Chennai International Airport

Chennai International looks forward to a promising future

Chennai Duty Free ShoppingChennai international airport is about to take a big leap forward. Passengers have been complaining about the overcrowding, long queues and poor facilities at India’s third largest airport for years, but improvements are now thankfully on the way.New domestic and international terminals should be up and running at this important southern Indian hub by the end of 2012. The new terminals will more than double the airport’s passenger capacity, while the amount of shopping space is set to treble to nearly 9,000 square metres.

Three cheers to that, we say. The list of retailers signed up to do business at the new terminals has yet to be announced. However, there are likely to be a number of international retailers keen to set up shop at Chennai. UK newsagent WHSmith and travel catering giant HMSHost are already known to be among the line up. The duty-free contract for the new international Anna terminal is likely to be hotly contested. At the moment, an Indian firm, Flemingo International, run the somewhat lacklustre duty-free shops at the airport.

In short, the shopping scene at Chennai, which currently lags way behind other major Indian hubs such as Delhi and Mumbai, is on the way up. On paper the new terminals look very impressive. Both buildings are steel and glass with soaring roofs; they will be connected with a beautiful glass aerobridge, which will overlook lush green vegetation. In both terminals, arrivals will be on the ground floor and departures will be on the first.

Passengers have been waiting a long time for improvements at Chennai, which serves as an important hub to southern India with flights to 21 domestic destinations across the country. The $400 million modernisation and expansion project first kicked off back in 2008, but various problems have dogged the scheme, which has set back the completion date several times. There are still concerns that various features of the new-look airport such as an in-line baggage system and a multi-story car park, might not get built. So it has yet to be seen whether the new terminals will live up to all the hype. Let’s hope they do.

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.

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