Chennai had one of the first airports in India, and was the final destination of Air India's first flight from Bombay (Mumbai) via Belgaum in 1954. The first passenger terminal was built at the northeast side of the airfield, which lies in the suburb of Meenambakkam due to which it was referred to as Meenambakkam Airport. A new terminal complex was subsequently built further south near Pallavaram to which passenger operations were shifted. The old terminal building is now used as a cargo terminal and is the base for the Indian courier company Blue Dart.
Chennai International Airport consists of three terminals: The old terminal at Meenambakkam is used for cargo, while the new passenger terminal complex near Pallavaram is used for passenger operations. The passenger terminal complex consists of the domestic and international terminals interconnected by a link building, which houses administrative offices and a restaurant. Although the complex is one continuous structure, it was built incrementally, with the Kamaraj and Anna terminals being added in 1988 to the pre-existing Meenambakkam terminal. The first part to be built was the international terminal which had two aerobridges (jetways), followed by the domestic terminal with three aerobridges. After the completion of the domestic terminal, the old terminal at Meenambakkam was used exclusively for cargo. Recently the international terminal was extended further south by adding a new block which includes three aerobridges. At present, the new international block is used for departures while the older building is used for arrivals.
The airport has the honour of being the first ISO 9000 certified airport in the country, which it received in 2001. Chennai Airport in Tamilnadu has many firsts to it. Chennai International Airport was the first International Airport in India to get ISO-9001-2000 Certification. List of other first credited to Chennai Airport include: 1st to have International & Domestic Terminals adjacent to each other 1st to have aerobridge at Domestic Terminal 1st to use Domestic Terminal for International flight on wheels 1st to supply free mineral water through designated water coolers at Kamaraj Domestic Terminal & Anna International Terminal.