AT LEAST 320 workers, 20 weaving machines and four months of “tireless work” at a unit near Pune was what it took to produce the 2,000 rolls of carpet for Delhi Airport’s T3, one of the biggest terminals in the world with an annual footfall of nearly 40 million. When T3 opened to the world for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the carpets were as much a highlight as the new terminal.
But the brown-and-beige rugs with designs depicting the “radial streets of Lutyens’s Delhi” have since faced criticism for causing inconvenience in dragging trolley bags and upkeep. And now, they are being replaced with “hard flooring”.
“The carpets were an integral part of T3’s overall design philosophy and required high maintenance. However, extensive use and buggy movement have flattened the rugs in some parts. They will now be replaced with hard flooring that matches the granite flooring in the other areas. Preliminary work has begun,” a spokesperson for Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) said.
DIAL insists that the decision to remove the carpets was not a reaction to a tweet by a passenger that popped up on Union Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha’s Twitter account last month. On August 18, tagging Sinha’s Twitter handle, the passenger Suyash Gupta tweeted: “@jayantsinha @DelhiAirport #T3 at Delhi needs massive makeover. Almost all passengers want the dirty rugs to go. Please, let us not fall prey to a sunk investment fallacy. It is very inconvenient and now, stinkingly smelly also, to walk to the boarding gates.”
The tweet triggered a string of similar reactions from users across social media platforms, most complaining about the obstruction caused by the rugs.
Responding to the complaint, a tweet from the Delhi Airport Twitter handle said: “We have initiated the design and implementation process for the replacement of the carpet with hard flooring in the passenger movement area, along with piers in a phased manner.”
The DIAL spokesperson said the condition of the carpets first came on the radar during “regular checks” two years ago. “We found that in the buggy movement areas and in between the travellators of both the Domestic and International piers, some portions of the carpets had been flattening due to heavy wear and tear. Since then, we have been conducting R&D to find a suitable material to replace the carpets. We have now shortlisted four-five firms and will take a call soon,” the official said.
Spread over an area of 1,70,000 sq metres — comparable to 24 football fields — UK’s Brintons Carpets manufactured the rugs at their Asia unit in Mulshi near Pune. “The full consignment was transported to Delhi in 85 containers, each 30 feet long. It was the largest ever commercial order in the world for carpets for a single customer. The design was in tune with the ‘Progressive India’ theme of T3,” said the spokesperson.
“Several mock-ups were done on the carpeted areas to check various performance parameters such as passengers movement with strollers, buggy movement, etc,” the spokesperson said, adding that Brintons had also executed projects for the White House.
While admitting that the carpets have got a “mixed” response over the years, an official associated with the carpeting procedure since 2010, said, “The carpets at T3 have many advantages. It eliminates the rattling sound of strollers, which in turn keeps the airport silent. The announcements are clearer. It is easier for the passengers to walk on carpets and there are no injuries. They contribute to good indoor air quality. And the carpets in the arrival area, whose design is inspired from the Delhi skyline, give a welcoming feel. Several domestic and international passengers have told us that over the years.”
The carpets at the airport, the officials say, also have a “cyclical cleaning schedule”, in line with the demo given to them by Brintons Carpets. “The carpets undergo continuous deep-cleaning and are washed with shampoos containing special chemical agents. This is followed by buffing and drying. It’s a 24×7 procedure and we have never got any complaints regarding foul smell from the carpets in the past,” said the DIAL official.
The officials also argue that some of the best airports in the world, including Singapore’s Changi Airport, the Hong Kong airport and most of the casinos in Las Vegas, have carpets. DIAL is a joint venture led by GMR Group and Airports Authority of India, which is responsible for the operation and management of the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
“Also, at T3, the carpeting has been done only in certain parts, where people are not supposed to carry baggage over seven kg per person,” the DIAL spokesperson said.
However, 42-year-old Gupta, a Delhi-based businessman and a “frequent traveller”, says that “nowhere in the world do airports have such large carpeted areas.” “If your gate is far, you have to walk at least for 14-15 minutes and you have to drag your bag. It is very difficult when you have landed in the middle of the night after a long flight… Even at the Singapore airport, the carpets are largely present in the duty-free zones. If T3 is modelled on that, we should have done the same. The carpets are an aberration here,” said Gupta, who had tweeted to Sinha and Delhi Airport after returning late at night from London after an eight-hour flight.
In the past too, he says, he has tweeted about the “upkeep of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace in Porbandar” and an “LPG-related issue” and got a favourable response from authorities on social media.
At T3, the retail areas have hard flooring. In the Departure area, the carpets extend till the boarding piers and in the Arrivals section, the asymmetric designs welcome passengers in the piers.
Not everyone, however, is as critical of the T3 carpets as Gupta. Before the carpeting, this is how CarpetsforAirports.com — a website launched in 2009 by journalist George Pendle, who critiques carpets at airports across the world — described the Delhi airport: “India’s terrible poverty is nowhere more apparent than in DEL, where the floor is covered by cold, unyielding stone. With so many airports in the developed world so richly carpeted it is hoped that some offcuts or overruns might be donated to cover the horrors of DEL’s current floor.” Later, the website lauded the airport for carpeting the “terrible flooring”.
The installation of the carpets at T3, which was done using environment-friendly “ultra low VOC adhesive”, involved between 500-800 labourers spread across four-five teams working together for months. What will it now take to remove them? “It will be tedious, but it will be done in phases. We should begin work in October. We will work out the logistics soon. The work should be complete in a year’s time,” the DIAL official said.