Chennai International Airport is the main hub for arrivals and departures in South India. It's the fourth busiest airports in India in terms of passenger traffic after Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Nearly a quarter of passengers every year are flying internationally, although most inbound visitors are from the Tamil diaspora in overseas countries. Apart from Chennai, tourists are often headed to popular destinations in and around Tamil Nadu such as Mamallapuram, Pondicherry, and Madurai.
Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information
Chennai International Airport (MAA) is situated about 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) southwest of the city center in Meenambakkam. The city of Chennai is sometimes referred to as Madras, the old name that was officially changed in 1996.
Know Before You Go
Chennai airport is owned and operated by the government-run Airports Authority of India, which means that it lacks the organization and sophistication of India's three bigger private airports. The airport has been modernized and redeveloped since it was commissioned in 1948, with the construction of new domestic and international terminals, and extension of the secondary runway. However, additional travel to the region has taxed the airport's size and resources.
Currently, the airport has three terminals -- Terminal 1 (all domestic flights), Terminal 3 (international arrivals), and Terminal 4 (international departures). The domestic terminal is connected to the international terminals by a moving walkway. You can cover the distance in under 15 minutes. Regular free golf buggy shuttles are also provided.
A second phase of expansion is currently being undertaken to increase the capacity of the airport to 40 million passengers per year. It involves building a new integrated international terminal (Terminal 2) between the existing domestic and international terminals, building rapid exit taxiways, and straightening a taxiway. Once the new Terminal 2 starts functioning, the existing international terminals will be repurposed as a domestic terminal. All terminals will be linked internally. A satellite terminal is also being planned in case passenger traffic grows exponentially by 2024.
It's anticipated that Terminal 2 will be much more user-friendly than the existing terminals, as it's being designed by a firm that was involved in the widely lauded Terminal 4 of Singapore's Changi Airport (consistently rated best in the world). Passengers can expect some inconvenience while the construction work is going on. The terminal was expected to be ready by September 2020 but works have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When dropping off or collecting passengers, cars must enter and exit the airport within 10 minutes. Otherwise, a parking fee is levied, irrespective of whether parking facilities have been used. This can be challenging when the airport is congested, as the toll booth is located through a service road at the end of the airport. The fee is 100 rupees for two hours.
Travel time between the airport and the city center is about 30 minutes in normal traffic.
From Chennai, get on the Anna Salai/Chennai Trichy Highway and keep to the right. When you see the post office, continue onto to Taluk Office Road and use the right lanes to make a slight right onto Chennai-Nagapattinam Highway/Chennai Trichy Highway. Continue to get back onto the Anna Salai/Chennai Nagapattinam Highway for six kilometers until you begin to see signs for the airport.
Public Transportation and Taxis
Chennai airport is well-connected in terms of transport, and there are numerous options available for getting to the city center.
- App-based cab services Ola and Uber operate at the airport. Both have booking kiosks and dedicated pickup areas there. At the domestic terminal, the Uber Pickup Zone is located at pillars 6-8 opposite Arrival Gate 3. At the international terminal, the Uber Pickup Zone is beside the Uber kiosk.
- Fastrack Cabs and prepaid taxis are another popular private taxi service at Chennai airport. Fares have been reduced to compete with Ola and Uber.
- The new Chennai Metro train connects Chennai airport with Chennai Central on the Blue Line. Trains run from around 4.30 a.m. to 11 p.m, with departures every 14-28 minutes during non-peak hours and every 10 minutes during peak hours (see timetable). On Sundays, the first train starts running around 6 a.m. The one-way fare is 50 rupees (see fare chart). Follow the Metro sign from the arrival lobby. Self-check-in counters are provided at the Airport Metro station for outgoing airline passengers.
- There's also a suburban train station at Tirusulam, a couple of kilometers from the airport. Suburban trains run from there to Egmore Station. Travel time is about 40 minutes.
- Alternatively, a Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus service goes from the airport to the city center. Take bus 18A from the bus stop outside the terminal building. However, do be prepared to walk quite a distance to get there.
Where to Eat and Drink
There are plenty of coffee shops at the Chennai Airport and free drinking water is readily available. Notably, one of the coffee shops called Coffee Box is staffed by speech and hearing impaired individuals. Other food and beverage outlets are limited, and most are situated in the busy domestic terminal. Options include Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, and full-service Indian cuisine restaurants like Copper Chimney and ID. Head to Irish House pub for a drink.
Chennai airport has a lounge called the "Travel Club" with multiple outlets in both the domestic and international terminals. Most outlets are open 24 hours. They provide refreshments, newspapers, wireless internet, TVs, and flight information. Priority Pass holders, certain credit card holders, and eligible airline passengers can access the lounges free of cost. Otherwise, you can purchase a day pass for entry. The cost is about 1,100 rupees.
Wi-Fi and Charging Stations
Wi-Fi is available for free for up to 45 minutes in both terminals. However, you will need to provide a valid Indian phone number to use it. Charging stations can be found throughout the airport should you need to charge up your device.
Airport Tips and Tidbits
- Unfortunately, phase one of the airport's redevelopment turned out to be a major disappointment for passengers. Shoddy workmanship resulted in safety-issues such as the collapse of glass panels, granite slabs, and false ceilings.
- The terminals were to be connected by a moving walkway when they opened but this was dropped as part of cost-cutting measures. The walkway was finally completed in April 2018, and it also connects the terminals to the new Chennai Airport Metro train station.
- Baggage screening at the international terminal was upgraded but inline baggage screening was not initially introduced at the domestic terminal, leaving departing domestic passengers to get their baggage screened before check-in.
- Other common complaints about the airport include poor design of the international terminals, rude staff, dirty toilets, inefficient immigration, slow-moving security checkpoints, delayed baggage collection, and the use of buses to transport passengers from the aircraft to airport terminals instead of aerobridges.
- Boarding calls ceased being made in the domestic terminal from May 1, 2017, to reduce noise pollution, and passengers must rely on screens for departure information.
- Luggage can be stored at the "Left Luggage Facility" situated between the domestic and international terminals. The cost is 100 rupees per 24 hours. The maximum storage time is one week.
- ATMs are available in both terminals.
- Peak hours within the airport are early morning from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. for domestic flights. Evenings are also busy. Most international flights arrive and depart in the night. Long lines for security check, immigration and baggage claim can be an issue at these times.