What is behind chaos, mess at India’s airports

More people are flying after most countries lifted Covid-19 caps on domestic and international air travel. The flow of passengers has put the existing infrastructure at airports and airlines under pressure.

The recent chaos at Delhi Airport is due to the limited number of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel deployed there, resulting in long wait times (Photo: Vani Gupta/IndiaToday)

By Tirtho Banerjee: ‘Welcome to Hell… Abandon Hope to all who enter here’. This caustic remark came from one of the passengers in T3 at Delhi Airport on December 12. One tweet compared the crowding to a “fish market,” while another equated it with the famous crowds at Delhi’s “Sarojini Market.” There was a post that read: Public Notice: If you catch a flight from T3 in Delhi, depart at least 5 hours early.

Social media not only reflected the plight of airmen, but also painted a deplorable picture of the state capital’s chaotic airport.

Queuing lines, long waits, luggage all over the place, no trolleys, flight delays, traffic jams, no staff assistance and the security control system is going haywire. Total chaos reigns at Delhi Airport.

The videos and posts shared by passengers on social media prompted Union Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia to pay a surprise visit to Delhi Airport and take stock of the situation. Scindia spoke to airport staff and passengers about the issues they are facing at Delhi Airport.

ALSO READ | The aviation minister makes a surprise visit to Delhi airport amid chaos and complaints of overcrowding


The problem is not limited to Delhi Airport. On December 2, it was nothing short of a nightmare as passengers at Mumbai Airport’s Terminal 2 had to struggle for over two hours to complete the check-in process for their flights after the facility’s internet server crashed. Airlines were forced to issue manual boarding passes even as queues swelled everywhere – at baggage drop and security checkpoints.

One flyer tweeted: “Have been on the plane for almost an hour now!! Still no idea when we’ll take off. Crazy chaos at Mumbai airport.”

On October 8 last year, all morning Mumbai domestic flights were delayed due to insufficient measures to deal with overcrowding due to the weekend and holiday rush.

“T2 AT CSMIA (Mumbai Airport) is a pile of rubble. It literally feels like we’re in the dark ages. Endless crowds, machines that break down, tempers frayed, chaos everywhere. Who is running this absolute shit show?” one passenger tweeted at the time.

ALSO READ | ‘Welcome to Hell’: Complaints about overcrowding at Delhi airport flood social media as government intervenes


In July this year, many airports across Europe experienced similar chaos due to summer passenger congestion after Covid-19 restrictions were eased after two long years.

London’s Heathrow Airport has witnessed long security lines, delays, restricted mobility, piling up of unclaimed bags and lost or delayed bags. The chaotic scenes were attributed to staff shortages, which also led to flight disruptions.

The airport issued an apology while also issuing a warning that it may ask airlines to cut more flights from their summer schedules to cope with the growing strain.

In July, some flights were grounded while many were delayed due to a strike at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. The strike was called by a union to demand the necessary wage increases along with other benefits amid rising inflation.

Amsterdam, Rome and Frankfurt airports also suffered from flight cancellations this summer due to workers’ strikes for better working conditions and higher wages.

ALSO READ | Amid global aviation chaos, the UK is launching a passenger charter to address airport disruption issues


More people are flying after most countries lifted Covid-19 caps on domestic and international air travel. The flow of passengers has put the existing infrastructure at airports and airlines under pressure.

Aside from the wage and job issues, many airports are facing the problem of overcrowding and congestion because their expansion plans have stalled during the pandemic. It will take time to get these plans back on track.

In March, Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) had a capacity study carried out by the British air traffic control company NATS. It suggested that the four runways of Indira Gandhi International Airport could handle 14 million passengers annually before 2030 – double the 6.9 million international and domestic passengers in 2019. This So is undoubtedly a huge potential that will take some time to be fully tapped.

Mumbai Airport also plans to triple the airport’s business area, build multiplexes and move one of the leading airlines to Navi Mumbai Airport to decongest the country’s second busiest airport.

Navi Mumbai Airport will be operational by December 2024 and has a capacity of 2 million passengers. However, this deadline sounds too rigid after the pandemic.

Lack of staff is another pain point. The recent chaos at Delhi Airport is due to the limited number of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel deployed there, resulting in long wait times.

The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) has abolished 3,049 CISF aviation security posts, to be replaced by 1,924 private security guards and a parallel rollout of intelligent surveillance technology such as CCTV cameras and baggage scanners. Is that human strength enough to manage such a sprawling airport when many of the technical tools fail frequently?

ALSO READ | Worried about long airport queues? Air Ministry publishes action plan to reduce congestion


We need the deployment of additional systems and manpower at our airports. Also, technology upgrade is the need of the hour.

Everything from ticketing and baggage to billing and boarding should run smoothly with state-of-the-art technology infrastructure – including 5G. Scanning at security checkpoints will be AI-driven in the future. But for the time being, it is necessary to ensure that scanning machines are working properly.

Mandatory web check-ins only work if there is a seamless internet connection. More counters can also relieve airline staff and passengers.

One of the reasons for traffic congestion is the ‘bundling’ of flights during rush hours. Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) has reduced the number of flights for relief – from 22 flights per hour (pre-Covid) to 19 flights per hour (November 2022).

After Scindia’s visit to Delhi Airport, a 4-point action plan was drafted to resolve the situation urgently. It includes unbundling of flights, which could help reduce peak-time departures to 14 flights. The plan also includes increasing the number of X-ray screening systems at the airport from 14 to 16. There are also plans to add a machine with an Automatic Tray Retrieval System (ATRS).

In addition, two boarding points – Gate 1A and Gate 8B – will be converted for passenger use. Landing cards are distributed on board and completed prior to arrival to minimize queues at immigration desks. All plans must focus on improving the passenger experience to make air travel a breeze…

ALSO READ | Airport chaos in Delhi: The Minister of Aviation lists measures to reduce the crowds at T3 after the surprise check

ALSO READ | Air Ministry sets out four-point action plan to ease congestion at Delhi airport | Details

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