Airline call centres were flooded with calls from worried passengers as their flights were being cancelled last minute due to states reducing the number of flights.
Maharashtra government, which has been trying to ground the Centre’s flight plan due to a spike in Covid-19 cases in the state, had told Mumbai International Airport on Saturday that commercial air transport must not resume at this point.
“We believe passengers who have booked over the last two-three days will need to travel as soon as possible. Hence, we will be allowing free date change as requested by passengers,” said Vistara’s Chief Commercial Officer Vinod Kannan.
Besides Maharashtra, the Centre held back-to-back meetings with some other states through the weekend to be able to resume domestic air operations from Monday.
However, Kolkata and Bagdogra airports will resume business from May 28 as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had asked the Centre to defer flights due to the recent super cyclone.
Similarly, after opposition from Andhra Pradesh, which asked for more time to prepare, resumption of Vizag and Vijayawada airports was pushed to May 26. “It has been a long day of hard negotiations with various states to recommence civil aviation operations in the country,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted. Puri had on Saturday said resumption of flights will be seamless.
The Centre’s plan to resume domestic flights
from Monday had run into rough weather, with many states suggesting at least a week-long quarantine for airline passengers and some others resisting commercial air transport altogether during the lockdown. The impasse threw schedule and network planning of airlines into disarray as flights had to be curtailed and schedules revised, following a high-level meeting that ended at 8 pm. Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola headed the deliberations.
Officials and network planners of airlines worked till midnight to work out the procedure and finalise schedules.
“After Saturday’s announcement by Mumbai airport, we were on standby to cancel all flights to and from the city. Then we were told that 45 departures and 45 arrivals will be permitted. Finally, it was reduced to 25 departures and 25 arrivals. We had to cancel at the last moment and inform passengers. Things should have been done in a more planned manner,” said an airline executive late on Sunday.
However, a ministry official defended the Centre’s move, saying states’ disagreement had more to do with political calls rather than operational. “We have to understand that the economy needs to restart and cannot be perpetually kept under lockdown,” the official said. Airlines said for the first day, occupancy of flights will range between 60 per cent and 70 per cent. However, despite attempts by the Centre, states haven’t agreed to dilute their quarantine guidelines. Almost all prominent states, except Delhi, have mandated quarantine after landing.
“This will hit demand further. On one Bengaluru flight, we just have 35 passengers,” said an airline executive. Only 35 per cent of the original summer schedule flights will be allowed in the first phase to maintain social distancing. Delhi airport, which has over 60 aircraft movements per hour, is allowing 14 per hour. Initially, airports will operate for a limited period against whole day to make time for sanitisation of terminals. Persons above 80 years of age will not be allowed to fly during the first phase, while wearing mask will be compulsory in airport and for the entire duration of the flight.
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.