Bangladesh’s former short, sharp and sweet Zia Airport is now known as Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (DAC). It’s the country’s only international airport and its largest to boot, located about 17 kilometres from the centre of capital, Dhaka. This relatively new airport is a prime gateway into Bangladesh, and is the perfect springboard from which to make leisure and business trips around the country.
Airport Station is opposite the terminal for train journeys into the city, or an airport shuttle bus is available. The area outside the airport teems with taxis and touts. It’s notoriously chaotic so keep your wits and luggage about you or organise your collection in advance. There are luxury hotels near the airport, with a greater selection in Dhaka itself. Over the years the city has expanded to encircle the airport, so a future relocation is being considered.
Around six million passengers pass through Shahjalal every year (it has capacity for up to eight million). Though it has had a reputation for disorganisation, queues and dated systems, things are definitely improving, with travellers commenting on increased efficiency, check-in speeds and the friendliness of staff.
The airport is a hub for Bangladesh’s four major airlines GMG Airlines; United Airways; Regent Airways; and national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines. Other airlines flying into Dhaka include British Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines. They connect Bangladesh to cities across Europe and Asia and help Dhaka deal with over 50% of the country’s total arrivals and departures.
No-frills operators Dragonair, Druk Air and Gulf Air also have a presence. If using a low-cost carrier, put your savings to good use at the airport with a new tax-free digital camera from Olympus, FujiFilm, Sony or Lumix • or the latest cases, covers and headphones for your laptop or Apple products.
Shahjalal has two terminals. Both T1 and T2 are for international flights, with a concourse of T2 used for domestic flights, too. There is a separate VIP terminal. The airport has a medical centre plus basic banking, postal and currency exchange facilities. There are also several internet terminals (free • 30 minute limit). Queues are common at immigration and baggage carousels, so keep a sleeved shirt handy so the mosquitoes don’t test your patience.
The airport has several Tax and Duty Free shops, showcasing global household names alongside export-quality Bangladeshi goods like leather bags, cases and shoes. The small selection of other travel retail outlets sell local delicacies, handmade silk gifts and apparel, jewellery, speciality teas and handicrafts, though take a good book if there for any length of time.
Shahjalal, like other Bangladeshi airports, has different duty free allowances for foreign nationals and (Muslim) residents. Double check your duty free allowances before departure to avoid inconvenience. Best-selling bottles to enjoy over ice include Bombay Sapphire Gin, Bell’s Whiskey, rich Tia Maria or the deliciously citrus Cointreau liqueur.