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Fly High! – Renovating Chennai Airport

July 12, 2012

While the construction of Chennai Metro Rail is in rapid progress everyday, another transportation hub that Metro Rail will connect to is on the final stage of the massive-scale modernization project. Chennai’s Anna International Airport is building two glass-walled terminals – domestic and international – connected via long corridor. I’m flying high for its opening scheduled in August!

Chennai Airport is one of the last airports in India to be renewed. The old terminal to be replaced reminds me of the two airport I visited almost twenty years ago. One for its loose operation. The other for its inhospitableness.

PQM – Palenque, Mexico

Palenque is a small town middle of the thick jungle of southern Mexico, famous for Mayan pyramid ruins. Airplanes arrive only a couple of times a day. The airport operates only during these events and remains dormant for the rest of the day. Once all the passengers leave the airport, the terminal is deserted for an hour or two until the next departure or arrival.

When I got to the airport for departure, it was still early and the flight was delayed, leaving me a couple of hours’ waiting time. The building has only one restaurant with a terrace facing to the runway. I sat at the table with the best view (there was no other customers) and had some Mexican beer. It was a hot sunny day and no airplane was visible in the deep blue sky above the Yucatan jungle. Beer and hot air tempted me on walking to the runway right in front of the terrace, separated by an unlocked gate. No airport staff stopped me. I laid down there until getting burnt on the hot asphalt. It was the best waiting time in the airport.

SVO – Moscow, Russia

Moscow Airport was the complete opposite. I arrived there at night. My connecting flight was not going to depart until the next morning. The massive terminal building looked sober under dimly lit fluorescent lights, seemingly unwelcoming. The overnight transit passengers were escorted to the hotel by an officer on a minivan with a soldier with a machine gun. We were locked in on one floor of the hotel building adjacent to the airport. That tiny space, with a dozen rooms and a small room called restaurant, is still considered asa part of the airport building, meaning outside the country. Another soldier guarded the door to the stairs, separating us from Russia.

Skipping dinner and beer, I just went to bed early. In the morning of the next day, the same officer escorted the ‘guests’ to the airport building, with no smile or no word. My flight left the airport with no delay.

MAA – Chennai, India

The current terminal of Chennai Airpot is as unwelcoming as the Moscow airport 20 years ago. They seem to have no interest in joining the global competition for the world best airport. Singapore’s Changi Airport, one of the regulars of the world best airport ranking, has more shops and restaurants than any shopping mall in Chennai. They have friendly (and smiling) staff everywhere, ready to assist travelers. Chennai has one vegetarian cafeteria, two coffee stands and one Duty Free shop only where you can buy a beer after the security. The airport reflects the officialism attitude of Chennai’s local government towards travelers.

At the same time, Chennai Airport reminds me of Palenque Airport for its operation seems ad-hoc. There is no pre-scheduled gate assignment and you know your gate only 10 minutes before the boarding. There is no jet bridge directly connecting the gate to the airplane and a shuttle bus takes passengers to the plane. You are free to walk around the plane at some extent and take a picture if security doesn’t see you. I may be able to lay down next to the plane if not on the runway. The chance is limited as the new terminal will be operated under a tighter security control.

Today’s Quote

‘For long you live and high you fly; And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry; And all you touch and all you see; Is all your life will ever be’ – Breathe In The Air by Pink Floyd

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