Return from India - DABOLIM Airport - 20th December 2009

As will be quite apparent, I have had to update many of the Indian posts following my return from there. This was mainly because I managed to ‘lose’ my netbook computer at Gatwick Airport before I even managed to leave England. The result was that I had to rely on some pretty low-tech cyber-café kit whilst in India. This meant that I couldn’t post photos. Well OK, possibly I could have, but I put the prospect into the ‘too-hard’ file. The average Indian cyber-café is crowded, confined, and very warm, and I wasn’t prepared to spend more time in them than necessity dictated. Thus the subsequent addition of the photos, and some additional posts, at a later date.

My scheduled return from India had some quite user-friendly timings. The ‘round the houses’ transfer coach was due to collect me at 7.30 in the morning. I had therefore organised Jay to provide a ‘direct to the airport’ taxi with a pick-up at 8.00 am. Had all gone to plan, the flight would have left Goa at mid-day and, with the five and a half hour time difference, deposited me back at Gatwick at around five in the afternoon, UK time, on 20th December.

In the event, the flight was late. Very late. The only good thing about very late, is that they do know about it in advance. Thus, about 10.30 the night before, they rescheduled the transfer pick-up for mid-day. The next morning, the pick-up had been changed again to 2.00 pm. In the meantime, MBG was on the case and was monitoring the flight’s (non)departure from Gatwick, and keeping me informed, by phone. I was not going to be flying anywhere until at least 11 hours after the flight departed the UK.

I eventually pitched up at Dabolim (GOI) airport at around 3.00 pm. Now, in the current security climate, all airports are hell. However, Dabolim is the incarnation of hell that all other airports, world-wide, strive to attain. Firstly, you have to queue up to even be allowed into the airport building. I was quite lucky with this one, as I had arrived before the transfer buses and I only had to queue for about 10 minutes. Once the buses arrived, the queue was out of sight, around the block, and apparently motionless. Eventually, the flight check-in desk opened, so it was time for queue No 2. Wrong, check-in is actually queue No 3. They don’t tell you, but they won’t allow you to check-in until you have done queue No 2, which is to have your hold baggage x-rayed. So you do queue No 3 and then slide all the way down a snake, as you get sent back to the end of queue No 2. So you do No 2, then No 3 again, and you are actually checked in for the flight – after a mere FOUR lengthy queues.

The queue to get into the airport

Then you queue again, for immigration control, and again for the police control, and again for the control that makes sure that you have been through all the other controls, and have all the right stamps on your paperwork. Then you queue for the hand baggage control, and again for the actual hand baggage check. Eventually, after NINE queues, you finally gain admittance to the departure lounge. You then queue for a cup of coffee. It’s not over yet, because there is yet another queue, just to make doubly sure that you have collected the full range of official stamps, before they will let you onto the aircraft.

I would make two further points about Dabolim, one good, and one bad. The good one is that there is a dedicated, controlled air-flow, smoking room in both the checking-in area, and in the departures area. India has, comparatively recently, introduced quite draconian smoking regulations that I don’t think that anyone, not least the Indians, fully understand. However, I believe that as part of the legislation, it was stipulated that smoking areas HAD to be provided in airports to cater for stressed smokers, possibly facing long delays, and then long distance non-smoking flights. Sensible, well done!

The second point is bad, bad, bad, very bad. By law, you are not allowed to either import, or export, Indian currency. In theory, this means that you should both arrive, and depart, India without a single Indian rupee in your possession.  Don’t worry though, there will be a currency exchange facility available to you at both arrivals and departures at Dabolim Airport. DO NOT, IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY AVOID IT, USE THE CURRENCY EXCHANGE AT DABOLIM!! It is a straightforward rip-off. There is only one booth in arrivals, and one booth in departures. In other words, a comfortable monopoly. This monopoly is further strengthened by quasi-official threats of confiscation of any rupees found in your possession in departures.

Fact 1. I was given 6,500 rupees for £100 on arrival. It should have been 7,600 rupees – a clear rip-off profit of 1,100 rupees (£14.50). Not a scrap of paperwork was generated so it was a clear ‘back-pocket’ job. Not bad for an ‘official’ money exchange.

Fact 2. I changed 2,000 rupees on departure (I know, I should have known better, but I don’t like being without local currency). This should have been worth £26.31. Again, with no paperwork, I was given £17.00.

I would imagine that larger Indian airports will have more than one exchange booth, and that competition will probably generate fairer dealing, but avoid changing money at Dabolim until they have sorted that particular rip-off out.

The flight eventually departed at 8.45 pm and, after an uneventful journey, arrived at Gatwick at 1.45 in the morning of 21st December (ten and a half hours). GATWICK AIRPORT and MONARCH AIRLINES then made a determined effort to demonstrate that anything Dabolim could do, they could do better. Not a scrap of luggage from the flight appeared until 4.15 in the morning – a two and a half hour wait, ON TOP of the ten and a half hour flight, ON TOP of the nearly nine hours flight delay. Did it not occur to any of the geniuses that run our airports, and airlines, that this aircraft would require unloading upon arrival? If they can’t be arsed to do so, then they should be forced to provide a cafeteria, and smoking facilities, for the idiot punters that have to put up with their incompetence.

On a ‘feel sorry for myself’ note, I then found myself in the Gatwick long term car park, at 5.15 in the morning, clearing a foot of accumulated snow and ice from my car. Great fun, after a month of consistent 32 degree heat!