How To Navigate Indian Airports: It’s Harder Than You Think!

How To Navigate Indian Airports: It’s Harder Than You Think!
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10 Steps to Surviving Indian Airports

traffic-jam-indiaThe Indian airports range from new, luxury, state-of-the-art airports (in places like, New Delhi and Mumbai), to rural, ex-military bases converted into “airport sheds” (in places like Jabalpur & Tirupati). Below I explain all the nuisances to watch out for because they’re quite different from any Western airport I’ve ever been.

I hope these tips will take some of the stress out of your airport experience because otherwise things can quickly get quite insane!

1) Allow plenty of time to get to the airport & avoid traffic jams!

India is a place of unexpected changes. For example, traffic can suddenly get very bad (in big cities like Chennai) and therefore allowing plenty of time to get to the airport is a must. I try to arrive 2hrs before domestic flights and 4hrs before international flights. Make sure you get multiple opinions on how long it takes to get to the airport from your hotel because you’ll often get wildly different answers! 🙂 Early morning is often the safest way to avoid traffic in India.

2) Print your e-tickets or you WON'T get into the airport

plane-ticket-check-point-indian-airportIf you don’t have a valid, printed e-ticket or airline confirmation email showing your itinerary, you won’t be allowed in the airport. Yes, you read correctly. The military guards at the door insist you show these documents along with your passport to get in the front door of the airport. This means non-traveling friends and family cannot accompany you and you’ll have to say your goodbyes at the door. I recommend printing all these e-tickets before your trip because getting them printed in India can be nightmare due to the scarcity of printers, paper and unusable Internet cafes.

3) Security screen your bags before checking in or you'll be sent to the back of the line

baggage-screening-at-indian-airportIn the Indian airports your bags are screened before you are able to check-in. If you don’t know this (or remember it like me) then you’ll wait all that time in line only to get to the desk and be told to go back and screen your bags first. Ugh! Another thing is to make sure it’s the correct screening machine for your airline because otherwise you’ll also wait in line only to find it’s for the wrong airline! Beware of everyone trying to push in front of you and call them out for it if needed. Otherwise you will be waiting a loooong time.

4) Make sure your bags don't weigh too much!

airport-line-up-indiaIn most Western countries, the checked-in bag allowance is: one bag weighing 23 kgs (50 lbs) or at the minimum 20 kgs (45 lbs). And, your carry-on bag allowance is usually one small case and one personal item which rarely get weighed (at least in the US). In India, the checked-in baggage weight allowance is only 15 kgs (33 lbs) and your carry-on limit is one bag at a maximum of 7 kgs (15 lbs) for all domestic flights. All items get strictly weighed and the cost for excess weight is between $4 to $5 (250rs to 300rs) per kilogram. As I found out the hard way, this fee can quickly turn into $100 (6000rs) or more! So beware of this restriction and travel light. One solution for the problem is to travel in business class where the checked bag limit is 30kgs (66 lbs) but then you’re paying double or triple the ticket price. Also worthy of note, Indian airlines such as Jet Airways have low baggage weight limits for international flights as well. Their limit is 23 kgs for checked bags and 7 kgs for carry-on and then $20 per kg after that. If you have an extra bag of souvenirs (like I did) that weighs 23 kgs then you’ll be asked to pay a whopping $460!!

5) Get carry-on bag tags at check-in

baggage-tags-at-indian-airportsThis is really important because if you don’t have these tags on your carry-on bags when going through security then you won’t be able to get them stamped. This will annoy the security personnel and slow down the line (sometimes they won’t have any extra tags and will make you go back to get them). Once you get the tags stamped don’t remove them because they will be repeatedly checked by military personnel as you meander through the airport to your flight.

6) Security can be as annoying as heck!

– Remove all electronics from your bags. This includes: cameras, cables, batteries, computers, tablets, kindles and phones etc. If you don’t do this then security will take their royal time searching through your bags, rescanning them and handling your equipment roughly. I learned this the hard way since I’m a photographer and always have a lot of electronics but now that I remove EVERYTHING I don’t have a problem any more.
– Ladies have their own line. At all Indian airport security lines there is a special queue for ladies so that you will be patted down in private behind screens so that the men can’t stare at you. That’s considerate! 🙂 I would guess that 80% to 90% of domestic travel is done by men so it makes sense they have special lines for ladies.

– Watch out for pushing. As is the case all through India, people will try to push in front of you as you wait in line. Stand your ground and don’t let them do it. Say something if necessary.

– Keep your boarding pass in hand. After walking through the metal detector you will be scanned with a wand and then your ticket will be stamped. If you don’t have your pass out then obviously this causes a mega headache as they try to locate it amongst your stuff going though the scanner.

– Be patient and easy going. If you mess up or forget one of these things or the people around you do, don’t stress out. Get to the airport plenty early enough so that if you do make a mistake it won’t make you miss your flight. I’ve seen people almost lose their mind in the Indian airports so just take it easy.

7) Don't trust the airport food

indian-food-at-the-airportFood is dodgy at almost all Indian airports. It’s usually been sitting for a long time and who knows what kind of bacteria may be growing in it! The only place I trust is Dominoes pizza where I know they just cooked the food at high heat. One thing that can be done to overcome this problem of poor quality airport dining is to bring your own food such as fruit (that you can safely peel) or an “aloo paratha” from the hotel. Learn more about safe eating in India here.

8) You'll probably have to ride a bus to your plane

Find your gate as listed on your ticket or departure screens (sometimes gates change at the last minute) and then sit to wait until your flight is called. You will then be packed into a bus that takes you to your plane. If your seat is row 25 or higher then you will probably have to get on the plane from the back stairs. Watch out for toxic exhaust fumes that may be blasting from the plane engines into your face!

9) Have your ticket ready for getting off the plane

If you’re flight continues on to another destination after you get off then you’ll need to show your ticket. This is to make sure that you are in fact at your final destination. It sounds a bit silly but they enforce it and so if you don’t have your ticket in hand or easily accessible then it can be a bit annoying. And, if you somehow left your ticket on the plane then you’ll have a bit of a problem.

10) Get a pre-paid taxi for getting to your hotel from the airport

pre-paid-taxi-indian-airportIf you leave the airport hoping to find a random taxi driver then you’ll likely be mauled by a group of yelling men arguing over who “gets you” and then they will quote outrageous prices for your journey. Whereas if you go the “pre-paid taxi” stand located inside the airport near baggage claim then you’ll get a fair price (500rs for a 30 min journey) and usually a good driver who is unlikely to try to scam you.

Also note that using a pre-paid “outside” taxi when leaving your hotel will be way cheaper than using the hotel driver especially at the 5 star hotels.

Now: Please share this article with anyone going to India because otherwise I don’t know how you could know these things without learning the hard way like me! 🙂

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  1. All excellent points. One minor update is that at many airports (including Delhi) there are pre-paid taxi booths just outside the departure doors. In larger airports, the booth inside the airport is more expensive. The one(s) just outside the airport exit doors are cheaper and just as good.

  2. Have you been to any US airports recently ? you will be cavity searched irrespective of your nationality , security is for your own benefit , to stop a bomber bombing you mid air , there is printer scarcity city in India !!! which place is that ?? Himalaya ??

    1. Hi Hariya,

      Yes, I go to US airports all the time since I live in the US. I’ve never heard of anyone being cavity searched. Everywhere there seems to be a scarcity of easy to find, reliable printers with paper in India :). I know it’s possible to find anywhere even outside the airport but the headaches I’ve experienced are not worth it so that’s why I recommend you print your tickets prior to leaving.



  3. I think if you somehow avoid the traffic, to reaching the airport, after that there are no any other big issue will happens with you.

  4. India is a country of about 1.3 billion people, so traffic problem is obvious. For getting emergency service, you should prepare your homework early. To avoid time complexity, you can book a pre-paid taxi, wherever you want to go. If you are in India and have to reach railway station or airport, the hotel in which you are living, can offer you the taxi facility. As per the standard of the service provider, their cost varies.

  5. Great advice all the way through Asher, and exactly the experience I had having gone through a number off Indian airports last year. Your site and advice helped me in many ways and had an awesome month or so. I am off up to Nepal this year, flying Air India London – Katmandu. Does anyone know what the visa requirements are, as both there and back I transfer through Delhi (2 hrs on way out and 9 hrs wait on way back). Getting info on what visa I need, if any (am not leaving airport) is impossible from either airline or Indian commission – both of who say its the others task to advise me. On way back especially I will have to go back out through security to airport and check back in 3 hrs before ongoing flight. Full Visa, transit visa, visa or no visa???? Haven’t a clue and can’t find help. Anyway keep up the good work Asher. Many
    Thanks. Rich

  6. Hello. You say “Remove all electronics from your bags. This includes: cameras, cables, batteries, computers, tablets, kindles and phones etc. If you don’t do this then security will take their royal time searching through your bags, rescanning them and handling your equipment roughly”. Do you pack all these items in your checked-in bags or carry bag? And by “Remove all electronics from your bags”…what does that mean? Do you mean you take them out yourself at security for carry-bag scanning?

  7. I have lived and traveled extensively in the USA too (10 years and visited 40+ airports) . Honestly some of the above said points apply to American airports as well. Ever tried to beat the traffic to get to LaGuardia or get through a loooonng line at Chicago O’Hare? You will find the experience similar in more ways than one. While I do agree that cutting lines can be frustrating in India, I don’t agree that you can get away scot-free with excess baggage weight in USA. Have you ever flown Spirit or Frontier ? You should if you haven’t 🙂

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