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Cheat sheet for airborne business travelers
A Mumbai business travel blogger shares his best tips for optimizing airtime in India
The ability to multitask your way several thousand feet up in the air is the holy grail of business travel.
Now while Indian airports operate more like a kitchen at a Chinese restaurant than a Swiss watch, with the explosive growth in domestic air travel here, there are certainly ways and means to make the best of it.
Choosing a carrier
I recommend you start with choosing a preferred airline. Jet Airways is recommended if you are looking for full-service carriers, since they fly to most business destinations in India and are very hospitable.
Indigo is my recommendation for no-frills travel, since their commitment to being on-time is unmatched, apart from their cool image and clean planes.
Fare differences between a low-fare and full-service airline in India are marginal usually, within a few hundred rupees.
Loyalty benefits from airlines such as Jet Airways and Kingfisher include such privileges as lounge access and priority baggage.
If you’re price-sensitive and want to spot the best fares, check out ixigo.com. It is a travel search engine that pulls out fares and schedules from various sources including airline websites and online travel agents and allows you to customize your search.
Once you know the flights you want, it directs you to the website offering the best fare.
Choosing a route
Taking Mumbai traffic into account, it is always a good idea to steer via the Bandra Worli Sealink and onward to the Western Express Highway, assuming you’re coming from your office in South Mumbai.
Of course, you already know about the 45 minutes cut-off to check-in for a domestic flight, which is strictly enforced.
Online ticketing and web check-in
Considering we are a paper-loving nation, airport security demands to check the photo ID along with a ticket or boarding pass to let us in. To save time and paper, I always check-in via the website of the airline. I show security the printout and look out for a roving agent to stamp it for me and validate it.
Except for GoAir, all domestic airlines offer online check-in between 24 to 48 hours prior to take-off. Jet Airways is the quickest amongst all the airlines I fly, and they give me a generous 250 loyalty points every time I check-in online.
Once inside, you can self check-in using an e-kiosk and save at least 10 minutes. Alternatively, catch hold of a roving airline employee with a portable printer to get your boarding pass. Jet Airways, Jet Lite, Kingfisher and Indigo airlines all have this facility.
Carrying a cabin bag ensures I am not waiting in a queue to drop my bag or collect it at my destination. When I do have a bag, I can head up to the business class queues even if am travelling economy to deposit it.
I make sure the bags are tagged "Priority," because this ensures they come out first on the luggage belt at the arrival airport. This benefit comes with being a upper tier member of various loyalty programs.
Flight tracker and tweeting up the Mumbai airport
You can keep a tab on all flight movements from the airport by using the Mumbai Mobile Airport application from your smartphone which you can access at demo.moveo.in/download.
This is the official mobile website of Mumbai Airport, which also gives you information about all the amenities at the airport and a bunch of useful phone numbers too (like those of the airlines, for instance).
If you need more information on the conditions at Mumbai's Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) tweet to @csiamumbai and they respond quickly. I once asked them about flight movement disruption and they gave me a clear picture in five minutes.
Comparing loyalty programs
Loyalty benefits such as priority baggage are rolled out to you if you take at least 15-20 flights with the same airline every year and sign up for its loyalty program.
While Jet Airways and Kingfisher have a well structured program and offer you more benefits (free baggage and ability to upgrade) as you fly more frequently with them, Air India’s benefits are not so clearly outlined.
The full-service airlines also extend complimentary lounge access to frequent flyers, which is where you could work or grab a snack before you fly.
But if you are flying with a low-fare carrier like Indigo or Spicejet, you could still access the Clipper Lounge on Level 1 before security for free, as long as you have an eligible MasterCard on you.
MasterCard Lounge Access is valid for premium Mastercard holders from Citibank, RBS, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, SBICard, Standard Chartered and ICICI Bank till December 2011.
Killing time at Mumbai airport
Mumbai airport is full of shops and eateries, if you want to kill time before take-off. You could buy books and gadgets at one of these shops. I find myself spending time browsing magazines and books at the Landmark store, or Neckties and more's range of ties.
If you need to work, the entire airport has free Wi-Fi, for which you retrieve the password on your handphone. Switch on the Wi-Fi on your laptop, open the browser and you will be led to the homepage of the CSIA Wi-Fi network. Enter your mobile phone number there and you will receive a text message with a temporary password. This is needed to log on to the network.
Pre-order meals and cabs
If I am sure I need to eat while travelling on a low-fare airline, I pre-order my meal at the time of booking to make sure they get one for me on the plane. Jet Airways and Spicejet offer hot meals, while others serve simple snacks on the plane.
I also book a cab at the destination airport using one of the fleet cab services, if available.
This cheat sheet is valid for any Indian metro airport, except that only at Mumbai airport can I pick up flowers from the Florista shop outside the arrivals gate before I head home.