As an international traveller my experience of returning home used to be the most forgettable. Yes, I have used the past tense because things have changed unbelievably for the better. The experience of checking in, immigration for going abroad has changed too though the former decidedly scores over the latter.
Eight years ago you had to declare your camera, laptop etc. at the customs during immigration when you travelled abroad. You were required to fill up a form ‘in triplicate’ on yellowing government stationery. And you had to preserve your copy, produce it before the customs officer when you returned Mumbai.
I remember I was travelling from Kathmandu to Delhi; I was detained at Delhi airport because I could not produce the form. My office then had to trace and fax the invoice to customs to prove that the laptop was indeed purchased in India and was assigned to me by my employer, only then my ordeal was over.
Now the Mumbai airport is under renovation, the traffic jam on the ramp is irritating, the confusion of which X-ray machine is to be used [each airline has a different one] adds to that irritation, but once you check in beating the long queue, you are in for a pleasant experience!
You move very quickly through the immigration queue, there are twenty [or so] customs officers handling the huge outgoing trafiic of passengers; and the surprise is that they often have a smile on their face. A customs officer actually befriended me [it was, indeed, his initiative and skill of conversation no doubt!] in three minutes flat, and I discovered that Mr Govilkar, the officer under reference, has authoured a book! I was invited to the publication ceremony of his book. Who will believe that a customs officer and a pasenger can speak passionately for a short while on Marathi literature at the immigration counter? Believe me, it is true!
The experience of returning to motherland is decidedly so pleasant that you sing ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’ as you move out. I returned from Seoul recently, the flight landed at 12.50 am and I reached my home at 2 am sharp! You will appreciate this comment when I tell you that I stay 30 Km away [Yes sir, 30 Km!] from airport.
This experience shows the problems at the airport are to be experienced in reverse order. Entry is bad while exit is good when you go abroad. For a returning passenger the entry is great, but the exit is bad. You move quickly to immigration, though signs are a bit confusing, and army of twenty customs officers clear you within five minutes.
The the usual confusion then starts. Often you do not know whether to turn right or left after clearing immigration to claim baggage, there are TV screens for that purpose but they carry no information about your flight. The designated belt is changed suddenly and without intimation; only an experienced indian traveller with his trained eye for spotting misinformation and chaos can spot that his baggage is moving on some other belt. Foreigners are completely foxed. You have to put the bags on a scanner, only one operates although two are installed. But friendly customs officer in green channel make the experience friendly. It takes less than half an hour to get out of the airport from the time you come out of the airplane. No airport in the world manages operations at this efficienct level is my experience.
Overall its a great experience. It is not ‘smooth’ like the scotch we carry from ‘duty free’, it is more like ‘masala chai’ which is refreshing though it has the Indian spicy punch!