Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi will perhaps be the entry point for most foreign travellers to India. I have always wondered why this airport was not named after Mahatma Gandhi since he is considered as the father of the nation. Anyway, from a personal point of view, this is the worst International airport I have seen and rightly so, it was once considered as the worst airport in the world by an international consortium (can’t remember which one). The reason why I say this is because I have found the toilets semi unusable, absence of decent restaurants (good coffee by the way), unsupportive staff, long and slow queues, no decent baby changing facilities, overcrowding and so no; you get the drift. But anyway, you can’t judge a country by its airports!
What to expect and what to do at the Indira Gandhi International Airport
As soon as your plane lands and is parked you will make a short walk and down the escalators to the customs. If you are Indian, then there is a counter where you can walk straight up and present your passport and walk out. But if you are foreigner i.e. a tourist then be prepared to wait for at least 30 to 60 minutes depending where you’re coming from and the number of passengers on the plane. But this can be at any international airport but in India everything moves in slow motion so expect long delays. In addition, when you make it to the customs counter, don’t expect any greetings such as Hello, Namaste or welcome to India or even a friendly smile. You job is to get your passport stamped and walk away.
Now you’re free to collect your bags from the conveyer belt. Take a trolley and wait for it to arrive. You might even be approached by a porter offering their services of pushing your trolley around for you. This might be useful if you have children. Interestingly these porters prefer payment in dollars. Last time I enquired, the porter wanted $50. If it was 50 Rupees yes, but I’m wasn’t paying $50. Further reading: Beware of child abduction in India.
Once you have collected your luggage. You must exchange your foreign currency or travellers cheques to Indian Rupees if haven’t already done so. There are 2 main travel exchanges here; State Bank of India and Thomas Cook. Both are fine. Make sure you take a receipt and count your money.
Now you can walk out of the airport to your destination. If you have nothing to declare then you can walk though the green channel. You will find armed security personnel. Indian airports are heavily guarded as India is on the list of most hated of nations by Islamic terrorists presumably after United States and Israel.
Book your taxi
Unless you have someone waiting for you or have arranged transport then you must book a prepaid-taxi here to take you to your destination. This is the most secure transport provided by the Delhi Transport Department and Delhi Police. The idea is simple; you pay at the counter and you give the receipt to the driver when you reach your destination. Do not give the receipt till you reach your destination even if the driver requests it. Also ignore any advice by the diver to take you to a better hotel or demand of further payment. The word for NO in Hindi is “Nahi”. You can learn some more Hindi from me here. Also, as soon as you start leaving the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi Police will record your name, destination and driver number. This is for your protection. There have been some incidences of tourists being mugged so a record of the driver is important. Further reading: Are taxis safe in Delhi?
Hot Tip: If the police is on the driver’s side and you hand the receipt to the driver for them to note the number; make sure that you take the receipt back from the driver. If you don’t do this, the driver may not drop you to your exact location or the doorstep of your hotel since he already has the receipt.
Book your hotel or train tickets
Just before you leave the terminal and go the meeting area, you can book hotels. Some trains tickets are reserved trains for tourists. If you have not booked your train tickets, then it’s a good idea to do it before you leave. Remember India can seem chaotic hence planning your trip to India is very important. Here’s how to book your train tickets. Further reading: Traffic in India and what to expect.
Leaving for the domestic airport (called Palam Airport)
If you have a flight to another city the same day then you can take the coach to the local domestic airport. Both the national and international airports are situated within the compounds of the Indira Gandhi International Airport; hence there is no need to leave the airport. Just before you go out to meeting area, you will see a sign saying transport to domestic airport. There is no need to take a taxi, have a seat and a free coach will pick you up and take you there. Here’s a list of popular domestic airlines in India.
Coming out in the meeting area
Just like any other airport, you will see an ocean of faces looking at you. Don’t be intimated. If you have your taxi booked, you will see a row of black and yellow Delhi cabs and you can walk over there. Some taxi drivers will ask you the plate number of the taxi. Just tell them the number and your taxi will be called and you can go to your chosen destination.
Don’t let the Indira Gandhi International Airport shock you. Welcome to India…