There has been much hullabaloo about how air travel needs to be opened up again to ensure people get to travel again. Last evening, the government gave permission to airlines to start domestic flights again, from May 25, 2020, onwards. However, the details of how one could fly and what precautions have to be maintained were not circulated at that time. Now we know how prepared you need to be when you will be flying, as the Government of India has notified SOP for flights for the time being.
When flights take off again, limited operations will be permitted. The Government mandates that only about 1/3rd of the flights should take off every day. So for an airline of the size of IndiGo, which would operate 1500 flights a day before the grounding, that would work out to about 450 flights a day (assuming 150 flights a day would be to foreign locations). No clarity on how they can ramp up operations after this. Further, airlines will not have the ability to set their own fares but will be given a lower and upper fare limit by the Ministry during the times of the pandemic.
Vulnerable persons, such as very elderly, pregnant ladies, passengers with health issues are being advised to avoid air travel. To be able to access air travel facilities, customers will be required to be asymptomatic to travel, which will be established via a self-declaration or the Aarogya Setu app. Everyone will travel with a face cover on and will be allowed only one check-in bag for now.
Cabin crew will have to be in a full protective suit, just like airlines across the world are coming up with these provisions for their crew.
First things first, no one gets to the airport without a confirmed seat on the plane now, which means you need to complete a web check-in/telecheck-in before arrival at the airport, as you won’t be able to check-in at the airport itself anymore. Your Baggage number will also be given online, and you will need to write this down and stick it on the bag before the flight.
Passengers will have to report at least two hours before the flight departure time now. You will have to undergo a thermal screening before you can proceed to the terminal. You need to wear a face mask to be able to enter the airport now onwards. Like I already mentioned ahead, passengers will have to have a clear Green on their Aarogya Setu App to fly or file a self-declaration form saying you are eligible to fly and haven’t contracted CoVid-19. If you fly in spite of the fact that you are not fit to fly, the new rules prescribe penal action but don’t prescribe what the penal action would be. Children below the age of 14 years are being spared from the Arogya Setu app.
At the terminal entrance, you will have to produce a copy of the boarding pass and identification just like earlier times. The security won’t come near you apparently but will use magnifying equipment to read your documents and verify it’s you from afar.
It would be wise to bring a bag with wheels along to the airport because baggage trolleys are going to be off-limits for most. One handbag and one check-in bag will be allowed per customer going forward. You take the bag to the bag drop counter, where your bag will be checked in and you won’t get a sticker for it anymore, but a text message confirming that your bag has been accepted by the airline. All of these processes need to be completed 60 minutes before departure now.
Passengers will undergo security check just like earlier, however, someone tells me that pat-downs won’t happen any more and only the metal detector check will go on for now.
Secure Holding Area
Once check-in is complete and you are in the holding area, most seats will be blocked for customer use and messages to this effect will be displayed prominently. F&B outlets will be open, but they will largely get you food in a take-away format unless it is a proper airport restaurant which has managed to solve distancing at their dine-in areas.
At the time of boarding, you will get a visor, a surgical mask and a small bottle of sanitizer from the airline staff and your temperature will be taken again. You need to wear a double layer of face protection before you get on the plane. You will need to scan your boarding pass yourself, and the airline gate agent won’t do it for you anymore. A sequential boarding process will have to be followed.
Airlines will no longer be allowed to serve meals on flights for the time being. This is not just for no-frill airlines but also the full-service airlines, who can’t even put a pre-packaged meal box on your seat anymore. You will only be supplied with packaged drinking water. Even if you are going to bring your own meal on the plane, you are not allowed to eat it on the plane, because it involves removing your mask. No reading materials will be provided by the airlines anymore.
The cabin baggage will be stowed atop your seat’s baggage bin and as soon as the bin is full, it will be closed.
If you want to use the loo, use it in the most urgent of cases only as any movement in the planes will be scoffed upon going forward. Once the plane lands, no more of jumping out of your seats to get out at the earliest, because deboarding will also be sequential going forward.
Arrival & Baggage Collection
Passengers will have to wait in the baggage collection area and won’t be able to pick their bags directly from the conveyer belt but will be handed out their bags. If you arrive in a state which mandates quarantine or home isolation, you will have to comply with those norms too.
Airline & Airport Guidelines
Airlines will have to sanitize the aircraft after every trip, which means no longer will there be a plane arriving and departing within 30 minutes, but perhaps 1 hour is more like it. Security personnel will be dressed up in full PPE during their shift, and cabin crew will be dressed up in PPE during the duration of the flight. Airlines will have to do a health check of all crew regularly. The cockpit crew will get on the plane before passengers come in and stay secured after landing as well till all passengers depart.
The entry to lounges, Prayer room, Kids playroom, smoking room etc. will be highly regulated. You should look at our Mumbai and Delhi Airport preparation posts to know more about how airports are ready for the resumption of travel.
Air travel won’t be the same again for the time being, but more cumbersome. So, flying will be reduced to a necessity than a thing that needs to be done for leisure or business. The demand, of course, has gone down, and I only expect those people to fly going forward who really need to fly.
Are you going to fly in the coming days or wait it out till things get better?
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