Srinagar: As domestic air traffic resumed on Monday after two months, airports in India were prepared with measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first domestic flight took off from New Delhi for Pune at 4:45 am, days after Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri made the big announcement on resumption of flights.
Eight flights were also scheduled to fly in to Srinagar of which the first flight carrying 80 passengers landed at Srinagar International Airport at 8:25 am on Monday.
“The first flight departing out of CSMIA (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport ) will be to Patna at 6:45hrs and flight arriving from Lucknow will be the first arrival flight at 8:20hrs both operated by IndiGo,” Mumbai airport operator MIAL said in a statement.
The first domestic passenger flight to arrive at Delhi airport on Monday at 7.45am was from Ahmedabad. It was operated by SpiceJet.
However there was chaos on Day 1 as several passengers said their flights were cancelled and complained they did not get any intimation from airlines as domestic services resumed after a gap of two months on Monday.
Officials said nearly 80 flights to and from Delhi were cancelled due to restrictions by states, officials said.
Several passengers in Mumbai and Bengaluru also complained about cancellations.
“Only when our boarding passes were scanned at the airport entry we were told that boarding has been cancelled. We don’t know what to do now,” a passenger of an Air India Bengaluru-Hyderabad flight said, according to ANI.
All commercial passenger flights resumed, except in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, after being suspended towards the end of March when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of passengers wearing masks were seen at airports across the country on Monday as security and airport personnel in protective gears screened them.
News agency ANI tweeted photographs of passengers standing in long queues and wearing face shields inside an aeroplane.
“I was in Delhi since the Parliament’s Budget session. Now, I am returning to my state Odisha,” Anubhav Mohanty, the Biju Janata Dal lawmaker, said, according to ANI.
He was on a Vistara flight from Delhi to Bhubaneswar.
Cabin crew members were also seen in blue personal protection equipment (PPE) inside flights.
“I was nervous before the flight but all passengers were taking precautions. Very few people travelling right now,” a passenger who arrived in Pune told ANI.
The flights resumed after the ministry civil aviation held several discussions with states and airline representatives on Sunday.
“It has been a long day of hard negotiations with various state governments to recommence civil aviation operations in the country. Except Andhra Pradesh which will start on 26/5 and West Bengal on 28/5, domestic flights will recommence across the country from tomorrow,” civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said in a tweet on Sunday evening.
State governments have issued their do’s and don’ts, including thermal screening, quarantines, social distancing at the airport and no-contact check-in.
The government had announced last Thursday that one-third of pre-lockdown domestic flights will operate from Monday. Aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri has indicated that international flights could begin in June.
Flight attendants were also seen wearing masks at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport’s Terminal 3 in Delhi.
A flight attendant said they will have to interact less with passengers now in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are a little worried but work comes first. We will get personal protective equipment (PPE) kits from the airline,” Amandeep Kaur, a flight attendant, told ANI.
Food and beverage and retail outlets also opened at the airport as domestic flight services resumed.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) had last Thursday issued standard operating procedures (SOP) for airports as part of preparations for the recommencement of domestic commercial flight operations/
Airports have been advised to ensure that passenger seating arrangement shall be done in such a manner so as to maintain social distancing among passengers using chairs by blocking those seats that are not to be used, with proper markers or tapes.
All passengers also must compulsorily be registered with the Aarogya Setu app on their phones as per the directives. Apart from this, alternate check-in counters should be used to avoid congestion.
The airport staff must be provided PPE kits, face masks etc, and should also be provided with hand sanitisers. (With agency inputs)