ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Transit to/from Bhutan via Delhi airport: some tips

New Delhi airport is often used as a transit point to or from Bhutan. Delhi airport is served by multiple international airlines with multiple flights to Europe, the USA and other Western destinations. Tourists to Bhutan often transfer via Delhi and so do Bhutanese traveling for work, studies or holidays.

Feel free to share your Delhi airport experience. Just add a comment to this post!
Unfortunately, transiting in Delhi is not simple, to say the least. Compared to popular transit airports such as Bangkok and Frankfurt, the Delhi transit process is incredibly more complicated, especially if you don't know how it works (or should work). Let me try to de-mystify this process in the hope of reducing uncertainty and stress for future travelers.

Transiting through Delhi means that your connecting flight departs within 24 hours from arriving to Delhi. There are three advantages to transiting over entering and exiting India: (1) You do not need a visa to India (can be time consuming and expensive*), or you do not wish to "waste" an entry if you have a visa to India with a limited number of entries, 2) you will not need to go through immigration at Delhi airport, saving a lot of time and hassle, and (3) you will be able to stay inside the airport the entire time (otherwise, passengers are allowed to enter Delhi airport only 6 hours prior to their flight so if you arrive earlier you'll have to hang out outside).

The tricky part at Delhi airport is that you can only get beyond the small transfer desk area if you have the continuing boarding pass. The transfer area has comfortable chairs, access to rest rooms and a vending machine. But it lacks any food/drink or sleeping areas, the lights are bright, and the endless loud announcements can be a bit irritating. Once you pass the transfer desk, you are right in the gate area with shops, food court, lounges, etc. Below are tips to try and get you past the transfer area as fast as possible.

Tip #1: If you are sending luggage, make sure that your luggage tags specify your final destination (Paro, Paris, NY, etc.). In other words, ask the agent to tag your bags all the way through to your final destination. For example, if you are flying from Paro to Zurich, request the Druk Air agent in Paro to tag your bags to Zurich. The reason is that in Delhi you will not see your bags and the continuing airline will be responsible for transferring the bags to the next flight. Bags that only have a Delhi tag will need to be cleared through customs in India and stored there until loading to your continuing flight. This not only wastes time and a chance for baggage delay/loss, but also incurs an extra charge.

Tip #2: When you land in Delhi, head to the transfer desk. Often, as you exit the plane, an agent will be right outside with a sign for transfer passengers. The agent will take you to the same transfer desk. Make sure not to take the escalators down to immigration! The transfer desk is to the immediate right of the escalators. Prepare your on-going boarding pass (or ticket, if you couldn't get a boarding pass) and the baggage tags.

Tip #3: If you are flying from Paro, try to get boarding passes for your continuing flight! This is extremely helpful and time saving. It will allow you to quickly pass the transfer desk and get directly to the gates.

Tip #4: If you are flying to Bhutan, you will not be able to get Druk Air boarding passes until you reach Delhi. This is what leaves many travelers stranded in the transfer desk area for hours. The transfer desk can get the Druk Air boarding passes only 3 hours prior to the flight, when the Druk Air counters open. This situation might also occur in the other direction - for example, European airlines usually open their counters about 3 hours prior to their flight. Now comes our tip: If you book a room at the Eaton Smart Airport Hotel (for a minimum of 5 hours; expensive) and make the booking at least a few days prior to your trip, the hotel will arrange for boarding passes to be ready when you arrive at the transfer desk (you will email them your passport copy, visa copy, etc.). When you land in Delhi, a hotel agent will await you outside your plane and walk you to the transfer desk area, get your boarding pass, and then escort you to the hotel. Getting from the hotel to the gates takes a max of 30 min (if your gate is far), so you can even get some sleep or at least rest before the usually-early-morning Druk Air flight to Paro.

1. Many airline websites provide an online check-in service which allows you to print your boarding pass at home. However, the transfer desk and security appear not to honor these self-printed boarding passes and require issuing "real" boarding passes.

2. Having to pay for excess number of luaggage pieces (or wright) can stall the whole transfer process. You will need to wait for the airline's counters to open in order to pay the fees. If you want to avoid the risk, make sure your luggage is within the continuing airline's restrictions.

(*) Until recently, transiting was also a way to avoid the 2-month rule on re-entering India, which has now been lifted.