To those who suffer the pain may well believe that India takes sadistic pleasure in erecting barriers. Blame it on the 1.4 billion-plus population, which leads to a good number of people congregating at any one place, thus posing a challenge in terms of crowd control. But to handle around 5.3 lakh air passengers a day out of 150 operating airports should not be so messy, particularly in the busiest airports like New Delhi and Mumbai, if the aviation system were to be working at near optimum efficiency levels.
The frightening experience of air travellers in the last week or so, especially those flying out of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport’s Terminal 3, would suggest that the airport system of passenger, hand baggage and security check handling leaves far too much to be desired. In typical Indian fashion of piling all the pressure on the consumer rather than correcting the system, airlines have been requesting passengers to come to the airport 3.5 to four hours ahead of flights. That should more than suffice to negate the advantage bestowed in theory by the speed of air transport.
The civil aviation minister, who inspected the horror show at Delhi’s airport as a sampling of the ordinary Indian air passenger’s woes, may have seen, first-hand, why such excruciating delays are being caused. If things have improved somewhat, it just goes to show how much scope there is for streamlining operations to cope with the demand.
Beyond the check-in counters where bags are dropped and which are invariably crowded thanks to the airlines not manning those counters sufficiently, particularly during the manic rush hours in the morning when most of India’s flights depart on their first sortie for the day out of major airports, delays are also caused by the old Indian system of frisking each of more than five lakh passengers every day.
Modern aviation has worked hard to fulfil the need for the least amount of delays on the ground while striving to ensure safety in the air as a prime requisite. Towards that, modern full-body scanners operate at the busiest airports worldwide where only passengers who seem to trip the security system are frisked. In India, the laborious process of frisking everyone, except those on the long list of VIPs who are exempted, consumes time. As an aside, let it be said that in Australia, no one is exempt from passing through airport security, not even the Prime Minister.
Of course, no one would want any aspect of security to be compromised. But it is also true that security can be handled far more smartly than it is at the moment. The ministry’s lazy solution seemed to be to tell the airlines to reduce the number of early morning flights. That seems to betray little understanding of a businessman, leisure traveller or even the airlines’ needs that call for early departures. It would make more sense to study the daily schedule of aircraft and passenger movement and come up with relevant management solutions to tackle the bunching of departures to allocate support services personnel accordingly.
Aviation, domestic and international, is poised to take off after the Covid-19 pandemic in India and it is time the ground handling is made to cope with the demand. The aviation sector may be over-regulated in India. Even so, not only airlines and their support services but also the security forces and airport management must perform to far higher levels of efficiency if ordinary air passengers are to receive their due.