Being a journalist, I can find easily the answers to these questions with a bit of legwork or by making a couple of phone calls, but at times it gives you more pleasure to wonder aloud and throw up questions instead of searching for answers which may only turn out to be silly excuses.
1. Why doesn't Chennai, instead of painfully doing up its existing airport, have a brand new airport somewhere on the outskirts? The airport is located on GST Road, a very busy road, and no matter how much you renovate or expand it, the volume of traffic on the road will remain unchanged and will increase with time. What is the point of having a swanky airport if you still have to grapple with traffic on your way to catch a flight? Why not free the road of airport traffic? -- it will be good for the road as well as for passengers: both can breathe easy.
The planners of Bangalore and Hyderabad were not fools to have built swanky new airports way outside the city. In each of these cities, passengers headed for the airport are usually free from general traffic within 20 minutes of leaving home and for the next 20 minutes they zip across breathtaking terrain, breathing some fresh air on the way, before making it on time for the flight. And the moment you step into these airports, it is like stepping from a developing nation into a developed nation. Till 20 minutes ago you were part of third-world traffic, but now you are an international-class passenger!
All this while I was mighty impressed by the Delhi airport, which has truly reinvented itself into world class. The departure lounges even have a revolving brushes that shine your shoes. Then there is the new Bangalore airport, standing in the middle of breathtaking barrenness, which could give the Kuala Lumpur airport a run for its money. But it is the new Hyderabad airport that takes the cake. It is easily India's pride, as far as the aviation industry goes. Words can't describe its handsomeness or the beauty of the landscaping that surrounds it for a couple of miles.
Chennai airport, compared to it, is like a bus-stop: it does not even have a decent bookshop or a restaurant/cafeteria. It treats domestic passengers like cattle-class who deserve nothing better than rows of chairs and electronic display boards. Even if it matches Bangalore or Hyderabad in five years from now, big deal: things should have happened five years ago!
2. Why doesn't Chennai have radio cabs yet? Okay, there are radio cabs, what we call the 'call taxi', but they are nothing but a fleet of battered, non-airconditioned Maruti vans and Ambassadors run by private operators in their respective neighbourhoods for the benefit of passengers headed to the railway station or the airport.
But when you get out of the Chennai airport, the only decent mode of transport available is the 'pre-paid taxi', which is necessarily a rickety, smelly yellow-and-black Ambassador car whose driver often begs for a tip upon reaching the destination. This is 2010 and not 1970: why should the Chennai passenger still settle for a 1970-built Ambassador which smells like a horse and which has no air-conditioning and still pay through his nose? Why can't he stride out of the airport in style and hail a Meru cab and get to his destination in style and comfort?
For the uninitiated, Meru is a company that has changed lives in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. It runs a huge fleet of cabs, mostly airconditioned Tata Indicas, which are fitted with digital tamper-proof meters that give you a printed receipt and an automated voice system that warns the driver: "You are crossing the speed limit. Please slow down." The voice, that of a woman, can be irritating when you know your driver is speeding only because there is no one on the road for miles ahead, but it still does its job of pricking his conscience. Why should a Chennaiite still have to make do with smelly, rickety Ambassadors, whose drivers behave as if they are doing their passengers a great favour by bringing them home and sulk if you don't tip them?