After almost two months of flights being grounded, the government has allowed airlines to resume them from Monday. But there will be restrictions and strict procedures: flights will run at only one-third of pre-lockdown capacity; passengers, airlines and airports will need to follow standard operating procedures issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation; passengers will also need to adhere to health protocols prescribed by the destination state or Union Territory government, which would include whether or not they need to go into quarantine after landing.
While India’s largest airline IndiGo opened up bookings from 10 pm on Thursday, other airlines were yet to do so; AirAsia India said it would start on Friday.
What airports will flights initially connect?
While the government has allowed airlines to operate from all airports, the airlines will take the final decision on which airports to include in their network depending on demand. This will depend on a number of factors, including whether the respective states have allowed complementary mobility infrastructure such as public transport to and from airports. According to some airline officials, flights on some trunk routes such as Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Bengaluru, Mumbai-Bengaluru, Ahmedabad-Mumbai, etc may be resumed initially
What will be the air fares?
The government has issued a price cap and a floor to keep the fares under control, given that there will be a surge in demand that, if left to market forces, could cause fares to skyrocket. Additionally, 40 per cent of the tickets on any flight will have to be sold below the median price. Fare limits have been divided into seven bands according to the flight duration. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a set of fare buckets with the ceiling and floor for each band (see box).
How does the pre-flight experience change?
To begin with, passengers have been asked to report at least two hours before departure time. It will be mandatory for passengers to wear a face mask, and a self-declaration or safe status on Aarogya Setu app (for those with compatible devices) will be obtained to ensure that the passenger is free of Covid-19 symptoms. Passengers with “red status” on the app will not be permitted to travel.
While entering the airport terminal building, the passenger will have to undergo thermal screenings. At the airport, no physical check-in at the counters will be allowed. Only those passengers with confirmed web check-in will be allowed to enter the airport. Further, the passenger will also be required to print the baggage tag and affix it prominently on the baggage. Passengers have been advised to carry minimum baggage as use of trolleys will be permitted sparingly. In addition, only one cabin baggage item will be allowed.
The Ministry has strongly advised passengers not to arrive at the airport at the last minute given that it is expected that processes will be slower than before. For security check, arrangements have been made at airports to guide passengers to walk through the pre-embarkation security screening. Security staff have been instructed to practice “minimum touch” concept to reduce physical contact with the passengers.
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The government has advised vulnerable people such as very elderly, pregnant women or passengers with health issues to avoid air travel. There will be a waiting area after the security hold area where passengers have been advised to maintain social distancing and sanitisation protocols. Chairs for seating will also be open, but those marked “not for use” should not be occupied.
Food and beverages, and retail outlets inside the airport terminal building will be open but passengers have been advised to maintain hygiene and social distancing.
While boarding, passengers will need to self-check-in using their boarding passes by scanning it at the equipment near the boarding gate. Passengers will be provided a safety kit comprising three-layered surgical masks, face shield and sanitisers from their airlines at the boarding gates. They will be asked to wear the mask, face shield and sanitise their hands before proceeding to the boarding gate.
How does the in-flight experience change?
Inside the aircraft, no meal services will be made available, nor will newspapers, magazines, and even on-board sale of items being prohibited to minimise physical contact. Passengers have been advised to minimise use of the lavatory and to avoid any non-essential movement in the aisles.
Passengers will not be allowed to consume any eatables during the flight except on grounds of health requirements. Additionally, water bottles will be made available by the airline in the galley area or on the seats.
If any passenger feels uncomfortable or fatigued, or has a cough, it should be brought to the notice of the crew.
Airlines have been advised to clean and sanitise the lavatories after every one hour of flight and to clear the seat pockets of all items except the safety card, which will be replaced or sanitised after every flight.
Upon landing of the flight, the airlines have been asked to ensure that passengers exit in a sequence to avoid any bunching.
How does the post-flight experience change?
The baggage will arrive in batches and the passengers have been advised to wait in the hold area. The airport operators have been advised to put social distance markings like a circle, square around the baggage collection carousel. Further, they have been told to ensure staggered placement of baggage on the arrival carousel. Upon landing, passengers will be allowed to take only authorised taxis to leave the airport.
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Most importantly, they will need to adhere to health protocols as are prescribed by the destination state or Union Territory government. This will determine whether or not an arriving passenger should undergo a quarantine period. A senior Civil Aviation Ministry official said that ideally the passengers need not undergo repetitive quarantining but the ultimate decision will rest on the states.
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