Travellers push trolleys with their luggage at the departure area of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India Image Credit: Reuters

Over the past few weeks, social media in India has been flooded with pictures from angry passengers showing the utter chaos at Delhi Airport’s Terminal 3.

Long lines at check in, security and immigration, frayed tempers, missed flights — all a recipe for disaster.

Terminal 3 is the biggest one at Delhi airport, catering to both domestic and international flights. The bottleneck starts at the entry gate itself.

Last month, it took me 20 minutes just to enter the airport. Others have reported much longer waiting times.

Things got so bad that airlines issued advisories to passengers to report 3 to 4 hours ahead of their flights, carry only one handbag and avoid checking in any luggage!

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Travel is supposed to be easier and far more seamless today. But instead it has become stressful and such a waste of time. However many people don’t have a choice. We travel for pleasure and for work.

To put things into context, travel is booming in India post Covid. And while that is great news for the travel industry, it also means airport infrastructure has to keep up and it simply hasn’t. During the pandemic, airlines and airports had reduced staff and now desperately need to re-hire people.

According to Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), Delhi airport’s terminal 3 manages over 500 domestic and 250 international flights. Nearly 200,000 passengers travel through the airport each day, which is a huge number.

As the social media outrage over the mismanagement increased, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia personally went to inspect the airport and see what was wrong.

Unexpected rush of passengers 

Speaking to me on NDTV last week, he said the winter rush of passengers was “unexpected” and efforts have been made to clear the bottlenecks that had led to the massive congestion and chaos.

This includes more X-ray machines, more security checkpoints and screens that tell you the waiting time in real time. He added it would take about 10 days to normalise.

But clearly that wasn’t enough. A day later, the Home Secretary of India, no less, chaired a meeting on the airport chaos as complaints also started coming in from Bengaluru.

Faster security checks

After that meeting, the Union Home Ministry decided to deploy an additional 1,200 personnel from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) at Delhi airport — adding to the 5,000-odd already deployed — to ensure faster security checks and ease the holiday season. The CISF looks after security at the airport.

Strangely, Scindia had told NDTV there was no shortage of CISF staff, saying security check counters are being increased from 13 to 20, while unnecessary barricades were also being removed.

The number of flights during early and late peak hours is also being reduced and spread across the day to avoid congestion.

Normally, it has been a far better experience to travel through India’s airports. I have seen the chaos and mismanagement at Heathrow first hand only months ago where we had to wait in line for over 2 hours at immigration.

A friend waited 5 hours for her turn. So one hopes the bottlenecks here are resolved soon. Travel is an integral part of our lives now.

The infrastructure simply has to keep up.