I was to land in Bangalore on 24th April morning 8:45 AM. This turned out to be the exact date of which Bangalore’s new international airport was to open its operations. To be honest I was sincerely hoping that I land at the old airport. As the old airport is a hop skip and jump from my place. And the closer you were to the old Bangalore, the farther you are from the new airport in Devanahalli. But now that I have landed at Bangalore International Airport on day 1 and comfortably back, it feels good to be a part of the history. There have been so many debates, arguments, views and controversies around the opening of BIAL that I want to share the experience of being there on Day 1.
Bangalore International Airport
As we were landing at 8:30 AM on Saturday morning, all those who were returning home, wanted to peep out and have a glimpse of the new airport from the top. While landing at HAL, I could always see my apartment complex. And a whole lot of other identifiable landmarks. At BIAL, it was a vast empty space all around and then there were two airstrips in the middle of nowhere. First look at Bangalore international airport from the plane window did not give a great impression, it looked like a building still under construction. It is definitely much bigger and better than HAL. But is it big enough to take care of the potential air traffic of Bangalore in coming years, I am not sure.
As we landed through an aerobridge, which used to be a rarity at HAL, it felt nice to go through an absolutely new aerobridge still to be adorned with advertisements or any other kind of messages or notices. As we walked out, the place looked little deserted, but none the less everyone carried a curious look on their faces as they walked towards the immigration counters.
The counters look ported from the old airport, not very different and I think could have been better designed. They look like counters in old time banks and are situated too close to each other. The yellow line to separate the queue and the counters are yet to be drawn. The no of counters was good enough to clear most passengers within 5-6 mins. I spoke to the immigration officer who was excited to be at the new airport. When I asked him is he happy about being in the new Bangalore international airport he said ’It’s day 1 let’s see how it goes’.
Toilets were a big disappointment. Less than 9 hours of operations and toilets were dirty, filthy and it appeared that they had not been cleaned at all for last 9 hours. The escalator for coming down was not working. But there were people attending to it and it started working in about 30 mins or so. Baggage carousels are well designed, a lot of people can stand by them and collect their baggage. While immigration was finished in 5 mins, we had to wait good one hour before the carousel started moving, which everyone applauded by loud clapping. I was lucky to get my baggage very fast after it started moving.
While waiting for the baggage, I moved around to see the airport. And strolled around in few retail outlets, most of which were still in the setup mode and were fixing things. The prices mentioned were in dollars and I wonder why.
The whole Bangalore international airport carries a resemblance to Infosys campus, especially the washrooms. Similar designs and materials used. Probably because of the Mr. Narayana Murthy being at the helm of affairs at both places… There was a huge board saying ‘I came here First’ with the lovely BIAL logo, open to everyone to sign on it. It felt great to sign on it. If you happen to see it, look out for my signature right on I.
As I came out of the airport, the view outside was almost similar to the one at HAL. Loads and loads of taxi guys with placards waiting for their customers. It is when you go past them that you are able to see the other options to get back home. Thanks to a very active association of my apartment complex, I knew that I have to take the electronic city bus to reach home.
Volvo bus station is about 200-300 meters from the arrival gate. You can take the trolley right up to the bus. Bus conductor helped me load the luggage on the bus. The buses are well designed to carry lots of luggage and can seat 31 persons. The conductor had a small machine around his neck which he used to issue tickets. Ticket to Sarjapur road junction on ORR costs Rs 150/-. You can also take taxis, which are flat priced at Rs 15/- per km. For most of us living in south Bangalore, I guess bus is a better option than taxis. Especially for women traveling alone as its one long stretch of lonely road.
Volvo Bus service
The bus was comfortable and it took me 1 hour and 20 mins to cover approximately 50 km’s of distance. It was a Saturday, so it may take a little longer on weekdays and during peak hours. I think Volvo buses are going to be a huge hit, provided there are enough of them. With only 31 person capacity, we would need a lot of them. Buses are a good option to come back from the airport. But to go their buses may end up serving only those who board it from the starting point. This would mean we need many more starting points or routes for the buses. Another idea may be exploring Taxi pooling to and from huge apartment complexes, organizations, and hotels. This can reduce pressure on everything roads, environment, and pockets.
In my opinion, it would take another 3-4 month by the time everything smoothens up and the airport wears its planned swanky look. Overall it was a nice experience to be there on Day 1, far better than what most newspapers make it out to be.