Airport Blues

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    The skies have opened up and how! The aviation sector has grown up by leaps and bounds and the price competition has led to flight fares getting cheaper. The choices of airlines to pick from, means that at the end of the day, the consumer (read passenger) is the real king today. But while flight fares have come down and there are more flights to pick while traveling, there are still areas where one wishes things were a bit different. The first is of course the cold meals/snacks that one has to buy at inflated rates. The least that one can get after paying through the nose would be something warm to eat but for some strange reason, all airline meals (the type that one pays for) come out cold. If one is not mistaken, government employees are expected to fly the national airlines, Air India/Indian Airlines but all the time one sees government officials taking to private airlines. This when the national airlines does serve warm meals.Gone are the days of having to fit in dates for going for work out of the state with flight days but the situation now in Manipur is such that flight passengers have a wide choice of when to fly and which airline to travel by. And that brings us to the matter of the existing airport infrastructure at Tulihal airport. There are just two X-ray machines for luggage screenings and woe befall you if there are 3-4 flights within a short time span. You would then have to wait it out in the cramped space with not even enough leg-room to stand with your baggage. Tulihal airport as it stands now is a bad example of space being wasted. While the ground section of the airport is all cramped by the presence of the staff and personnel of all the airlines, made worse by the added strength of passengers, the upper portion of the airport kept as a visitors’ gallery is hardly used. Surprising really that this upper portion is not used as extra space for passenger waiting area or even boarding area.If one is unfortunate enough to be caught at Imphal airport with a delayed flight, be prepared to be in for a frustrating time. Apart from the fact that there is not much space in the airport to sit or stand at ease, much less get to grab a bite the state of the rest room is pathetic. Earlier, there used to be at least a restaurant of some sort inside the airport where one could resort to buying some snacks. Then, it was the quality of food and the lack of choices in the menu that irked, but now there is no restaurant to speak of. A friend working in the airline sector says that the contract of the earlier agency handling the restaurant has got over and in such circumstances the airport authority needs to step in and operate the restaurant. This is the norm in all other airports in the country: one sees airport authority restaurants operating side by side with privately run eating areas. But the trend in Manipur seems to be more on “stuff yourself at home before you get in to Imphal airport”. The lack of infrastructure support at Tulihal airport can only get manic when flights get delayed well into evening time. Many friends traveling by the evening flight or those reaching late in the evening have only told me horror stories of finding trolleys strewn all over the place and a total dearth of vehicles to take from the airport to their homes or hotels. This, when Manipur is being sold as an upcoming tourist attraction point to outsiders. Many, say that they don’t even get to see airline or airport staff if they get into Imphal at late hours (‘late’ in Imphal is 6 pm in between!). But looking at it from the other side, how can staff stay on if they don’t get to eat or have refreshments? What of their toilet breaks?One main grouse with traveling by flights is the confusion over what can be taken along as hand baggage and what is accepted as cargo baggage. After hearing a varied list of complaints from regular fliers, I asked a friend with a private airline over who gets the final say in deciding what articles can be carried and what cannot be taken along. Her explanation made me realize that there are areas of confusion existing among various agencies. For instance, the CISF who runs the security check at check in point have their list of things which passengers are not allowed to carry on board. But at the final point of boarding, articles cleared by the CISF can still be offloaded by the airline staff. This is when the customer is NOT king. It does not help that airlines do not have their list of things they don’t allow in public display prominently. End-point:Sometimes though, rules can go for a toss depending on the mood of the person checking you in. One bad experience happened recently with me too: I had a non -stick utensil packed in its box, which I had not taped in. The lady at Delhi airport refused to take that as cargo baggage and asked me to get CISF clearance to carry that as hand baggage. When I pointed out that other passengers were checking in toasters and glass sets as cargo baggage, she was adamant that my pack was ‘open’ and so they would not allow it to go in. All requests that I would tape the pack fell on deaf airs and as a last resort, I ended up taking out the utensil and putting it in my lap-top bag while the lap top went into the utensil box- pack. The utensil went in as cargo and I had to lug my lap-top in my hand holding it close to my chest less I dropped it. ï»¿

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