Sunday, May 28, 2017

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Announcing boarding, silently

The modern-day flyer is getting used to silent terminals that come sans the cacophony of announcements27 May 2017 | 2:20 AM

Soon after checking in her baggage at the Delhi airport, Piyali Dasgupta noticed the quietness of her surroundings — minus the constant barrage of announcements.

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Purnima Sharma 

Soon after checking in her baggage at the Delhi airport, Piyali Dasgupta noticed the quietness of her surroundings — minus the constant barrage of announcements. “This made my whole experience at the airport very different and pleasant,” remembers the 40-year-old advertising executive. “At first, I wondered if the announcement system had broken down. But then, soon, boards stating, ‘This is a silent airport’, put things in perspective.”

For the uninitiated, a ‘silent airport’ is one in which announcements regarding boarding and flight information have been discontinued. These are allowed only in cases of emergencies or in the boarding area.

In keeping with the quietness of things at many international terminals such as London, Helsinki, Munich, Dubai, Detroit, etc. silence at airports promises to soon be a given at an increasing number of Indian airports as well. It has already been put into practice at terminals in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, etc. A few days ago, Chennai too joined the club. The idea behind it all, according to a spokesperson from the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) — the airport that, incidentally, was the first to go noiseless — was to allow passengers to wind down while they wait for their flight to board in airport lounges, commercial, F&B and retail areas. 

“There had been a demand to have a relaxed ambience at the airport without the disruptions of announcements,” he added.

While passengers like Dasgupta may welcome such a move, there are many contrarians who feel this concept will still take some time to catch up. Roopam Shukla couldn’t believe her ears when she was informed that she’d missed her flight — despite having reached the airport well in time. The reason for her predicament was the slow-moving, serpentine queue she was standing in to collect her boarding pass. “Instead of quietly moving with the queue — that incidentally, was a single one for all destinations — I should have jumped my way ahead,” says the former TV journalist. And sure enough, when Shukla finally reached the counter, she was told that the boarding for her flight had been closed. “If only some announcement — or even placards held up giving such important information — had been made, I would have been on the flight.” 

And Shukla is not the only “victim of a silent airport”. Dennis Taraporewala, together with his wife and twin boys, was sitting in the Mumbai airport’s departure area itself, when suddenly they felt things had become much too silent for comfort. When he checked at the departure gate, Taraporewala was informed that the flight had taken off. “I wonder why the airline staff didn’t just call us on our mobiles or make an announcement?” says the MD of Criesse Communications.

So, is India ready for the concept of a silent airport? “I think it is,” says frequent flier Shikha Mishra, who enjoys the “quieter experience” at the terminals but adds that one needs to be just more alert at the airports now. “Even though keeping track of one’s flight was so much easier earlier, what you now have is a welcome silence.”

According to DIAL spokesperson,  airports like Delhi have more than 40 flight departures per hour. Coping with multiple announcements in as many languages for each flight is not a practical choice. 

“It all adds to a very unpleasant travelling experience,” adds a spokesperson of the Mumbai International Airport Limited. “Our objective was to mitigate noise pollution caused due to simultaneous announcements made by different airlines.” 

However, Taraporewala feels, “Airports are places where one needs to be reminded all the time about flight status, especially when you are already so preoccupied with many other things like managing the kids, security, baggage, time, etc. ... Announcements at such times are a huge help.” The ad executive says that “courtesy this silence”, he often notices people looking very stressed at terminals — they are forever checking their watches, running to different counters to check about timings, directions to gates, etc. 

Airport authorities assert that updated information is constantly displayed on monitors and signboards located throughout the terminal. However, blogger Nidhi Joshi — keeping her elderly parents in mind — says, “All this works well for the frequent fliers and the younger lot, but what about those who are not tech-savvy or the senior passengers?” Roopam Shukla adds that the elderly, as it is, have a tough time figuring out the new-age tech. “In their time, airports were smaller — they didn’t have to scuttle long distances — and the announcements helped passengers keep track of their flights.” The airline staff, she suggests, must step in here and keep in touch with them are ensure all help till they get on the flight.

But, as travel journalist, Pallavi Pasricha says that sometimes even the younger passengers could do with such reminders. Like the time she stopped by at a restaurant to pick up a snack after checking-in “and took longer than usual there. I wish someone had called me to say I was running late for boarding.” Finally, Pasricha had to buy another ticket to get on with her journey.

Although happy with the quietness of the Delhi airport, Deepa Jha (name changed on request), recalls the time she almost missed her flight because she had “happily dozed off. But, thanks to the airline guys who called me up in the nick of time, I made it to the flight just on the dot.”

Next time onwards, Jha says, she will keep pinching herself “should I start feeling sleepy at the airport”. This, she says, would be acceptable than being bombarded with the cacophony of announcements that was par for the course some years ago. “But that is not acceptable anymore. Silence, on the other hand, is welcome anytime, anyplace — especially at the airport,” she adds.

As we get ready to take off 

  • There should be telephones at every few paces to answer queries about boarding gates, flight timings, etc.
  • It will be good to have more help desks at the bigger airports
  • Information should be flashed on small screens near boarding pass counters for only that particular airline.
  • Separate counters for different destinations instead of a common queue for all will be helpful.
  • Help at hand for all senior citizens and those not literate enough to understand tech.
  • Mandatory airline app on the passengers’ phones (for the duration of travel), including directions and estimated walking times at the terminal.

A Noisy day!

Handling almost 1 flight per 40 seconds at peak hours, the Mumbai airport is one of the busiest in Asia. Too many announcements can cause chaos

Announcing boarding, silentlyNo noise, please: The airports in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi & Chennai have cut down on noise poullution at the terminals
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