A guide to coping with air travel during the winter fog season in New Delhi

The dreaded winter fog season which plagues all transport services operating at the national capital, New Delhi, is fast approaching. Air travel is particularly hard hit with scores flights being delayed, diverted or outright cancelled.

The airport suspends operations when the runway visibility drops below the mandatory minimum of 200 meters. The 2003-2004 season was the worst with a record 169 hours suspended operations due to fog, resulting in 190 flights being diverted to alternate airports. Last year the airport suspended operations for 167 hours. Thanks to the steps taken by the airport stakeholders like operator Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), airlines, the met office, and air traffic control, despite the number of flights doubling, the diversions were limited to 147 flights.

Historical data and projections by the meteorology office at the Indira Gandhi International airport show that the first fifteen days of January have the maximum potential for flight disruptions, and airlines are adjusting their flight schedules to minimise the impact.

In the last year, the airport operator DIAL has made significant improvements to the runway infrastructure of the airport. Runways 28, 29 and 11 at IGI Airport have CAT-IIIB Instrument Landing System (ILS) installed which should permit Cat-IIIB equipped aircraft and Cat-IIIB trained pilots to land in runway visibility of up to 50 meters. However there is an anomaly with the AAI controlled ATC which suspends operations at visibility below 200 meters i.e. Cat-IIIA equivalent. Despite attempts, we have been unable to clarify the reasons behind this anomaly.

Adding to the woes, the intensity of the fog (04:00~10:00) is highest when there are maximum flight movements, in effect dealing a double blow to operations at the airport.

To best cope with the fog season, Bangalore Aviation recommends the following:

  • The maximum potential for fog is the first 15 days of January. There is also a potential right towards the end of January.
  • Consult our opinion on the three best airlines to fly with during this fog season. Kingfisher, Air India and SpiceJet appear to be the best prepared and most open to share their plans.
  • Avoid trips starting from between 04:00 (4AM) to 10:00 (10AM)from Delhi or landing in Delhi after 22:00 (10PM)
  • Provide your cell number DIRECTLY to your airline. Most airlines will rely on the SMS messaging system to send you a text alert in the event of delays. Remember most travel agents, especially the on-line ones, do not provide your cell number to the airline.
  • Arrive at the airport earlier than usual. All airports in India are on a high alert post the Delta attempted bombing incident at Detroit.
  • Do not flood your airline’s call centre with needless calls. It will only make your wait in the tele-queue longer.
  • Carry an adequate amount of reading material with you. In the event of a delay, you will have something to do.
  • Carry adequate cash in small change (Rs. 10 and Rs. 50) to buy any sundries, snacks, drinks and food.
  • Keep your cool. Most of the staff at the airport are already trying their level best to get the flight out. Loosing your patience will only lower your priority in the “to help” mental list.
  • Parents with children and infants should not solely rely on the children’s play area of Terminal 1-D. Carry colouring books, small board games, and soft toys to keep the children occupied.
  • Keep in mind, Delhi is a major hub in India and fog delays will have a systemic effect across the country.

Hope this guide is helpful to you. As usual comments and suggestions are welcome.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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