Chennai Airport a den of chaos and confusion for passengers

Chennai Airport faces several issues from lack of signage, long queues, broken trolleys and poor pedestrian infrastructure.

For the past 21 years I have used the Chennai Airport for domestic and international travels. Over the years, I have noticed many dysfunctional elements that tarnish the airport experience for many passengers. This is especially true for those who are not used to airports and the processes involved.

Even as Chennai airport sees heavy footfall and connects many important destinations, the maintenance of the airport and the facilities for passengers leave a lot to be desired. When you combine all the road-blocks one encounters, the airport can sometimes appear as a ‘death-trap’, where it is extremely difficult to get to an already costly mode of transportation. 

entrance to Chennai airport
Chennai Airport a death trap for pedestrians. Pic: Srini Swaminathan

Access to bus stop and railway station 

Getting in and getting out of Chennai airport on foot is extremely difficult. For many who opt to travel by bus or train, rather than by car, they have to get off at their respective stops – Tirusulam Railway Station or the bus stop opposite the airport – and walk with their luggage to the airport.

Footpaths from these stops to the airport are absent, and there is no bus stop within the airport, so one would have to lug their suitcases and bags around as they cross a rather wide road into the airport, where no proper entrance is really designated. From the entrance you can see cars whizzing around and yet again no pedestrian walkway into the building. 

Just outside of domestic arrivals there is a covered walkway, leading to a prepaid taxi area. Here the walkway is made of paver blocks, with many of the blocks broken. These blocks often obstruct the wheels of the trolley and can even cause damage to them. This is one of the reasons why most trolleys in the airport seem to be broken or dysfunctional. The walkway ends abruptly with a number of trolleys and cars blocking its end. 

trolleys broken and abandoned
Trolleys everywhere only adding to the confusion. Pic: Srini Swaminathan

Getting out of the airport is also extremely difficult.  When you try to leave from domestic arrivals, you come out of the gate and enter a long covered road, with a Madras Coffee House on the side, as a well known marker. This road has gone through around 15 different traffic diversions over the years. Sometimes it is blocked, sometimes it is open for pick-ups. No one really knows the status of this road as a result. Usually many people are seen crossing this road to reach their vehicles, yet there is no speed breaker for vehicles to slow down. A traffic warden is present to manage the road, yet this has not done much to reduce confusions for those who cross, or for those driving their vehicles. 

Pick up points and guidance

If one were to look at Bangalore’s Kempegowda Airport, where there are areas where pedestrians need to cross, and vehicles also make use of these roads, you will always see traffic marshals in fluorescent safety jackets guiding pedestrians across, while they stop vehicles going past. In addition, the pickup points for different types of vehicles are clear, unlike the Chennai Airport. There is a clear lane for buses, clear lanes for Uber and Ola autos and taxis.

In the Chennai airport, a lot of the time pick up points for autos, taxis, cars, etc are all along one road, making things extremely difficult. In addition, there is a pick up point shelter, where only around 10-15 people could fit in. This shelter is littered with broken trolleys and hardly protects passengers from the heat and rain

Often when asked, Airport authorities or those working at the airport mention that such a mess in moving in and around the airport is because of construction work that is constantly happening to expand the airport. However, priority is not given to the needs and conveniences of the people, especially pedestrians, who continue to make use of the airport even in these times.

In the case of Chennai Metro construction, it can be seen how pedestrian pathways are often made on the side so as to reduce the confusion that the construction might cause. Barricades are present by the construction to reduce any danger. The same could be done for the airport, yet no corrective measures are being taken. 

Chennai airport under construction
An airport constantly under construction. Pic: Srini Swaminathan

A multi-level car parking plan is in the works at the airport, and is often spoken of as a solution to the above issues with getting in and out smoothly. However, if one were to imagine such a concept working in real time, passengers would have to lug their baggage to find the taxi level, or their pick up vehicles across multiple levels. Many people in fact suffer from the anxiety of traveling. People want to get in and get out, and the airport seems to not allow for this to happen smoothly.

Read more: Despite operating at 150% capacity, we incurred a loss of Rs 4 cr in 2018-19: C V Deepak, GM Finance, Chennai Airport

Faulty railings and poor excuses 

The railings along ramps are often broken and shaky, not offering any practical support for those who need it. A common excuse from the authorities when asked about shaky railings, is that often taxi and auto drivers lean on them, causing them to break.

However, it is common sense that people would lean on railings, it is convenient for one to rest on, and so the solution is to then consider this at the planning and building stage. These railings shouldn’t be hollow and should be made of strong iron so as to bear the load of those who use it. 

Chennai airport railing are loose or broken.
Railing are loose or broken. Pic: Srini Swaminathan
Chennai Airport railing
Authorities claim they are so as people lean on them. Pic: Srini Swaminathan

The ramps are also rather dangerous to use. For one, the tiles used are not rough and even with a mild drizzle, they become quite slippery. Ultimately this poses a number of dangers to people and can easily cause accidents. 

Long lines a result of low resources

On a trip back from Dubai, I reached the airport at 3 am only to see long queues of at least 700 people at the immigration line. Only 2-3 counters were tending to them despite at least 20 counters being present. The lines are especially inconvenient for those with children, or those with disabilities. For one, no instructions are clear. When people land, they are made to fill in documents they didn’t know they had to fill prior to the journey. In total I waited for around 45 minutes. 

When I was done with immigration, relieved that I could go and pick up my baggage, there was a man there asking me to show the stamp on my passport. This also results in long queues, despite the fact that immigration officers wouldn’t let passengers pass through without stamps. People start looking through their books for their stamps, resulting in a frenzy. Often the officers are often quite rude and dismissive of people’s doubts and fears, adding further to the chaos. 

What is the point of making weary international passengers go through such an arduous process? Most people don’t know what this is all about and have to dig through the passport pages to find the stamp and this adds to the delay. I have arrived at other airports in India and nowhere else is the arrival seal checked, except at the Chennai Airport.  

arrivals at Chennai airport await in long queues
What is the point of making weary international passengers go through such an arduous process? Pic: Srini Swaminathan

There are also different lines for children, for senior citizens, etc. Yet people start moving into the children’s line, just to finish the process. There is no sense of order. In fact, guidelines are also scanty. All sign boards present were in English and barely visible. 

Another strange practice at the international baggage claim in Chennai that I noticed was that many of the bags had chalk or permanent marker on them. On going to the source of the bags i.e. behind baggage claim, where the bags are X-rayed and sent on the conveyor belt, there was a man marking almost every bag with chalk and permanent marker. Apparently, this is to signal to those at customs that such a bag has ‘suspicious items’ in it. However, upon observing the X-ray and consequent marking, there seemed to be no discretion practised in the marking. 

Read more: How to locate Chennai Airport Metro station, Tirusulam suburban rail station

Raising the issues with authorities

A key method of raising these issues has been via social media. Often many people have similar concerns and tag the Chennai Airport twitter handles. In response to the railings issue, I had raised this on Twitter to which the Chennai Airport handle stated that auto drivers leaning on the railings is the reason for the same. They then mentioned how they would sensitise them to not lean on the railings. 

Another method is the complaint board website where many people raise complaints, however, many have resorted to social media now, even though the airport Twitter handle often responds in a very perfunctory manner, with no specific solution. 

Despite the experience and grievances raised by many, the experience and amenities available are yet to see any change. As airports in other cities continue to set standards in these parameters, Chennai finds itself left behind.

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  1. R.Poornaprakash says:

    Very good initiative sir hats off to you for raising the concerns of the passengers hope it creates a major impact and provide justice to those who have suffered through this mess created by this authorities .

  2. P Balasubramanian says:

    Excellent article – basic arrogance in attitude will always prevent anyone from even thinking of improving. Ego and arrogance supported by incompetence governs this area.

  3. Prahlad says:

    Chennai was 3rd largest Airport in the country once upon a time, now overtaken by other cities v easily stands somewhere 7th. And in the list of worst Airport in the world. Unless they don’t do privatization we have to be prepared for more worse.

    • PSV says:

      This review is spot on. Chennai airport is one of the worst in the country. This has been the case for past 10 yrs. Poor facilities, dirty restrooms have been a norm at the airport. As you pointed kut, after arriving from a tiring flight, in immigration, you are made to wait for 45-60 min and the eve after that, there is one guy sitting to check your stamp…what nonsense is that? I fail to understand if this job was just created to employe the person or the immigration officers are not doing their jobs properly???
      Long serpentine queues has been always there irrespective of whether it is domestic or international..! Once i happened to be there when some political leader from was arriving on a domestic flight…the whole arrival area of airport was sort of taken By the goons of the party…leaving the commoners in lurch! With so many international connections, the airport leaves much to be desired.

      • Snarayan says:

        Every body knows all international flights lands late night or early mornings and its immigrations customs should open more counters for checking and clearance of passengers incl.allcategoris
        Also proper working of all gadgets
        Asking for wheel chair evidence when we come by battery bus to avoid human pushing or lack of wheelchair on arrivals make total failure or absence of wheelchair. helpers with names in I.pads to use is also not available

  4. CitizenChennai says:

    Who is responsible to bring all the lazy officers in the airport to account?

    The issue of 2-3 immigration officers tending to hundreds of passengers has always been an issue at the airport and no seems to care. They are also quite rude and unwelcoming at the same time.

    The CISF officers at security checks should be local officers, many of the first time flyers and people who don’t speak Hindi find it difficult to converse and explain anything to these officers.
    These officers are not well-versed with the rules. For example someone who has a personal e-cigarette is allowed to carry with him as long it is carried with him in his hand luggage. They should know only sale of e cig and it’s products is banned in India, not personal use. NRIs and foreign tourists are subjected to this harassment at security checks and are forced to throw away their expensive e-cigarettes at security when nearly all airlines allow carrying of e-cig in handluggage.

    • M.A.Kumar Annamalai says:

      We can’t compare Chennai airport with other greenfield airports. That is the main reason chennai lacking facilities. At least the immigration facility and customs counter can be improved till them.

    • Za Len says:

      Show the rule which allow e-cigarette to be carried in hand baggage in India. Please don’t confuse the readers.
      E-cigarette is not allowed to be carried in India whether in hand bag or not. That’s the Ministry of Civil Aviation rule.

  5. Citizen kane says:

    Author is wrong in stating the arrival stamp being checked at the immigration exit. Delhi does it. Helps to do your homework.

    • Jonathan says:

      Delhi does not do it. Travelled last October.

    • Srini says:

      Citizen kane is totally missing the point. The point made by the author is not about who does it or not..but why is there no uniformity? Some airports do it and some dont. But more importantly, in Chennai, it is done in a very poorly conceived manner – It is such a hassle to do this after waiting in immigration for 45 minutes. And the signboard is kept almost near the guy checking the stamp. So, Citizen Kane, hope you get the point at least now?

  6. Seerthi Rajendran says:

    Excellent article. Last week only I felt chennai airport become a complete mess while traveling from chennai.No proper maintenance its not clean. We have to think twice before using toilets. There is no specific line for mothers with infants.No one will be standing near women’s security baggage clearance to move bags in belt which result in long queue of passengers with hand bag to wait for their turn to put bag in belt.Had hectic experience. Hope this article reach concern authorities and good changes happen

  7. Moorthy says:

    The authorities are not interested to look in to public problems also the staffs are rude towards passengers let them compare themselves with Bengaluru airport then they can find the difference

  8. Jagannath Khemlani says:

    Since this managed by government we can see the state of affairs.This as you pointed out is not new issues and they are there for so long. If we have to take a metered taxi also the drivers tend to ask another rate once assigned.

  9. Chris says:

    Utter chaos at the immigration counter manned by an unhappy lot. Pls man more counters with personal trained to handle tired passengers. U guys only complain about the cabin crew on the plane for silly reasons, but don’t write to the authority concerned about the immigration manning. Also airport entrance is lined with so called vip cars. There is no place for the pax to board etc. Stop the nonsense of vip culture mostly traveling on tax payers account!!!! Your pax r the vip’s. Pls do something about the same.

  10. Capt R Venkat says:

    Dear sir
    One can see that the AAAI has approved and appointed baggage handling agent right inside the customs area and after cornering the available trolleys they ask minimum ₹500/- per trolley..
    There are thousands of trolleys strewn all over the parking.
    How did the customs allow such a huge number of persons to enter the customs area and start bargaining..
    It appears that this is a designed fooling and looting and smuggling arrangement by all the authorities and the innocent passenger pays for all these services.

    • C Chandran says:

      Recently they have introduced this facility for the aged & the needy to handle and help with baggage carrying & checking in. It is at payment of ₹. 500/- for the service officially, not per trolley, and you can demand a receipt. They shd, however stand organised with their allotted no. of trolleys or passengers shd be allowed to pick a trolly from the line up and then these folk can approach them. In fact this service shd be done through a proper counter like for pre paid taxis

  11. Narayan says:

    Security check for departing pax is another nightmare. Most of these things will be solved only if the Airport is privatised. Look at BLR, HYD, DEL..

  12. JOTHI says:

    The wok in progress is getting delayed for one reason or other inspect of reputable company execute it.It is time for AAI to act.But reality speaks a lot
    The position of Chennai continues to go down in aviation map

  13. Vijay Kumar says:

    Chennai airport is in such a disgusting state because it is managed by Airports Authority of India. AAI is one of the most corrupt and inefficient organizations. Though many of the big cities have airports that have been privatized and are beautiful and well managed, the Tamil Nadu Government did nothing to push AAI to privatize Chennai airport. The situation will improve only when the Chennai airport is privatized and the corrupt officials of AAI re no longer in charge of the management of the airport. Until that happens, it will continue to operate like any other government organization.

  14. Suresh Kanthan M says:

    Rightly mentioned. Hope there will be a drastic change. I suggest a special team should be formed to activate appropriate action. All the best Chennai airport… make us feel proud

  15. Ram says:

    Totally agree with the author.
    Chennai airport has been a nightmare for both international & domestic travellers.
    Be it the dysfunctional trolleys, unkempt pathways/ roads, stinking Loos or sluggish parking staff.
    For international passengers, at times it could take even 90mts -2hr for bags to reach Carousel. Baggage handling ,pilferage from bags are the nightmares international passengers have to face.
    Blaming it on construction activities is a farce. These issues have been there since time immemorial even when there were no constriction activity.
    Hightime, the minister fir civil aviation steps in to kick out the Chennai airport management.
    Disgusting and shameless people at the helm of affairs in Chennai airport

  16. Concerned says:

    Absolutely number one priority for the State govt to resolve this and make the chennai airport atleast bearable as soon as possible

  17. Ganesh says:

    As a traveller, I have visited various small and big international and national airports. Shame that such a new construction which looks all glitzy from the outside is a shambles inside. What sort of an impression are we making for an international traveller?
    There are many countries with stern looking immigration officers, but the lack of interest in Indian officials is so evident.
    The ones in Chennai are so shameless that you feel obligated to them for letting you through.
    Why doesn’t the aviation minister , who visits international standard airports on public money,make sure that all these discrepancies are cleared and we have airports that we can be proud of?

  18. Subrat says:

    Great post . Another issue is poor condition of the luggage trolleys , with are often found with one wheel jammed making it extremely difficult to push . Looks like they are more than a decade old . Also like other international airports , the airport also should have smaller trolleys for use after security check or on arrival for heavier cabin baggages .

  19. Hiran says:

    Just kickout the useless AAI officials from the airport and privatise it. There is no point in being conservative like this and leaving the airport in corrupt hands. Shame on AAI.

  20. Baloochaysn punnoose says:

    I have worked with an airline from the 1970 before the blast. So many developments have come. But convenience of pax is not their concern at all. It is a department of corruption in many ways. It is high time it is privatised.
    There is plenty of money now available with IAAI as against 30 landings in the 70s they have more than 300 plus landings and they collect enough and more money by way of landing parking End and terminal navigational charges with very limited facility to the Airline and passengers.

  21. Lakshmana Kumar T says:

    Airport under AAI, percentage of travellers nowhere near votebank figures…So state govt not bothered…There is also Nexus of taxi and auto drivers to fleece passengers in connivance with state elements… Nexus for corruption wherever possible… Probably the worst metropolitan airport in the country.

  22. Vasudevan Gopalan says:

    I have travelled around the airports in India and abroad. Being a native of Chennai, with lot of pain and shame I have to say that Chennai airport is the worst in all aspects. Hope Govt authorities are listening and will help in privatisation to bring in the best experience for the travellers

  23. Bimalendu Saha. says:

    I have visited more than 60 Internationals Airport of 23 countries and visited almost all the domestic Airports in India, no where found any difficulties to enter or exit from thise domestic or international airport where as I fear to travel from Chenna, but unfortunately, I hv to use it by force being I am a Chennaite…and more deadly I fear to receive any friend or relatives from Chennai International Airport arrival zone due to high congesdtions throughout the access zone. Shame on the Authority who are all taken the matter just granted. Coming out from International Airport after receiving someone from International Arrival zone is a very Big challenge. Authority must take the measure on this issue seriously.

  24. Ravi says:

    I am a frequent traveller and it is always disgusting and a nightmare to land and clear immigration at Chennai international airport. Immigration queue has no system,no disciplined process, no official to control, counters not enough to clear the passengers land at night. None of the trolleys will go straight because of low quality. Cabin baggage screeing and passport stamp checking are all peculiar to Chennai airport. Baggage belts area is a mess. Every time you try to go to toilet there is always a board cleaning in progress and you have to wade through the water and guy with a mop. You can’t get a drinking water until you exit the airport after the ordeal only to be blocked by taxi agents scouting for passengers. Sadistic airport totally mismanaged Not sure why persons responsible are not taken to task or fired. How nearby Bangalore and all other airports managed in a far better way? Some times feel like landing in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and take domestic flight. Let the authorities wake up and set this right

  25. Iyyo Chennai Airport says:

    This will be easily one of the worst airports in the world. AAI who is the operator of this airport need to be blamed. Central government who is the authority for AAI need to take responsibility. When the other airports can do get privatised, why cannot Chennai. State government lobbying is also week.

    RESULT – Passengers are suffering

  26. Kannan Srinivasan says:

    First of kudos to you for capturing the issues plaguing Chennai International Airport and you have also motivated me to pen few points as I always believed such observations fall on deaf ears.
    I actually don’t know where to start as a person who has gone around 100s of international airports, and travelled within India from 1976 and hardly few airports that I have not used.
    Let’s start from internation departure and approaching airport via a single lane that connects and that too in a crooked way.
    They say change is constant and in this context very true as you will use different roads now compares to earlier trips.
    Due to this, the signangesare visibly absent. Added to this confusion is the changing rules of pick up and drop locations.
    If you travel during day time, you are lucky to get trolleys whether the wheels rotate or not making you feel you get symphony Orchestra as a free entertainment.
    In night time travel, assure you that one has to ear mark licating good working trolleys. While all the woes not completely attributable to Agencies like IAAI etc, passengers indiscipline is main reason whether leaving used trolleys as they like and rough use due to un even ground outside.
    The ambient noise is the most irritating point in all areas and you would wonder why there is so much chaos and confusion when in Zurich a flight departs without any hustle bustle including those last calls for passengers which were completely absent
    You land from singapors and Hongjong and contrast will be more pronounced as you still remember how you boarded few hours ago in the convenience of a huge gate area and all convenience under well lit ambience.
    The toilet urinal smell reminds of a public toilet and of course users contribute in a mighty way.
    Well enforcement is the only way to undisciplined passengers by hefty fines.
    Why don’t you charge trolley usage upfront and refund same when left at assigned areas instead of strewn around all over airport adding additional labour to collecting them and more so unavailability if the same to needy during this time.
    Let’s do a pareto analysis and address one by one and if there is a will, I m sure Chennai airport can compare with others over a period of a time.

  27. Chezhian says:

    It’s worst attitude by immigration officers.
    Check in immigration process is too late with less officer.
    Checking the immigration chop by another person is too worst.customs officer also too bad attitude.
    Eventho go with family they do rude act.
    Outside airport still worst atmosphere

  28. Pandi R says:

    Yes we had a same experience when I landed on 30th May 2022 and standing in the immigration line almost hour mire, there is no clear setup fir queuing people, nobody from the immigration well organize the row to immigration counter, peoples are gathering in front of the immigration counter as a birthday party, some of immigration counter no staff available to provide service. From 4am so many flights were landed from different countries but no such arrangements made from the immigration staff it us totally failed system and leads to damage reputation of state and central government.

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