The rules of flying have changed and the Ministry of Civil Aviation has mandated that flyers bring printed boarding cards. But many didn’t.
Suraj was in two minds. Whether to take the flight on first day or let things settle down. In January, his doctor had prescribed a surgery and he couldn't delay it further. He booked a ticket on 22 May and landed up at the airport in a hazmet suit. " I couldn't delay it further and I am also nervous about catching the virus," Suraj, 47 said.
India resumed commercial flights in domestic sector on Friday after a gap of two months and first day saw high cancellation of flights and nervous passengers trying to adapt to the new normal of flying. " Only those for whom it was essential to travel flew- like those who were stranded in metros went to their hometowns. Overall occupancy was not more than 60 percent across the network," said an airline executive.
Confusion was a certainty. airlines could only finalise a schedule by around 11 PM last night as uncertainty loomed heavily on the resumption plan after multiple states showed reluctance.
" I was 10 minutes away from the airport when I got a message from SpiceJet
that my flight has been cancelled," said Swastika who was to fly to her hometown Ahmedabad from Delhi.
The rules of flying have changed and Ministry of Civil Aviation
had mandated that flyers get their boarding card printed. Many didn't. " I dont have a printer at home & all shops are closed. How will I get a print out," 60 year old Sudarshan Nayak who is flying to Jharsuguda said.
Luckily for him, Delhi
Airport has a print out kiosk at the terminals and airlines have deployed multiple people outside to assist flyers.
The confusion over Arogya Setu app prevailed. This reporter was stopped twice inside the terminal for not having the app. After widespread spectisim was reported over the app, the government had relaxed the guidelines and had allowed a self declaration form as an alternative to the app. " I don't know about self declaration form. I just know that you need to show green on this app," the security agent of Delhi
If you are flying in the next few weeks, do reach the airport early as such confusions will take time.
The airport check in counters wore a deserted look as most of the passengers were travelling with hand luggage and had done a web check-in. " I am happy that people have paid attention to this directive. It cuts down the risk of proximity," said Ranjana who works at the check-in counters of a private airline.
Inside the 5.4 million sq feet, Terminal 3 of Delhi Airport, social distancing wasn't a problem and check-in process was fast as airlines are operating only one-third of their slated capacity.
has sacrificed its silent airport status with frequent announcements reminding to maintain social distancing.( It is categorised as a silent airport as public announcements aren't made inside the terminal) .
Central Industrial Security Force which guards airports have updated their procedure to keep their jawans safe from the virus. No more frisking and stamping of boarding card but the jawan will check with a metal detector from two feet distance.
However, the force hasn't yet changed its archaic procedure of asking passengers to keep their mobile, belt, wallet, laptops in the tray. " The trays are well santised in regular interval," Rajiv Ranjan, Director General of CISF says when pointed out about the procedure. As Ranjan is reluctant to change , it's safe if you santise the products after the scan.
The eateries and duty free have opened up inside Terminal 3 but Sashi who manages The Cellar says sales is low. " I expect sales to be poor in first one month. Gradually people will accept the normal, " he says. Sashi isn't allowing more than five customers to enter the store at the same time.
At the boarding gate, airline gate agents are strictly enforcing a zonal boarding allowing only 15 passengers to queue up at the same time. Around 10 passengers to Bangalore were denied boarding as they hadn't registered for the Seva Sindhu portal, a process mandated by the Karnataka government for anyone coming to the state. " It's a little harsh on the passengers too as protocols were finalised only by midnight. But what can we do if the government has mandated," a gate agent at the airline said.
Sarath who works with a technology firm in Gurgaon was surprised to see the flight to Bangalore almost empty. I was freaking out thinking that I will have to spend two and half hours, jostling for the armrest with a stranger but the aircraft is empty, social distancing will ne very easy, " he said. Sarath's 186- seater aircraft which this reporter also boarded had 100 seats empty and the in-flight crews were too happy to oblige passengers' request to shift them to their desired seats.
" There has been lot of last minute cancellations after yesterday's confusion," says an executive of the airline. 136 people had initially booked the flight to Bangalore. More than 40 cancelled last evening, he says.
Inside the aircraft, frequent fliers quickly became frequent hand-washers. And despite every assurance from the crew that the plane was spic and span, some still kept wiping their tray tables and armrests. " It's better to be safe than sorry," Karthikeyan, a merchant banker said.
In-flight services are absent as mandated by aviation regulator DGCA and passengers were told that they have to take get water on their own from the galley. " Keep your mask on," lead cabin crew Priya repeatedly announced.
Be prepared for delayed departures, as quick turnarounds and competetion over on-time performance are a thing of past. Airlines are focusing more on sanitisation of aircraft after every landing, a process which can take as long as 45 minutes.
" It's great to have you on-board after two months. Sorry for the delay. Lots of procedures have changed and things need to be done differently," first officer Abhinav announced.
The passengers were given a kit comprising of face shield, a mask and two sachets of hand sanitisers. This new normal of flying is here to stay in near future.
10 minutes before landing, lead cabin crew reminded passengers not to queue up and deboarding will happen two rows at a time.
Normally Indian flyers are notorious to not listen instructions of crew. Today they did and waited patiently for their turn to exit the aircraft. Perhaps, they also know this is the new normal.