Ahead of the grand opening at Chennai there has of course been considerable disruption heaped on to what was already a rather crowded and confusing airport for non-locals to fly to and from. From a shopping point of view the pick of the stores has to be the rather cramped duty-free outlets run by Flemingo in the international terminal. In spite of their small size they do stock a reasonable range of liquor, tobacco, fragrances and confectionery.
Liquor is the big draw in Indian duty-free, generating as much as 70% of total sales. Blended Scotch whisky is what tickles the taste buds in these parts and the range on offer here extends not just to big sellers such as Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal, but also malts such as the smoky Caol Ila, the subtle Glenlivet and powerful Talisker. Travellers will also find super-premium vodkas such as Grey Goose and Cîroc; a number of top-selling Champagne brands, and a decent smattering of South African wines.
Unlike liquor cigarettes are cheap in the Indian domestic market so there are fewer savings to be had in duty-free for locals. Nonetheless, prices are a bargain by western standards and the range stocked at Chennai is solid with the big names like Marlboro and Rothmans commanding a high profile presence in-store. It is also worth pointing out that arrivals duty-free shopping is available at the airport and very popular it is too. Arriving passengers will be able to buy up to 200 cigarettes each, along with two litres of hard spirits.
There is not much else to set the pulses racing when it comes to the shopping offer at either of Chennai’s two terminals: the Kamarj domestic terminal and the Anna international terminal. International branded boutiques are in short supply although the domestic terminal does boast a Samsonite boutique. In contrast, local shops selling leather goods, silks, jewellery, precious stones, teas and shoes abound, but it is very unlikely that the prices and ranges can come anywhere close to what you’ll find in downtown Chennai.
One store worth mentioning, however, is the quaint-looking Higginbotham’s bookshop, which has outlets in both terminals. Dating back to the colonial times of the British Raj, Higginbotham’s is one of Chennai’s most famous shops and claims to be the oldest bookshops in all India. Of course, the company’s airport outlets have nothing like the range of books as the famous downtown store, but nonetheless bookworms might find these stores a good place to browse while waiting for their flight.
Chennai’s current shopping offer might lack sparkle, but there are plenty of good eateries to choose from if you like Indian food. There are also some half decent amenities including a spa, a massage chair and Wi-Fi. For a full list of services, see the airport’s somewhat basic website at http://www.airportsindia.org.in/chennai/passenger_facilities.jsp
Let’s be clear though. Chennai is no Singapore Changi, but much-needed improvements are on the way. They can’t happen soon enough.