Chhatrapati Shivaji international Airport terminal in Mumbai opened its doors not long after we arrived in India in 2014 and let me just say that it is a vast improvement on the old terminal. There are still on going changes and updates being made to this airport, and most modifications are making it a truly world-class facility. Of course some changes are less desirable, but I will touch on that later.
If you are planning on flying into Chhatrapati Shivaji anytime soon then let me share my observations and tips on how to make the entry process run as smoothly as possible.
This is one travel route that as soon as the planes wheels touch the runway you hear the click of seatbelts being removed. Invariably this is followed by the cabin crew reminding passengers to remain in their seats until the plane has come to a complete standstill. Perhaps this is your introduction to understanding the mayhem that is about to greet you.
Chhatrapati Shivaji airport is quite huge, 1850 acres, is ranked as the 48th busiest airport in the world, and handles almost 800 airport movements each day, many during the night hours. The design is such that it doesn’t seem to matter what gate you arrive at, you will have a long walk to the immigration area. There are a few moving walkways that can break up the trek but they are scattered on either sides of the hallway rather than all along one wall, which is a little strange but keeps you busy walking from side to side while avoiding the crowds during peak hours.
Tip Wear comfy shoes if you plan on walking but even better, get the attention of one of the men in the mini motorized carts and hitch a ride to the customs area. We gave a driver a few rupees tip once and he had the biggest smile on his face, as they tend to be sitting around not doing anything.
You will know you have arrived at the immigration area, as just outside the main entrance you will notice a number of armed guards standing around. I’m not sure what this show of force is for, but I always find it a little strange to see quite so many army personnel in this location.
Tip The airlines will usually hand out the forms on the flight so you should complete them before getting to the immigration desks. If the forms were not available on the flight (as they quite often run out) you can pick up copies on the shelves on the right-hand side when you first enter the immigration hall.
With forms and passport in hand select a line in front of one of the occupied desks, there are usually quite a few open. Sadly one of the recent changes has been the removal of a business or first class line so it is a free for all once you get to this area. As many flights arrive at the same time this area can get very busy and many people congregate around the first few lines. Walk down the hall a little as the lines further down are usually less busy.
Tip If you had not managed to complete your entry paperwork on the flight, do not stand with the masses that block the entrance to the immigration hall signing their documentation. Instead, take your forms and go stand in line. You will have plenty of time to complete the documents before you are called to the desk.
Once you reach the front of the line, you will be called to the desk to present your paperwork. As is usual with this type of official, he or she will not have a sense of humor, will probably not speak very loudly or clearly, and will certainly not smile or try to make you feel welcome. Resist the urge to make conversation, just stand and watch in ore as the officer types an essay into a computer, scans then reads your entire passport, stamps a lot of papers, and mumbles and points at a camera so that your photo can be recorded.
Tip On our last few entries into Mumbai, the official has also asked to see our boarding pass while inspecting our passport and forms so do not discard this tiny piece of paper.
Once your passport and Customs Declaration Form have been returned to you walk the few steps to the next line where a gentleman will want to see the stamp that was just put in your passport. Keep that stamped page open, as it is easy to misplace the page as you are being corralled through this area. Once cleared, you will then walk through the duty free shopping area to the baggage hall.
After walking through the duty free shops you will enter a large baggage hall. There is an electronic board that will display the conveyor belt number where the bags from your flight will be deposited. This board is sometimes out of order and then an old fashioned easel replaces the sophisticated electronic version.
Tip you will see a lot of men (in uniform) eager to help you with your bags and offer to get you a cart. These carts are free for you to use so if you are asked to pay this is a SCAM.
As I have usually done at least one long haul flight to reach this point and by this stage it is the early hours of the morning, I find my tolerance levels are not great. Pushing in, lack of respect for personal space, and ridiculous levels of bureaucracy will get me every time so remember to pack your patience and positive disposition for this part.
With bags in tow, move to the customs exit area. You will see two lines, green for no items of duty to declare and red if you have items to declare. As you go through the green line you will need to put all hand luggage onto the conveyor belt to be X-rayed.
Tip Keep your foreign passport visible in your hand as if this area gets busy you will sometimes be waived through.
You are almost free, one more step. As you exit this area there will be an officer that will collect your Customs Declaration Form. Lastly, move through the final lobby area (that used to have food stalls but they disappeared on my last visit) to reach the outside world where you will be greeted by a sea of faces.
Tip Visitors are not permitted inside the terminal (unless they purchase an entry ticket that only gives them access to this last lobby area which is not air conditioned) so if you are meeting someone have a specified area arranged to rendezvous and have access to a cell phone if possible.
There is a free shuttle bus that connects the two Mumbai airport terminals should you need to make a connecting flight.
There is a taxi rank at the airport with two types of taxis available, prepaid and metered. It is strongly recommended that you take a prepaid taxi. Do not pay any additional amount to the driver at the end of your ride. You can purchase a ticket for a prepaid taxi at the counter just outside of the arrivals area.
The new Mumbai Metro or MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System) is sadly still not in operation at the airport. This new rail line promises so much, but don’t hold your breath for when it will come online.
Local hotels such as the Taj Lands End, offer an airport car pick up/drop off service.
I hope you find the above information useful, but if you have any additional tips to add from your own experiences of arriving at this busy airport, please do share.