The first international flight out of Calcutta's new airport terminal will have taken off hours before the city wakes up on Monday.
But one needn't be booked on that first flight to know and prepare for the changes that promise to make flying from and to the city a hassle-free experience. Gradually, of course, given that it will be several weeks before this terminal is fully up and about.
From the elevated approach towards the grand-looking glass front to the welcoming free zone, Metro compiles a guide to what's new in entering and exiting the newborn terminal.
Road to terminal
Anyone headed for the airport to catch a flight, see off someone or receive a guest needs to take the right-turn flyover from VIP Road, barely 100 metres from the Kaikhali crossing. After descending the flyover, vehicles will pass through a manned kiosk where the entry time will be recorded before they take the elevated road to reach the gate of the upper-level departure lounge.
Separate lanes have been designated for taxis and private vehicles in front of the terminal. Each vehicle would be allowed up to 10 minutes from the time of entry to drop or pick up fliers and exit the terminal area.
"If a vehicle spends more than 10 minutes, Rs 60 will be charged for every hour. It's being done to avoid congestion," an airport official said.
A private agency will man the exit kiosks. Police and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel will manage traffic in front of the departure and arrival lounge gates.
Fliers can enter the lounge through five gates, each of them with two entry points and separate access for domestic and international departures. Airport officials said the multiple entry points would help ease congestion, the bane of the old terminal.
The old domestic facility has two entry gates and the international terminal has only one. Snaking queues that sometimes spill out of the terminals are common during the morning and evening peak hours.
Alert: The passenger count even during the peak holiday season has never exceeded 20,000 a day, which the integrated terminal can easily handle. But crowd management has been the city airport's bugbear for a long time. "You might have the best of infrastructure but proper management by CISF personnel is essential to keep queues at bay," an official said.
The new terminal has a trolley track beside each entry point to the departure terminal. On alighting from vehicles, passengers needn't run around looking for trolleys, unlike in the old domestic and international facilities.
Just pull out a trolley from the stack to carry your baggage till the check-in counter and leave it there. The trolley retrievers will gather them at regular intervals.
Similarly, arriving passengers will find trolleys at the designated track between every two conveyor belts. They can take their trolleys till the car park or the taxi bays and leave them there. The trolley retrievers will get them back on track.
A private agency will manage and maintain the trolleys, including those with brakes. "The terminal will kick-start operations with 3,000 trolleys but we will soon increase the number to 5,000. We are in the process of engaging a private agency to manage and maintain the trolleys," airport director B.P. Sharma said.
Alert: Poor trolley management is responsible for fliers having to make do with broken trolleys or none outside and inside the old terminals. Officials blame the union-heavy agency contracted to maintain and retrieve the trolleys for the chaos, promising more professional staff for the job at the new facility. Amen to that.
As the name suggests, the integrated terminal will have a separate zone and entry point for visitors between gate numbers 3 and 4 at both the departure and arrival levels.
The free zone at the departure level has ticket counters of various airlines, a foreign exchange kiosk and a booth for entry tickets to the terminal. The free zone at the arrival level has regular prepaid taxi and radio taxi booths, a Volvo bus counter and also a railway booking booth.
There are ergonomic chairs across the enclosure for those waiting to receive passengers.
"The idea of having ticket counters in a separate enclosure is to avoid congestion in the area near the passenger entry gates," an official said.
One of the complaints of visitors to the old international terminal is not being able to book a prepaid taxi because the counter is inside.
A two-level covered car park with space for 1,250 vehicles is one of the better additions to the airport.
There are multiple entry and exits out of the air-conditioned car park, which a vehicle descending the flyover can directly enter by taking a right turn from the ticket booth instead of approaching the elevated road to the terminal.
Vehicles can also approach the car park from the departure and arrival levels. The parking fee as of now remains unchanged: Rs 60 for four hours.
"The car park will be managed by a private agency," an official said.
Passengers can also park their cars and walk to the arrival lounge or take an elevator to the upper-level departure area. There are three such elevators for passengers. Airport officials promise an adequate number of trolleys at the car park for the convenience of passengers.
Alert: The open car parks in front of the old terminals have been the haven of touts who approach arriving passengers for everything from money exchange to hotels. Some grab luggage from unsuspecting passengers to place them in the car boot and demand money.
Officials insist touts won't be allowed into the car park of the integrated terminal. "We have surveillance cameras inside and outside the parking space. Besides, CISF and police personnel will be deployed to throw touts out if they happen to sneak in," an official said.
The old facilities have electronic surveillance too, but there have been instances of touts approaching passengers even in the arrival lounge.
Taxis and buses
A taxi lane with numbered bays has been created outside the arrival lounge. A passenger booking a taxi from the prepaid booth will get a receipt with a bay number rather than being assigned a particular vehicle, unlike the practice at the old terminals.
"The first taxi standing in that bay will have to take the passenger," an official said.
The parking lot for taxis is near the old terminals. Once a bay is vacated by a taxi, another will be called from the parking lot. Walkie-talkies will be used for communication by the private agency managing the taxi lane.
Two booths for radio taxis have been set up in the arrival lounge along with the counter for air-conditioned Volvo buses. The buses will be parked outside the old domestic terminal.
"We consulted the police and the state transport department before making the arrangements. Taxis will be available till the last flight of the day arrives. The police will keep an eye on the booths," airport director Sharma said.
Alert: Fliers arriving at Calcutta airport have had harrowing experiences of finding transport with the prepaid taxi booths closing early despite flight arrivals being scheduled till late in the night.
Many have been harassed by touts and taxi drivers out to make easy money at the expense of people desperate for transport.
"Even now passengers complain about the trouble they have to go through to locate the prepaid taxis they have been assigned. Then there are the touts who enjoy a free run, fleecing people by offering unsolicited help such as lifting a bag from a trolley and putting it in the boot," an airport official said.
The police personnel deployed to ensure passengers are not harassed are hardly available once airport traffic thins.
Another passenger grouse is the unavailability of Volvo buses after 11pm. "We have requested the bus operators to extend their operations till late in the night but they haven't agreed to it yet," the airport director said.
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