Flying to and within India has become easier in recent years with new international routes and the emergence of several new low-cost Indian domestic airlines. Flying from Delhi to Mumbai, for example, is just about as easy as flying between two major cities in America. Domestic tickets can generally be purchased through traditional travel agents, airline websites, travel websites, and even at Indian airports if you've decided to make a last-minute trip.
Security in Indian airports, however, often requires considerable time. You’ll need to attach blank luggage tags (provided at the check-in counter) to all of your hand luggage (including purses). When you clear screening, these tags will be rubber stamped and reverified by a police officer or airline staff member at the time of boarding. Passengers are routinely patted down at security, irrespective of whether the metal detector goes off. Women are frisked in a separate dressing-room-like box by female security guards, whereas men are checked out in the open. Because of these time-consuming procedures, it's a good idea to check in at least two hours before a flight within India.
Flight time from New York is 14 hours to Delhi, 15 hours to Mumbai. Flight time from Chicago to Delhi is 14.5 hours.
Airline Security Issues
Transportation Security Administration. Answers for almost every question that might come up are available here. www.tsa.gov.
India's two major international gateways are Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in New Delhi and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) in Mumbai. Delhi is best for all the major tourist spots in the north, including Rajasthan. Mumbai is more convenient for Goa and Kerala. Both airports are reasonably close to the city centers and to the train stations if that's your next mode of travel.
The airports in Delhi and Mumbai, which also accommodate domestic flights, are as comfortable as those in the United States or Europe, but with fewer shopping and dining options. In 2010 a new, ultramodern international terminal, T3, opened at the Delhi airport, which has vastly improved the experience for everyone passing through.
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Mumbai). 22/6685–1010; www.csia.in.
Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi). 124/337–6000; www.newdelhiairport.in.
The best way to get to and from India’s major international airports is by taxi or auto-rickshaw (the latter if you're feeling adventurous and don't have that much luggage). Your hotel can also arrange for a private pickup at the airport, in which case the driver will be holding a sign with your name at the exit point. Hotel pickups are considerably more expensive than any other option and vary greatly in price (expect a charge of at least Rs. 1,000 in big cities).
If you are on a budget, you can also arrange a basic, usually non-air-conditioned taxi at the prepaid, government-approved stands beyond immigration and customs. In most cities, you’ll state your destination, pay in advance, and be given a voucher to give to your driver when he drops you off. He may need to take it from you when leaving the airport parking lot, to show to the parking attendant who will record the voucher number and your name in a log. If you want an air-conditioned car, you can book through one of the private taxi companies whose desks resemble those of car-rental companies. These are all reputable companies and they will either charge you a preset or a metered fair, depending on your destination. Luggage room is ample in taxis in Delhi, but many of the cars used in Mumbai are older and smaller, with less room. Taxi drivers might try to charge you an extra fee (around Rs. 10–Rs. 20) per bag, but again, this varies from city to city.
Transfers Between Terminals
If you need to transfer between terminals (for example, between domestic and international) you can use the airport-run terminal transfer bus for free, provided you have a ticket for a departing flight from the destination terminal.
International companies are constantly reevaluating their service to South Asia. Call the air carriers listed here to confirm their flights and schedules, or work with a travel agent who's knowledgeable about the region. You can get to India, usually with a stop in Europe, on many international carriers. Those offering daily direct flights include United Airlines (Newark to Delhi or to Mumbai) and Air India (New York JFK to Mumbai and Delhi, and Chicago to Delhi).
India's domestic airline scene has boomed since the millennium, although the world economic downturn in 2008 has taken some of the wind out of future expansion plans. In addition to the so-called legacy carriers, Jet Airways and Air India, which both also fly internationally, there is a newer crop of carriers—including ones you've probably never heard of—each with its own quirks.
Jet Airways is often the most expensive carrier, but provides excellent service. Air India, the government carrier, can be a little stodgy and prices a bit high. Popular low-cost, no frills carriers include SpiceJet, IndiGo, and GoAir.
Air India. 800/223–7776; 800/160–1407; www.airindia.com.
American Airlines. 800/433–7300; 124/256-7222; www.aa.com.
British Airways. 800/247–9297; 1860/180–3592; www.britishairways.com.
Delta Airlines. 800/241–4141; 800/180–0099; www.delta.com.
Luftansa. 800/645–3880; 124/488–8888; www.lufthansa.com.
United Airlines. 800/864–8331; 124/431–5500; www.united.com.
Air India. 800/160-1407; 800/223–7776; www.airindia.com.
IndiGo. 99/1038–3838; 124/661–3838; www.goindigo.in.
Jet Airways. 800/225–522; 877/835–9538; www.jetairways.com.
SpiceJet. 800/180–3333; www.spicejet.com.