Over the last few weeks I have had a chance to go to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad from Bangalore (besides Goa) via 5 different airline carriers – Kingfisher, Indigo, Spice Jet, Jet Airways and Deccan (Kingfisher’s low cost carrier).
There has been a boom in Indian aviation business in the last decade and over 30 new low cost and full service airlines have benefited from the growth.
All the major airports in India were in major need of renovation and they are all in various stages of it.
My assessment of the airports is based on 5 criteria:
a) Ease of access / location – how easy is it to get from the airport to where I want to get to – including taxis, mass transit options etc.
b) Availability of restaurants – not being much of a shopper, in many cases I am rushing in from a meeting or rushing out to catch a flight, so grabbing healthy food is very important
c) Overall cleanliness of the airport
d) Speed to get to gate – time it takes for checking in, security clearance, etc.
e) Availability of waiting lounge space (or waiting areas in general)
Of the major airports, Hyderabad is the BEST by a mile. This is a totally new airport, so I am sure Mumbai and Delhi (which are undergoing major upgrades) are going to get better. The airport has been privately built and managed by GMR (which also is working on Mumbai, where unlike Hyderabad it does not have a clean slate to work from).
Even though Bangalore is new (a month newer than Hyderabad), it just pales in comparison to Hyderabad. Its smaller, more cramped, less clean and has a lot fewer options for good food (or shopping).
Of the others, Delhi and Chennai are the worst so Mumbai gets ranked in the middle.
Why I like the Hyderabad Airport:
1. Access is good, and getting better. There are buses, taxis, an upcoming Metro project and they look spanking new and clean. Mumbai is the worst and absolutely crowded. It took me more time to drive 4 miles out of the airport than to fly from Bangalore.
2. Lots of good food options (especially since most Indian flights are delayed by at least 15 min minimum to an hour plus at the worst case). Delhi is the worst in this regard.
3. Restrooms, pathways and aisles were all very clean and constantly being cleaned so I was impressed with their overall ability to keep it well maintained. Bangalore airport, on the other hand already looks old. Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai were all dirty even though both Delhi and Mumbai are relatively new.
4. Its a little further away from the city (similar to Denver or San Francisco) so options for a train are not yet great, but you have lots of taxis and buses that were reasonably priced. Bangalore is comparable but the traffic once you get into the city just stalls.
5. It was fairly fast to get in and out and you did not get overwhelmed at the exit (which happens even at the new Bangalore airport with the number of unsolicited visitors offering taxi or transport services).
In terms of the airlines between Kingfisher and Jet Airways (both are full service) I preferred Jet – very hospitable staff and more punctual. Among the low cost carriers there was not much to choose from, but SpiceJet is moderately better than Indigo and I would not at all recommend Deccan.