The gateway to India is its ornamental capital city, New Delhi, home of Indira Gandhi International Airport. This aviation hub is the busiest in India and one of the busiest in all of Asia, and also among the top-30 busiest in the world. Many of the passengers who pass through the gates are foreign tourists flocking to the country to catch a glimpse of the Taj Mahal, the famous crescent-shaped Red Fort, the holy City of Varanasi, and more. All are accessible from Indira Gandhi.
New Delhi's airport underwent a major upgrade after being leased to a private operator in 2006. The renovations included the addition of a 14,530-foot runway and a third terminal, which doubled the airport's original capacity and transformed it into one of the biggest passenger terminals in the world. A new expansion program will integrate three more terminals, which will altogether increase the airport's capacity to 100 million passengers per year (the size of Beijing Capital International Airport, the second-largest in the world) by 2030.
The newest addition to Indira Gandhi is an adjacent hospitality district called Aerocity.
Indira Gandhi International Airport won numerous awards for its expansion and has received additional praise for its environmental focus. It won a Wings India Award as well as a silver medal for sustainable waste management initiatives in the Airports Council International's Asia-Pacific Green Airports Recognition 2018.
Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information
Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL), named after a former prime minister, is about a 45-minute drive from the center of New Delhi, but the roads become especially congested during peak hours, so plan your ground transportation accordingly.
Know Before You Go
The New Delhi Airport, as it's more commonly called, once operated on a simple two-terminal system with one for domestic travel and the other for international travel. Terminal 3, however, was added after it underwent new management.
Terminal 1 is divided into two buildings (1C and 1D, within walking distance of each other) that are further set aside from Terminals 2 and 3. This is where budget carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet can be found. Some IndiGo and SpiceJet flights, however, have been relocated to Terminal 2. They are IndiGo flights 6E 2000 to 6E 2999 going to Amritsar, Bagdogra, Bengaluru, Bhubaneshwar, Chennai, Raipur, Srinagar, Udaipur, Vadodara, and Vishakhapatnam, and SpiceJet flights SG 8000 to SG 8999 going to Ahmedabad, Cochin, Goa, Gorakhpur, Patna, Pune, and Surat.
Terminal 3 is the biggest—spanning 20 acres—and operates both international and domestic flights. The two-tier building has 168 check-in counters and a seven-level parking lot that can hold more than 4,000 vehicles. Although walking between Terminals 2 and 3 takes only about 5 minutes, there is a free shuttle bus that runs every 20 minutes and connects all three. Note that transferring between Terminals 1 and 3 requires commuting on National Highway 8, so it's necessary to take either the shuttle bus, a cab, or the Metro's Airport Express Line. Allow about 45 minutes to an hour for the transfer.
During winter, the New Delhi airport is often affected by fog, which is worst in the mornings and evenings. Anyone traveling during this time should be prepared for flight delays and cancellations.
Indira Gandhi Parking
Terminal 3 has a seven-level parking garage that can hold up to 4,300 vehicles. Expect to pay 100 rupees (about $1.40 US) for up to 30 minutes, 150 rupees for an hour, 230 rupees for two hours, 100 rupees for each subsequent hour, and 500 rupees for the whole day. The rate is the same for parking at both domestic terminals. A Park N Fly facility is also available for longer-term stays at Terminal 3 and Terminal 1D. Booking online can yield discounted rates.
Taking public transportation to and from the airport is the easiest, most stress-free option for international tourists. In any case, the drive from New Delhi is fairly straightforward: Take Sardar Patel Marg out of the city, then, after it turns into NH 8, the road will drop you off right at DEL's doorstep.
Public Transportation and Taxis
One of the most common ways for out-of-towners to travel around New Delhi (and India, in general) is by bus. The state-owned Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC)—the public bus system—runs a special shuttle service between the airport and the center every 30 minutes. Fares for the IGI Airport Bus depend on how much distance is traveled, but the minimum is 27 rupees and the maximum is 106. Keep in mind that Terminal 3 buses arrive and depart from a staging area that's opposite Centaur Hotel. You may also board the Delhi Airport Metro Express train whose Orange Line goes straight to New Delhi Metro Station, stopping at Dhaula Kuan and Shiavji Stadium along the way.
Taxis provide a more comfortable option, but they come at a higher price. A taxi ride from DEL to downtown can cost upwards of 1,000 rupees (or more, depending on traffic). They can be found at the designated taxi ranks outside of all three terminals.
Where to Eat and Drink
Indira Gandhi International Airport has plenty of variety in the culinary sector, ranging from authentic Indian eateries to Western favorites. There's a McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Subway if you're hunting for something familiar, or if you're more adventurous, try the Chaat (traditional street food) at Punjab Grille, the kebabs and chutney at Ile Bar, or the curry at Café Delhi Heights, all in Terminal 1 Departures. Buddy Bar is the perfect place to grab a drink at Terminal 1 Arrivals. The food court at Terminal 3 International Departures features Bercos (Chinese and Thai), Dilli Street (New Delhi-style street food), Curry Kitchen, and Punjabi Kulfi. Terminal 3 Domestic Departures has Grid Bar (a watering hole and smoking lounge) and Vaango (authentic South Indian to-go).
Where to Shop
Fashion occupies perhaps a bigger space than food does at the New Delhi Airport. You'll find the likes of Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, and Swarovski in Terminal 3 Domestic Departures and Hugo Boss, Coach, Armani, Longchamp, Michael Kors, and more in International Departures. Terminals 1 and 2, on the other hand, have only standard airport offerings, not much in the way of high-end boutiques.
Wifi and Charging Stations
Free wifi is available via the Tata Docomo Wi-Fi network, but you must have an Indian mobile number to use it, as it can only be accessed via a serial number and PIN that's sent through SMS text messaging. Mobile charging stations can be found throughout the airport. Some of them, like the ones at the food court in Terminal 3, allow you to lock your phone up with a safe code and come back for it once it's been charged.
Indira Gandhi Tips and Tidbits
- Elevate your layover with a trip to New Delhi Airport's very own flight simulator, The Cockpit. Located in Terminal 3 International Departures, this virtual reality video game features more than 24,000 airfields to choose from, so you're guaranteed to never get bored.
- For a quick nap away from the public waiting areas, opt for a snooze in one of the in-transit sleeping pods in Terminal 3. These nifty little capsules can be reserved hourly.