Out with the old and in with the new at Delhi airport

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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Indira Gandhi International Airport at 2p.m in the morning is a fascinating place. There’s good, bad and (very) indifferent here, underling the challenge facing GMR and Delhi International Airport Group in creating a world-class airport at the new Terminal 3, slated to open in June.

Airports are not just about infrastructure or facilities. The customer experience is equally dependent on service (and services), staff friendliness, signage, queue management and many other factors.

London Heathrow T5, for example, is not yet a great terminal, despite having wonderful facilities, a generally smooth operation, and fine shops and restaurants. That’s because too often the staff attitudes (particularly in immigration and general services) are indifferent at best and hostile at worst. Compare and contrast with Changi Terminal 3.

Delhi T2 is an old terminal on its way out and must be judged in that context. But some of its practices simply have to be updated if T3 is to become the great consumer experience that GMR and DIAL are promising. The problem is that the airport does not employ the immigration officers or control how that department operates. AT T2 it’s a chaotic mess.

Security is frustrating too, not helped by the practice of security staff stamping your luggage tag once your bag clears the machine. At the gate, if you don’t have that stamp, you have to go all the way back to security. I saw that happen to several people in the early hours of Friday morning.

A colleague in the business described the attitude of security and immigration staff as “anti-customer”. He was right. And while Delhi is not alone in the problem, the airport company would be wise to focus on the issue and try to encourage those departments to take a leaf out of the Changi or Incheon books.

The warm smile of the Korean immigration officer when I departed Incheon last month will remain with me – I wonder how his Heathrow counterpart would feel if he was in the Incheon queue and had ‘Next!’ shouted at him in Korean (incidentally on the way out through Heathrow T3 the immigration officer handed my passport back to me after checking it, while turning to his colleague next door and beginning a conversation. I declined to take it until he turned back to me. I said “Thank you” and prompted him into saying “Have a good trip”. It was one of those minor victories that matter more as you get older and more crotchety…).

Back to Delhi. Things didn’t start well when I couldn’t find the BA lounge post-security. That’s because it was pre-security and the check-in staff hadn’t told me. Clearing security had been such a hassle (I had to have all my electronic equipment – digital recorder, two cameras, video camera, adaptors, chargers, Blackberry, iPhone – separately screened) that I opted not to go back through.

Instead I wandered the commercial offer for the next couple of hours while I awaited my delayed flight. The Alpha shop is certainly an improvement on the same retailer’s dire Arrivals effort here, especially given the fact that little or no investment is being put in at this late stage of the contract and the fact that Alpha will exit Delhi soon.

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The liquor offer (above) and presentation is not bad – and with the ‘Vintage & Rare’ selection very good; the tobacco department, though poorly merchandised offers amazing prices for European travellers; teas are promoted satisfactorily and aspects of the beauty offer just about pass muster.

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I wonder though what Chanel (especially) and other beauty houses might make of the signage flying proudly above the Chanel gondolas – ‘Perfume: Up to 10% off; Buy 2 get 10%; Buy 3 get 20%, Buy 4 get 30%. Believe it or not, French houses can get a little precious on such matters and it’s unlikely that my picture will find its way into Chanel’s annual report.

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Downstairs by a last-minute store I found some more interesting signage (below) – but overall the Alpha offer is workmanlike and a somewhat poignant reflection on what might have been if things had been different here between retailer and landlord.

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I passed by the Ethos watches boutique – not bad, despite some stock shortages – to get a feel for what the same retailer might do when it opens in T3. The latter is likely to be very good indeed.

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The Kingfisher bar – adjacent to the closed Alpha last-minute store – is also a pretty decent place. But T3’s F&B offer promises to be something very special indeed.

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An hour late I boarded my flight and set off for London. The Delhi experience of recent days has been both enlightening and enriching. Terminal 3 will represent an astounding step change in Indian aviation. Terminal 2 offers a valuable reminder of just how ambitious GMR and DIAL have been with their plans for T3 – and of how daunting the challenge must have been.

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  • I must say that since 2006 when GMR has taken over, T2 has gone through dramatic changes and now not only somewhat resembles an airport, but has some competent staff and F&B outlets which were extremely hard to find before.

    Having been born in the US it used to be completely embarrassing to see the capital airport in the state it was, but now I can honestly say that for the first time in my life I enjoy going through T2 in Delhi more than I do in JFK which has only gotten worse and even the immigration and staff in JFK are less helpful and friendly which to be worse than Delhi is pretty tough.

    I am certainly very excited to see T3 in Delhi and also if I can one day, T5 in Heathrow, but it is hard to find decent prices on BA from here.