If you are reading this column at an airport, congratulations, you’ve made it to the select pool of people who are going to make their flight today. As the panic around covid recedes, we’ve seen the fortunes of the travel industry, as well as the travellers, swing in the space of a few months. Last year, airlines were struggling to fill their planes and customers were able to fly at dirt cheap prices. Now, all you see are serpentine queues at every stage of the journey. So, what do you do to beat the queues?
I’ve flown across almost all the major metropolis airports in India and some of the smaller ones in the past few months. The one trick I can tell you are the hidden doors marked especially for certain premium travellers. For instance, at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport Terminal 2, if you are flying business class, you should head to Gate 1 or 8, which is exclusively used for access to the Business Class pods check-in area. You could be flying domestic, but as long as you are flying Business, you could still walk over to your counter quickly.
Even without flying premium cabins, if you just walked over to the furthest gates rather than have your car drop you at the first gate as you pull over, you should see the queues thin as you go further.
At check-in counters, the queues continue. If you are flying Air India or Vistara, make sure to stop by the priority counters if you have any sort of frequent flyer status with them. For Air India, even Star Alliance Gold-tier membership of any other member airline will help you get in the business class queue, and even get you and your plus one flying with lounge access at major airports. For Vistara, Gold- and Platinum-tier customers can access the priority queues for Business Class or Premium Economy.
SpiceJet also offers a loyalty programme, called SpiceClub, and one of its perks is that you can head to its premium queue, free of cost, to drop your bags. And if you are flying market leader IndiGo, you can just buy the IndiGo Fast Forward product, which gives you access to a special queue for a quicker check-in and your baggage comes ahead of others. Other Indian no-frill carriers also have similar offerings.
Some Indian airports have gone ahead and invested in technology to help self-directed passengers navigate the airport quicker. At Bengaluru, for instance, the airport has a whole lot of self bag-drop counters, where if you are willing to weigh your bag and tag it yourself, you should be able to send it on its way to the aircraft and be done quickly.
Premium security checks at Indian airports are only limited to Business and First-Class customers. Airlines and airports have been unsuccessful in extending it further to frequent travellers. Some airports have established separate queues, however, for hand baggage-only customers. At Hyderabad, for instance, you can directly enter the hand baggage-only queue, which takes you straight into security check and you are done in less than five minutes.
Of course, if you are big on using the airport lounge before you depart, you will notice a queue there as well, nowadays. The complimentary access provided by various banks to their clientele is responsible for the explosion in the numbers here. The good thing is, lounge operators realise this and have made special counters to check-in and earmarked a part of the lounge for the exclusive use of airline customers. This is how it works in Delhi and Mumbai. At Bengaluru airport, there is a brand new 080 Lounge, which is accessible, for the time being, to premium customers of American Express Cards and Priority Pass.
Of course, if you are on a clock or find navigating queues tedious, you might want to pay for a meet-and-assist service, which includes a person meeting you as soon as you arrive at the airport and escorting you till you board the plane. It costs money, but these services have privileged access to take you through gates and queues not known to us usually, or not accessible via an Airport Entry Pass which they have. In Mumbai, the airport operator offers these services through Pranaam Guest Services, and you can book at the airport’s website itself. In Delhi, a company called Encalm Hospitality recently launched this service under the banner Atithya. At a slightly higher price, they will usually throw in lounge access too.
Overall, airport queues are here to stay, and you would need to use every trick in the book to cut down the time to navigate. One of the easiest ones is to arrive early.
Business of Travel is a column for travellers by a frequent traveller. Expect to read all things aeroplanes, hotels and loyalty here.
Ajay Awtaney is the founder and editor of LiveFromALounge.com, an India-focussed frequent-travel website.