Dhaka Airport which is now known as Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport is the busiest airport in Bangladesh and the hub for national carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines. Some of you might also know it as Zia International Airport. This was the old name which was changed a few years ago to ensure the airport name is not associated with any former politicians. Personally speaking, I preferred the previous name simply because it was short and easy to say. Although recently I have heard people calling the airport HSIA in some quarters and I guess they are trying it to sound like KLIA in Malaysia.
Dhaka Airport has 2 separate sections:
There is a connection inside the airport for travellers who seek to come from International to Domestic and vice versa.
In the last 10 years, Bangladesh has grown economically and it is one of the key business hub in the SAARC region. Number of air passengers has also increased ten folds as an influx of migrant workers are moving to countries in the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore, UK etc. Also as major MNCs are setting up operations here and RMG sector attracting huge foreign interests, the number of foreigners coming to the country is higher than ever before. Unfortunately we were not able to improve our only major international airport to the same level. Still I must say it is much better than what it was 5 years ago.
Passengers arriving at the airport to depart for international destinations, get ready to wait in a long queue with your luggage at the entrance of the airport. HSIA has started to check all passenger passport and luggage right at the gate and they take a lot of time to do this. Only 2-3 gates are kept open so the queue often takes more than 15 mins.
(Small Tip: If you are in a hurry, just go to the front of the line and tell the guards in a very hurried manner that your plane leaves in 1 hour. I do that all the time and it has worked 100% of the time.)
Once your luggage is scanned please take extra caution to ensure that the yellow SECURITY CHECKED tag is properly put on your bags. They are not necessary for carry on bags. Once you proceed to the Check In Counter, prepare to bargain. Bangladeshi Check In Counters do not abide by the rules 100%. So if your luggage weighs more than your limit, you can talk your way out of an extra charge. It may not work all the time, but there nothing wrong to try. Also if you are travelling Middle Eastern Carriers, whose Economy Class seats are sometimes overbooked, keep your eyes and ears open. Very often they bump your tickets to business class to accommodate the overbooked seats in economy. It happens a lot so you need to be there at the right place at the right time.
(Small Tip: If you have a leg room issue like I do, nicely ask for a sit in the emergency door row when you check in. Those seats have more leg room than business class!!)
After you get your boarding pass, its time to pass immigration. On a busy day prepare to stand for at least 30 mins to cross this part. So always keep this delay in mind when you start for the airport. Make sure you have properly filled up your departure form, otherwise they will send you to the back again. If you have a flight leaving very shortly, just go to the front and say that you will miss your flight. They will do your passport first. But don’t sit around in line hoping the plane will wait for you.
After immigration there is a large waiting area with free WiFi. There are some duty-free shops and a Barista Café if you feel like having a sip before your flight. Alternatively you can check out the lounges in the upper floor for a more comfortable wait. Presently there are separate lounges for EBL, AMEX, UCBL card holders. Also there is Balaka lounge which is also open to Priority Pass holders. Of the lounges EBL Sky Lounge is said to be the best.
Note that, before you board the plane, you have to go through another round of security checks, so come to the boarding gate 30 mins before departure. The departure room gets very crowded so there is no point of going there any earlier. Also there are a lot of mosquitoes, so better get on the plane as soon as you can. That’s about everything you need to know if you are departing. Bon Voyage!
First and only major tip for arrival passengers is to try to avoid check-in luggage. Whatever you want to carry try to put them all in your carry on luggage because the luggage system in this airport simply sucks. One time it took me more than 90 mins to receive my luggage in the belt and my flight from Bangkok was 2 hours. Also there were instances where your luggage was cut using knives and valuables were stolen. But that rate has come down a lot recently.
Bangladesh is now providing On Arrival Visas to most foreigners if you show the following:
- Hotel Booking Papers
- Return Ticket
- Invitation Letter from a local company
*Although it is safe to consult with your embassy to ensure that is the case for your country.
The final straw is getting out of the airport to the city. The best thing is to have someone to pick you up. If you are staying in a good hotel, they should offer airport pickup at a reasonable enough price. There will be a lot of agents hassling you to try their local taxi or rent-a-car to the city. My advise is to try to avoid them if not absolutely necessary. If you do have to get in one of them, check the car first and see if the AC is working before paying. Best thing is to pay to the driver once they take you to your destination. You can buy SIM cards before you exit the airport and then you can use Google Maps with 3G. That way you will not get lost and have an idea where you are going. Google Maps is now providing navigation services as well.
That’s about all you need to know if you are travelling in or out of our beloved airport. It may not be anywhere near the best but I have a lot of affection towards it as we have somewhat grown together. If you travel 2-3 times you will also find that the airport is not as bad as you have perceived before.