Domestic flight operations took off across India after a hiatus of two months, ending the complete blackout of the country’s airspace in the backdrop of the coronavirus lockdown.
All major airlines such as IndiGo, Air India, SpiceJet, Air Asia and others operated 30% of their regular schedules between destinations, strictly adhering to the safety protocols set by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Airports accordingly have been directed to undertake regular disinfection measures, supply of masks, gloves and sanitisers and thermal scanning.
However, the first day of air schedules was marred by a large number of cancellations at major airports including Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kochi.
At least 82 flights, including arrivals and departures, were cancelled at the Delhi airport as some of the states requested the Centre to curtail services to meet their own guidelines. Many passengers were disappointed that they were not informed in advance about the cancellations.
The Centre has put in place a price cap and a floor to ensure that airfares don’t skyrocket at a time like this. As part of safety precautions, thermal scanners have been installed at all airports and passengers are expected to download the Arogya Setu app which will help authorities in contact tracing in case of infections. Those living within the containment zones cannot fly.
Others have to sign an undertaking that they are not arriving from a containment zone. Passengers are allowed to carry only a cabin bag and a check-in bag. As part of minimising human contact, passengers are required to do web check-in, take a print-out of the baggage tag and paste it on the baggage. Airports have been supplied adequate wheelchairs and golf carts for the elderly to travel. In any case, they are allowed to board only if the travel is asbolutely essential. There will be no in-flight meals so passengers are expected to bring their own food.
Innovative contactless procedures at Bengaluru airport
Till 9 am Monday, there were 17 departures and 5 arrivals at the Kempegowda International Airport. The first flight to depart was scheduled to Ranchi at 5.15 am while the first incoming flight was operated by Indigo from Chennai at 7.35 am. There are at least 60 departures and 54 arrivals scheduled on Monday.
However, there were cancellations as well. A passenger who was booked on the Air India flight to Hyderabad said, “We had travelled to the airport thinking there would be a flight but only when our boarding passes were scanned did we realise that the flight was cancelled.”
To ensure minimal human contact, the authorities have introduced a ‘parking to boarding contactless’ system. “These enhancements demonstrate our continued commitment to keep our passengers safe in this environment. We believe our new measures will boost confidence among the passengers,” said Hari Marar, MD and CEO, Bengaluru International Airport Limited (BIAL).
As per the Karnataka government’s SOP, domestic flight passengers from Maharashtra, Gujarat, TN, Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have to undergo a week of institutional quarantine followed by a week of home quarantine. They will be released for home quarantine only if they test negative for Covid. Those who can furnish a report from an ICMR-approved laboratory showing they tested negative for Covid don’t have to be quarantined.
40 flights today at Hyderabad Airport
Telangana’s major airport – Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad – usually handled around 60,000 passengers, 480 domestic flights and 70 international flights on an average day during pre-Covid times. “Today, it is just about 40 flights, timings of all are spaced throughout the day. We are dealing with roughly 1500 passengers. Though a little anxious, they have responded well, keeping the situation in mind,” an airport official said.
The first flight to take off from the airport was a Trujet flight to Bellary at 8.06 am. This was followed by an Air Asia flight with 104 passengers touching down from Bengaluru at 8.20 am. Many passengers who were scheduled to fly to Lucknow by a flight at 5 am were left in the lurch after it was cancelled.
Technology has come in handy here too. The self check-in kiosks have touch-less technology where passengers can scan QR code displayed on the touch-screen and receive a print-out of the baggage tags and boarding card without having to touch the screen.
Telangana has advised self-monitored quarantine for two weeks for asymptomatic passengers whereas those found with suspected symptoms will be ferried to the nearest Covid hospital for testing. While state-run buses will not ply between the airport and the city, online cabs and taxis are allowed to operate. Those travelling in their own vehicles can do so after showing the police the flight documents.
Anniversary day marks resumption of services at Kochi airport
Monday was a special day for the officials of the Kochi Airport as it marked the 21st anniversary of the inauguration of the airport. This was the first airport in the country to be modelled on a PPP basis.
The first flight to arrive in Kochi Monday as part of resumption of services was the Air Asia I5 1451 service from Bengaluru at 7 am and the first to depart was I5 1452 of the same airline destined to Vishakhapatnam via Bengaluru at 7.50 am, as per the schedule. There were eight arrivals and nine departures today. At the same time, three departures and four arrivals were cancelled, the airport spokesperson said.
As part of the first phase of domestic operations, 113 schedules have been planned in a week with airlines flying from Kochi to Agatti, Bengaluru, Kozhikode, Chennai, Delhi, Mysore and Pune. More destinations will be added later. Passengers flying into Kerala are required to obtain digital passes by registering on the Covid Jagratha portal and then go into mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Those who don’t have an option of home quarantine can choose government’s facilities for institutional quarantine. Both paid and non-paid facilities are available.
For the benefit of passengers alighting from the airport, pre-paid taxis have been made available. Personal vehicles, with safety protocols, are allowed to receive passengers too. All airport systems including security measures have been calibrated to ensure minimal human contact. KSRTC buses have been deployed to take symptomatic passengers to Covid first-line care centres, hospitals and quarantine facilities.
With more people travelling from other states and abroad testing positive in recent days in the state, the government understands that the screening process at all four international airports – Kochi, Kozhikode, Trivandrum and Kannur – has to be air-tight. It’s a tough ask, especially because the domestic operations will put additional burden on the healthcare staff at the airports who are already tending to the flights as part of the Vande Bharat initiative.
‘It went really smoothly’
Puja Singh (25) was relieved to be back home in Guwahati after she flew in from Bengaluru onboard an Indigo aircraft on Monday. She wanted to be with her mother after the passing away of her father last month.
“It went really smoothly – people followed all rules, maintained social distancing. I was amazed,” said Singh, describing the experience.
While she did not interact with anyone on the flight, she observed that people were ‘generally less demanding’. “Either people were sleeping or sitting quietly, there was no on-board food and rarely did anyone use the lavatory. However, there was one person who got up to get his hand baggage when the flight landed – abhi bhi aise log kar rahe hai. I was shocked.”
Till Monday afternoon, the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International airport in Guwahati, the biggest in the northeast, saw eight arrivals and eight departures. Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the state expects around 1000 passengers per week. With a surge in imported cases in the last few days, the minister said the times were challenging. Assam mandates 14-day quarantine for air passengers which includes the first seven days of institutional quarantine followed by seven days of home quarantine. At the end of the first week, they will be tested for Covid following which further action will be prescribed. But there are a few categories which are exempt: pregnant women, children below 10 with parents and sibling, differently-challenged persons, those above 75, those who have undergone cardiac, kidney, cancer and transplant and those like Singh returning due to personal emergencies.
At Guwahati too, there were flight cancellations. Avishek Debnath, who was scheduled to fly to Kolkata, was told his flight was cancelled, possibly due to the repercussions of Cyclone Amphan. He had been stuck in Shillong for the past two months. “I feel very upset and I have not got feedback from the airline till now. I hope I won’t lose the money at least,” he said.
E-pass registration help desk activated at Chennai airport
Tamil Nadu has activated the e-pass registration system thorugh a help-desk at the Chennai airport to monitor domestic air-passengers coming into the state. Those without the e-pass will not be allowed to leave the airport premises. All passengers have to register their details online and obtain an e-pass which will be stamped marking quarantine. The e-pass will be linked to taxis that they might take from the airport to their homes. People are allowed to use their personal vehicles as well, following social distancing norms. Security officials adept in Hindi have been deployed to handle non-native speakers at the airport and making them aware of the safety procedures.
On Monday, the Chennai airport is scheduled to handle 10 departures and 16 arrivals. Due to the cancellation of a flight, a few passengers scheduled to fly to Tripura were stranded without food. They claimed their flights were cancelled twice, without a refund.
Like other states, Tamil Nadu will subject passengers to a basic medical screening at the airport. Asymptomatic passengers are allowed into 14-day home quarantine while the symptomatic will be taken to health facilities for testing. Paid quarantine facilities are available too. In case of symptoms, they can inform the district call center (1077) or the nodal officer.
The state’s chief secretary, K Shanmugam, had written to the civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri Sunday that the incoming domestic flights to the state be restricted to 25 per day while any number of outgoing flights can be operated. He also requested that flights from Gujarat and Maharashtra, reporting high case-loads, be kept to a bare minimum to ensure essential travel.
No aircraft movement in Tripura for next 48 hours
The damage caused by Cyclone Amphan on the hangar and terminals at Kolkata airport has affected services at Tripura’s Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore airport too since all flights to the state are routed through Kolkata.
“We had everything ready at our end. Frankly, we were a bit disappointed to learn that the Kolkata airport wouldn’t be operating any aircraft for the next 48 hours. That means we wouldn’t have any aircraft movement in the next two days as well,” said VK Seth, airport director in Agartala.
“If Kolkata operates less flights, it is likely to impact our operations. We can’t say anything as of now. We will await further information,” he added.
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