The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) at Mumbai is the second most busiest airport in the country and once ranked (2010) among the 30 busiest airports in the world. The airport has seen immense development with the modernization project by GVK since 2006 which is expected to complete end of 2014. Many would have travelled to Mumbai via air many times. But, should you consider transiting via Mumbai for an international to domestic connection? I had a recent transit experience (unavoidable one). This was probably after nearly 13 years I was attempting a transit via Mumbai.
I have travelled often to the Europe (or transited via it) from Bengaluru quite a few times (mostly for business visits in the Europe or the US). In most cases, I chose the direct flight option (e.g. British Airways or Lufthanza) or an alternate transit via international airport (e.g. the UAE). I always managed to avoid Mumbai airport for international transit. If no international options were available, taking a Bengaluru-Delhi-London connection for example, as an alternative was still okay. The Jet Airways connection from Delhi IGI Airport to London HR was reasonably fine with the overall process of immigration and transfer, quite good, between the domestic and international connections.
The other more preferred options involved taking any flight via the Middle East (e.g. Emirates, Etihaad, Qatar). These were also reasonably acceptable from a transit perspective (there was no additional pain/overhead of domestic to international connection). The only challenge in some cases were a bit longer waiting times (which was mostly acceptable).
My last recent trip to London involved taking the Etihaad Airways Connection from Bengaluru to London via Abu Dhabi. The onward trip was good with minimal transit/waiting time (Etihad has a code share with Jet Airways) – so most transfer processes were seamless.
The return trip from London to Bengaluru is where I have an adventorous tale to recount. Etihaad was running late, so they re-booked few of us having flight connections to India on Jet Airways. And it is here that begins my transit saga, since I had to travel via the Jet Airways flight from London to Mumbai and then change to a domestic flight for Bengaluru.
The Mumbai Transit Adventure
So here are the steps, for interested folks who have not yet experienced this, as you need to be well prepared. It is something within the genes of Mumbai. One needs the right experience/expertise, just like the adventure of traveling in its local trains. My summary of the Mumbai transit experience is – its no less than the parkour chase that you would see in James Bond’s Casino Royale movie – or an Indiana Jones run to safety inside the mythical caves.
The London flight lands in Mumbai on time. The stop clock starts – and the race to transfer to your domestic flight begins. I have 2.5 hours to do that and it looks a lot of time in hand for transfer. I should be safe I think.
Zone 1: Immigration
The airport consists of two passenger terminals: Terminal 1 at Santacruz for domestic flights and Terminal 2 at Sahar for international flights. You would land at the international terminal. I am well prepared, with all my immigration landing forms filled in and passport ready. I manage to locate the right signs. There is a long walk from your flight to the immigration hall. I manage to rush ahead (avoid the travellators being used by the large luggage luggers) . Smirk internally… I have limited stuff to carry (just a laptop). Feel immensely satisfied, to reach the immigration queue before many. A bit disappointed though on reaching the hall … there is a huge crowd (yes its a busy airport – even if its 1:00 am in the early morning). But the immigration process is fast with many counters. Even faster for me as I smirk again. Yes its because of a few ignorant people ahead of me (they do not know there is a landing card to be filled). That saves me some time to pass ahead in the queue, stamp passports and rush down the steps to the arrival. Indeed, yes… you need to avoid those escalators/or wait for elevators – large number of people carrying their luggage there.
Zone 1 Time taken: 20 minutes. That’s pretty fast… huh.
Zone 2: Check Out Bags
Unfortunately this is something I could not plan. You could skip zone 2 if you had no checked in baggage. But it was applicable for me. Anyway… hm.. I feel I am still okay with the time and well ahead at the luggage belts earlier than most. I should get it anytime. Ok, I wait… and wait… and the bags are not yet on the belt yet… and I wait again. A few of the impatient folks try to perilously get over the belt source, to check the incoming luggage, only to be reprimanded by a security, and getting their senses back. As time passes, I feel (probably like many others) — why is only my luggage delayed – while the other lucky guy got it ahead of me. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I grab the luggage for checking out.
Time taken: 25 minutes. But that 25 minutes looked like ages. That’s not good, I feel, but I think its ok… I can make it up in the other zones ahead.
Zone 3: Clear Customs
You need to clear your bags out of customs. The green channel is okay to exit for me, as I have none to declare. But apparently why is there a couple of large queues seen even here? I manage to see the X-ray machines ahead. An interlude/pause… Yes, this is an important milestone to note. At this point, in the adventure – a multitude of BAG SCREENING iterations are triggered. This is Bag Screening Iteration # 1. Note this for future.
I manage to talk through to a security guard to get to one of the smaller queues. Apparently you need to screen only your HAND BAG here. I managed a bit to push ahead in the queue because this was not clear to many, and were unclear what to place on the belt and when. The fact that I managed to crack this puzzle a bit faster than others saved me some important minutes.
Zone 3 Time Taken: 15 mins. That’s great. Elapsed time is only about 1 hour I already feel I should be boarding my flight soon.
Zone 4: Transfer your Checked In Baggage
Finding this zone itself is very tricky and requires experience and knowledge. There are no signs or information to clearly guide you on this. What one needs to do here, is transfer the custom-clear luggage for check-in again to your right flight counter (which you have to discover somehow). The luggage has been pre-tagged for check in at your source (London in my case) to directly reach my end destination (Bengaluru). I found a sign saying domestic transfers and managed to rush ahead there – to see a very, very long queue (should be close to a kilometer I think). Anyway, I ask a few people in the queue there, they mention that they are waiting for a domestic transfer bus. Not assured, I talk to another airport staff nearby. I manage to discover the hidden location for luggage transfer from him for my particular Airlines (Jet Airways). I handover the luggage to the counter and rush back to the long queue waiting for the bus.
Zone 4 Time Taken: 15 minutes. That was pretty fast – considering there were many people in this queue who did not know they had to transfer their luggage for check-in. Anyway their ignorance meant they had to get out of the queue and that saved me precious minutes. Heh… Heh!
Zone 5: Security Check Iteration # 2
This is iteration number 2 for security check (remember the first security check, milestone I triggered in Zone 3). The long queue waits for security clearance of handbags for transfer from international to domestic. An increasingly confused set of passengers in queue are still standing with their bags not checked in, and being reprimanded by the security to go back to their airlines counter. Anyway the long queue slowly moves (with only 2 baggage screening machines – handling about passengers from about 6 international flights that just landed).
This zone is a right place for you to see and evaluate the temperament of each passenger, and what separates amateurs from pros. Its close to 2:00 am in the morning, and as half-asleep, dazed passengers take time to react, I find an analogy and see it to be the same temperament you require in boarding a Mumbai local train. As time passes, we see airlines crew already screaming for Kolkata and Ahmedabad passengers whose flights should have already departed. The security people try to do their best to handle the by now highly inflamed/frustrated crowd. But they soon fail in a few moments, as many ignorantly try to take in stuff, which they should have checked in. A few others in their fit of excitement on reaching India continue talking on their mobile phone, at a wrong place, and get beeped wildly past the security metal detector. I hear the security guard yelling in Marathi, probably the umpteenth time he would have told people about following norms – when passing the security gate. I am reminded of the Master Card advertisement, where money can get you everything, but hearing the good old Marathi expletives for a repeated offence at Mumbai airport… is priceless.
Zone 5 Time Taken: 40 minutes. You slowly start realizing the time pressure. About 1 hour 40 minutes crossed and your flight is scheduled to leave in another 45 odd minutes. Anyway, I rush out of this zone, with the security person screaming to someone behind… “Who has the match box/lighter in this handbag?”
Zone 6: Domestic terminal bus transfer
You wait for a queue to board a bus scheduled for the domestic terminal. You can get frustrated as many passengers are forced ahead of you – because their flight times are long overdue their departure time. Anyway, your yogic powers of patience and meditation can take you through this endurance, and you can manage to board the bus shortly in about 10 minutes. A security guard boards the bus, and is not amused to see a passenger who is excited to get the front seat. He soon instructs him to take an alternative seat – as the guard is supposed to sit there. We soon see the excited passenger, is not so excited now, as he is relegated to the last available seat at the back. Anyway, the bus moves and trudges along curves across waiting aircraft and we reach the domestic terminal after what seems like again … ages.
Zone 6 Time Taken: 35 minutes. With barely about 10 minutes for your flight to leave, you start to think, we have cleared everything and can just rush and board the flight.
Zone 7: Security Check Iteration # 3
The short sense of achievement is broken down. The adventure is not ended… you still have to go through another security check iteration # 3 yet again at the domestic terminal. Most of the passengers just had these words in their mouths at this stage which can be roughly translated as #%&^!@. None of the representatives are able to give a reason for this 3 iterations of security check. As the queue moves along, I can hear FLIGHT CLOSING announcement for my flight. The excited people who did not check in their luggages to save time, seemed to have had the adventure of their lives with these 3 rounds of hand baggage check.
Zone 7 Time Taken: 9 minutes. Only because, airlines crew manage to shove and push you before others because of the flight closing announcement.
Zone 8: Boarding the flight
You board the bus again, which needs to take you to the flight. Its the last stretch of the Indiana Jones race, the cave gate is closing (2 minutes to go)… and the bus just reaches. You slide in through the airport door before it shuts down.
Zone 8 Time Taken: 4 minutes. You just put in your seat belts and await the flight to move out into the runway shortly.
… checking out.