Mumbai's international airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is 30 km (19 miles) north of the city center. The domestic airport is at Santa Cruz, 4 km (2½ miles) away from the international airport. (Some domestic Air India flights leave, somewhat inexplicably, from the international airport. Many a domestic traveler has missed a flight by neglecting this crucial information, so always double-check your ticket before making your arrangements.) Arrive at the airport at least 75 minutes before takeoff for domestic flights, two to three hours before international flights (some airlines require three hours), and give yourself a cushion of time when leaving to avoid being stuck in the city’s notoriously unpredictable highway traffic—it’s better to wind up with some extra reading time at the gate than to endure the horror of having to watch your plane take off from the backseat cushion of a sweltering, motionless taxi. Mumbai airports are usually packed to their gills, and there are long lines for scanning luggage and checking in. However, in recent years a huge effort has been put into renovating both airports (international and domestic), and things are finally looking up. The recently renovated domestic airport is now one of India's finest, and is of international standard. Both airports have 24-hour business centers available to holders of major credit cards.
Most international flights arrive in the middle of the night. Be prepared: Airports in Mumbai, like those in Delhi, Kolkata, or Chennai, are still poorly run, compared to those in other countries. Because airports typically run at or beyond capacity, many flights arrive at the same time, and luggage belts and trolleys are few. Your luggage may arrive after an interminable wait. Make sure you secure a free baggage trolley first and send the touts (and assorted individuals posing as porters, luggage loaders, personal trolley pushers, hotel/taxi providers, or customs clearance aids) packing. Station yourself close enough to the right belt; check any stacks of luggage lined up against the wall in case your suitcases have come earlier.
If you have a lot of luggage, you can get a porter as soon as you disembark—right at the door of the airplane—they work for the airport and are identifiable by their uniforms. If you hire one, get his name, and he will meet you after you go through immigration, at the baggage belt. Do not negotiate rates beforehand—if he tries to do so, hire someone else. Pay him between Rs. 100 and Rs. 300 depending on how helpful he's been.
Immediately after you exit the customs hall there is a row of tourist counters for hotels, taxi hire, car hire, tourist information, cell-phone-cards, and currency exchange booths. If someone is meeting you at the airport, understand that he or she will have no idea when you will emerge from the airport, given the wait at immigration or at the baggage concourse, so don't panic.
Airports and Transfers
The trip from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport downtown to south Mumbai can take anywhere from 40 minutes if you arrive before 7:30 am or after 11 pm (many international flights arrive around midnight) to two hours, when traffic is at its worst. Some hotels provide airport transfers starting at Rs. 1,000 and going up to Rs. 3,000; some offer complimentary transfers if you're staying in a suite or on an exclusive floor or if the hotel is close to the airport.
To avoid hassles with taxis over prices, we strongly recommend heading to the prepaid-taxi counter outside the baggage-and-customs area to hire a regular cab, either air-conditioned or non-air-conditioned. Your rate is determined by your destination and amount of luggage, and is payable up front; Rs. 450 by day and Rs. 500 at night should get you to the center of town from the international airport, and from the domestic airport Rs. 50 less (tips aren't necessary and if your driver tries to charge you extra, show him the slip and firmly say "prepaid"). If you want an air-conditioned taxi and do not spot one, call Group Mobile Cool Cab Service or Gold Cabs, but remember, you'll have to wait even longer. Air-conditioned taxi fares are 25% higher than non-air-conditioned cabs. A trip to Colaba, for example, from the international airport will set you back Rs. 450 by day and Rs. 500 at night, and from the domestic airport Rs. 50 less. A word to the squeamish: Most of the standard black-and-yellow cabs operating in Mumbai were built well over 20 years ago and seem to be held together by little more than duct tape and the driver's ingenuity. If you end up with an old Prestige (modeled on a Fiat), expect to see dirty, smelly upholstery (the drivers also sleep in the cars), a jerry-rigged trunk, and, quite possibly, a hole or two in the rusted metal floor. If you're on a budget, it's the way to go; but if you can afford it, spring for an overpriced Avis car, which includes a driver.
Even though metered taxis are available outside the domestic airport, and a police officer notes the taxi's license plates before dispatching you on your way, we advise against taking one. The cabbies waiting at the domestic airport are often cheats with meters that run double-time.
A metered (not prepaid) taxi from the domestic airport to the downtown/south Mumbai area should cost Rs. 400, and from the international airport about Rs. 500 (more expensive at night). In any case, do not take a taxi that's outside the queue, or accept the offer of a taxi that's parked somewhere that requires you to walk out of the main airport area.
Finally, keep in mind that the route over Mumbai's Bandra-Worli Sea Link will cost you an extra Rs. 55, exclusive of what you've prepaid. The bridge, which cuts travel from the leafy Bandra to not-quite-midway-point Worli from 40 minutes to 7, offers stunning views of the ever-growing Mumbai skyline, and is definitely worth the extra money to save time.
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Airport, Mumbai, Maharashtra. www.csia.in.
Gold Cabs. 22/3244–3333; 22/3244–9999; www.mumbaigoldcabs.com.
Group Mobile Cool Cab Service. 22/2490–5151; 22/2490–5152.