Bangalore Airport awarded long-awaited ‘Armpit’ status

by MinkeyChief

[Ed’s note: this was written when Bangalore Airport was at its HAL location.]

Officials of the Silicon City of India’s international airport have worked many years for this. They have tried everything: from spraying newly arrived passengers with DDT, to employing 400 autodrivers to simulate their gang rape as they exit the terminal, but so far, nothing has yielded results. Then last week, in a surprise announcement, the International Shit Pit Recognition Organization (ISPRO), finally awarded Bangalore Airport its coveted ‘Armpit’ status.

“We worked a long time to think of a building and an experience that portrayed a complete antithesis of Bangalore’s international image,” said a visibly pleased K. Kumaraswamy, the chief of the Bangalore Airport Improvement Board. “Apart from the DDT and autodrivers, we have thought of all sorts of things; we have even provided, at great expense, piped body odour in the arrival and immigration area.”

Arriving passengers are herded down corridors designed to look like toilets, and an escalator that’s “highly likely to trap and dismember at least one of every hundred passengers”. Once outside the airport building, visitors are treated to a landscape that one American arrival described as “a scene from the partition riots in the film Gandhi”.

Steve Barry, an IT consultant from the US, has never seen such carefully organised chaos before. “The pathways are designed so that people coming into the airport derail the departing trolley pushers who then spill out onto a crowded access road and hold up all the already jammed traffic.”

Head-on collisions between luggage trolleys are taxis are common. The airport also pays the traffic police to drive a van around the parking area and shout at drivers via a public-address system every time their cars come to a halt.

“The police have been extremely co-operative,” says Kumaraswamy. “They don’t bother about whether you’ve stopped because of traffic, to let somebody out, or because you’ve run over somebody’s child. They just turn up the volume on their loudspeaker and, using choicest expletives, scream at you until you get moving again.”

This attention to detail has been admirable, but why has the award been such a long time coming? Kumaraswamy says, “We discovered that we weren’t paying departing international passengers quite the same level of attention.”

When Kumaraswamy realised this lack, he quickly took steps to further degrade the departure experience. “We found several erring guards who smiled, and were efficient at checking passenger tickets at the door. They have been suspended, pending investigation. Also, all security check officers have been given extensive Annoyance Training. For example, they have been carefully trained to take at least 45 seconds to ink their stamp and stamp a passenger’s boarding card. When there’s a queue of 50 passengers waiting to pass through security, this can be extremely effective.”

Kumaraswamy has redesigned the international departure lounge with 30 per cent fewer seats than are needed at all but the quietest hours. Though the coffee shop has four people employed in a space that’s about three feet by three feet, they are trained to take at least 15 minutes for even simple orders.

In addition, all announcements are garbled using sophisticated military coding technology. “Our announcements are totally undecipherable. We challenge anybody, anywhere to crack them,” says Kumaraswamy.

The ‘Armpit’ status gives Bangalore new currency with discerning travellers worldwide. Backpackers and other travellers seeking an “authentic” experience are expected to increase business by about 25 per cent over the next year.

But Kumaraswamy is doing anything but resting on his laurels. “We are now working to submit the airport for the highly prestigious ‘Armpit of Armpits’ award. We are facing great competition from the current holder, but we hope to unseat them this year.”

The Armpit of Armpits is currently held by the Tom Bradley International Terminal of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Watchers say that LAX will be hard to beat because of the disparity between the country experience and the airport experience.

“LAX has the distinct advantage of having an airport that is such a sharp contrast to the open skies of California and the organised cities of America. Also, they charge $2 for a luggage trolley—such barbarism is hard to match,” says Kumaraswamy, “But Bangalore will get there, I promise.”

First published in (the now defunct) Southeykai Sarathi blog