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The “Your Layover Guide” series features airports and destinations around the world where you’re likely to be stuck between flights, offering tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as suggesting things to do if you have time to explore the nearby city. TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino guides us through the hustle and bustle of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM). (Photos are by the writer, except where noted.)
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) in Mumbai is India’s second-busiest airport, and has both a domestic terminal, T1 (which is separated into three sections: A, B, and C) and an international terminal, T2.
The new international T2 opened in 2014, and is truly magnificent in both form and function. In contrast, the domestic terminal is hectic, crowded and not nearly as pleasant as the newly renovated T2, so let’s hope any layovers you have will be in the glamorous T2!
It’s worth noting that BOM can become extremely crowded, much like the populous city where it’s located, so be prepared for long wait times at security. As is the case at many of India’s airports, BOM’s security has separate lines for men and women, and pat-downs are typically required for each person, regardless of whether or not you’ve set off a metal detector. Once you set your bags and other valuables on the security scanner’s belt, you’ll have to walk into a small room and submit to a pat-down by someone of your same sex; then you’ll be allowed to return to the scanner to reclaim your screened belongings.
BOM’s two terminals are located 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from each other, and if you need to switch terminals, you’ll likely be transported by bus. I’ve experienced two different types of bus transport at BOM, one that drives around the runways through the airport grounds (taking about 15 minutes) and the other driving through the surrounding slums of Mumbai, which can take up to 40 minutes if there is traffic/street congestion. I’d recommend selecting a flight with a longer layover in case you need to change terminals, because rushing through the terminal change can be sweaty and stressful. In fact, BOM’s website suggests that you should book flights a minimum of two to three hours apart if you have to switch terminals.
At The Airport
Free WiFi is provided in both terminals, but you’ll have to enter a cell phone number in order to access it on your mobile device or laptop. ATMs, child-care and changing facilities, currency exchanges, smoking rooms, post offices and pharmacies are located in both terminals.
The international terminal (T2) has all sorts of technology offerings, such as computer stations that are free to use and desk areas where you can plug in your laptop. Charging ports are also located throughout the terminal, and there’s a good deal of comfortable seating, including bed-like loungers.
You can also find prayer rooms in T2, at Gates 8 and 64/65.
It’s also worth noting that the international terminal attempts to be a “quiet” terminal, meaning that there are minimal announcements.
While walking through the sprawling T2, you may notice a lot of greenery, sculptures and paintings. Clearly, special care has been put into T2’s internal landscape and art program in the hope of surrounding passengers with a sense of tranquility.
The Heaven on Earth Spa has locations in both T1 and T2, and if you’ve been traveling for about 24 hours, it really is heaven on earth. I had a great foot reflexology massage and back massage here while my travel companions had facials, and the experience was sheer bliss for us all — as well as a great value (e.g., a 40-minute massage was just over $30).
Shopping & Dining
The best shopping and dining can be found in the main area of T2. Poparazzi is a good bet for trinkets and souvenirs, Indian Gourmet offers tea and other Indian delights and Kimaya is a cool spot for Indian-inspired fashions. You can also find duty-free shops and higher-end designer boutiques throughout the terminal.
Food isn’t terribly overpriced at BOM, a welcome contrast to many other airports. In T2, Olive Bistro is a nice sit-down spot where you can have a bite at leisure, but there are plenty of fast-food options as well. For traditional Northern Indian specialties, check out the Indian Kebab Grill. In T1, Balaji is a good choice for vegetarian Indian food, but there are also several western options if you aren’t exactly feeling the love for Indian food before a long trip.
Luggage storage is available in both T1 (Arrival Halls in 1A and 1B) and T2 (between 2B and 2C). Rates are available per hour or per day for very reasonable prices (150-450 INR/ $2.35-$7 USD), and luggage can be stored for up to 90 days.
Transport to the City Center
Though the airport is less than 20 miles from the city center, due to excessive traffic it can often take up to two hours each way, so plan carefully to ensure you make it back in time. Trains can be an option if you want to avoid traffic, but there’s no station right at the airport, and the cars are often extremely crowded. The closest station to T1 is Vile Parle (East), and the closest station to T2 is Andheri (East); both are most easily reached by taxi, tuktuk or bus.
The easiest and most comfortable option is to take a taxi. There are two kinds, metered and prepaid, and the prepaid is often recommend because you know how much you’ll be paying before the trip and you pay ahead of time. After you exit the secure areas you will see the counter to purchase the prepaid taxis. I strongly recommend you hang on to the voucher (the taxi driver can’t receive payment without this voucher) until you arrive at your destination. This will also help you avoid getting scammed, as the drivers sometimes say they don’t know where your hotel is in order to take you somewhere else (e.g., a hotel their friend owns or another place where they get commission for bringing you).
Be aware that there are no direct bus routes to Mumbai’s city center from the airport, but the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport buses — otherwise known as the BEST company buses — can connect you with the aforementioned train stations; take the 312 from T1, or the 321 or 308 from T2.
If You Have a Half Day
If you only have half a day, it may not be a good idea to head into the city center. In fact, unless you have more than ten hours, the stress of a two-hour trip each way may simply not be worth your while. However, Juhu Beach is located much closer to the airport, so you could opt to head over there for about an hour, visit the nearby ISKCON temple and then have lunch at Gajalee, part of a popular Indian chain of Maharashtrian seafood restaurants. (Mumbai is the capital of the Maharashtra region in Western India.)
If You Have a Whole Day
If you only have a day in Mumbai, consider a tour of the top sights. The Mumbai City Half-Day Tour offers flexible timing to work with your schedule, and you can choose a private tour or join in on a group. Sights include the Gateway of India, Victoria Terminus, Gandhi’s home, Chowpatty Beach, the Dhobi Ghat open-air laundromat and more. This guided tour shuttles you in an air-conditioned vehicle, with prices starting at $35 per person for a group tour and up to $70 for a solo tour. They’ll even meet you at the airport for an added fee.
If You Have the Night
You have a lot of accommodation options if you’d like to stay near the airport. In each of its guest rooms, the opulent Category 5 Hilton Mumbai International Airport features a 40-inch TV, desk with ergonomic chair, coffeemaker, and bathrobes and slippers. May rates start at $143 or 40,000 HHonors points per night. At the JW Marriott Hotel Mumbai along Juhu Beach, you’ll find beautiful outdoor pools overlooking the Arabian Sea, and May rates that start at $153 or 12,600 Marriott Reward points. If you are hoping to use Starwood points, the first St. Regis in India will be opening in the upscale Lower Parel district in late 2015 (currently the Palladium Hotel).
If you want to stay right in the middle of the city’s action but still feel comfortable and safe, check out one of the most famous hotels in Mumbai, the Taj Mahal Palace. Overlooking the famous Gateway of India, the hotel actually precedes the landmark by 21 years. May rates here start at $337 per night, but if you’re an Amex Platinum cardholder, you can book through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts for perks including a room upgrades (based on availability), free WiFi and early check-in/late check-out. If you’re a Visa Signature cardholder (e.g., Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve and US Bank FlexPerks), you can get similar perks at this property by booking through Visa Signature Hotels.
If it’s boutique you seek, the intriguing and original Le Sutra will be sure to charm you. The 16 intricate, stylish rooms at Le Sutra are inspired by characters (e.g., Ravana, Ashoka, Buddha) or characteristics (e.g., sensuality, love, purification) from Indian mythology. May rates start at $150. The Points Guy Assessment: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.