengers should go in order to catch the bus inside Terminal 1.
- The waiting time to catch the bus can be very long. For once, this is okay. But the airport authorities kept on adding 10-10 minutes to the waiting time when asked by the passengers. If you are not sure about it, then just contact the authorities and find out the close-to-exact waiting time and then inform the passengers. Clearly, the airport authorities were not at all serious about transporting passengers.
- As I mentioned earlier, the traffic in Mumbai, especially on the Western Express Highway which the bus uses, can be unpredictable. What if a passenger has to catch a connecting flight and he/she misses the flight just because of a traffic jam on the highway. Do note that my family had a total connecting time of two hours, including the transit time. They were fortunate enough to catch the flight but not everyone can be.
- The bus drops the passengers near the main entrance gates of Terminal 2. The passengers have to again go through gate check and security check. These points can have long lines. The security lines can sometimes be hours long. There also is not a dedicated area for transit passengers at security.
- Throughout the transit process, there was not a single person, neither from IndiGo nor from the airport authority, to assist the passengers at any touchpoint, be it on the bus or at gate check and security check processes. There can also be passengers who are not familiar with the whole system. For them, the process can be frustrating, with no guidance on what to do and how to do.
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IndiGo as well as the airport authorities are at fault
In this, IndiGo as well as the airport authorities are at fault for not making the system more efficient and for not putting a thought on how can the transit process be handled in a much smoother way if implemented correctly. IndiGo does not even inform passengers personally that the bus service can take more time. IndiGo proudly markets itself as India’s leading airline and it seems like the airline is just enjoying being the leading airline and not at all caring about its passengers. It seems that the airline has not had a reality check yet or it just doesn’t want to do one.
Mumbai Airport, the largest airport handled by the Adani group, too does not provide any assistance. I personally think that Adani Group is the worst ever airport operator in India and with the government privatising more and more airports in the country with Adani taking management of more and more airports, I can’t even think of what will happen to those airports in the future.
Now, let’s see how the process can be handled in a better way.
What can be done better?
Remember that I said that at first, I thought that the inter-terminal bus service would be airside. That’s exactly my point here.
Why can’t IndiGo, with the help of Mumbai Airport authorities, just start an airside inter-terminal bus service. If this is done, then almost all of the problems will automatically get solved.
If airside bus service is there, then the waiting time in the transit area for the bus can be significantly reduced, as there can be multiple buses operating the service. Then, there would be fixed duration of the bus journey, eliminating the traffic problem from the process. Passengers would directly arrive at the Terminal 2’s airside part after clearing security (India does not allow airside transfers without security for Domestic-to-Domestic connections). At the security checkpoint, there would only be transit passengers present, thus reducing time at this point significantly.
If airside bus service is introduced, then all the problems are solved and the transit process can become much smoother and efficient.
Let’s take the second case that the inter-terminal bus service continues to be a land-side one. The following things can be improved by IndiGo and the airport authority to make passengers’ experience better:
- IndiGo should inform the passengers personally that the transit time can be longer in some cases and to keep enough time in hand
- Operate the bus service at smaller intervals of time
- Keep officials at different points to assist passengers
- Officials at different touch-points should be serious about helping passengers
- Make sure that there is atleast one official from IndiGo present on the bus giving regular updates of their respective flights and the expected time of arrival at the terminal
- At the main entrance, there should be a dedicated queue for transit passengers in order to reduce the waiting time
- At the security check point, there should be a separate queue for transit passengers in order to reduce the waiting time
The sole purpose of writing this article is to let the airline and the authorities of Mumbai Airport know what the passengers go through everyday when switching terminals using the inter-terminal bus service.
I hope that the authorities take my suggestions seriously and implement the necessary changes to make the passenger experience better.
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Have you used the inter-terminal bus service at Mumbai Airport? If yes, do let me know your experience in the comments section below.