Aliya Ladhabhoy

The Union Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri has announced that India will start domestic flight operations in a “calibrated manner” from May 25. Airports began gearing up to begin operations earlier this month itself.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI), which manages more than 100 airports in the country, issued guidelines for managing post-lockdown operations on April 29. They include:
Initially, flights will be limited to tier 1 cities, i.e metros, state capitals and major tier 2 cities
In the early days, airports should operate out of only one terminal, even if it has multiple terminals.
Alternate baggage carousels should be used to maintain social distancing.
Limited food and beverages and retail outlets will be available for passengers. They can serve only tea/coffee and takeaway snacks in boxes.
Bars and restaurants at airports will not be permitted to serve alcoholic beverages unless the city or state administration permits it.
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There will be designated parking stands and baggage belts for aircrafts that ply from COVID-19 hotspots.
Apart from social distancing markers at airports, seating arrangements should be such that there is 1.5m distance between passengers
Additional staff at potential crowding points such as washrooms, conveyor belts and X-ray machines to ensure social distancing
Airports need to designate an isolation area with primary medical facilities at the arrival and departure terminals for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 passengers
The list of guidelines also states that airports in tandem with the state governments should ensure availability of public transport and private taxis for passengers, airport and airline staff.

Ready for take off
Domestic airlines, too, are in the process of tweaking their operations so that they can take off as soon as the travel ban is relaxed. According to The Economic Times, IndiGo plans to resume operations with 65 planes(less than a fourth of its fleet) while Vistara had earlier planned to resume 30 per cent of its fleet. GoAir is mulling over the idea to start operations with just 8 planes in June and scale it up to 12 planes by August, 35 planes by October and 45 planes by March 2021.
The airlines are also amping up their safety measures such as thermal screening passengers, maintaining social distancing at check in counters, making private protection equipment (PPE) mandatory for the crew and wearing masks for passengers. Indigo plans to discontinue on-board meal services and fill its buses at 50 per cent capacity according to an article in Business Standard. This will be over and above deep cleaning the aircrafts when they start flying again.
Vistara also plans to ensure social distancing across all touch points and step up their cleaning measures as written about on News 18’s website. Passengers who show signs of fever or respiratory illness will undergo a precuationary check-up, a spokesperson informed the website.  
A ‘middle’-ing affair
Keeping the middle seat vacant as a social distancing measure has been a part of the global conversation for the last two weeks but many airlines in India and abroad are opposing it as it doesn’t meet the 1.5m distance criteria. Airlines would lose 33.33 per cent capacity per flight which would increase losses and would need to be offset by higher ticket costs.
On the international front, Emirates has already stepped up its precautionary measures at Dubai airport and on board.
While regular flights are suspended, they have been ferrying travellers to London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Manila and Sao Paolo. Seats on board are pre-allocated with vacant seats placed between individuals or family groups. Food is offered in Bento boxes and in-flight magazines have been suspended. No cabin baggage is allowed and masks and gloves are mandatory for all passengers. It has pushed back its regular services to July 1.
The entire cabin crew has been given personal protective equipment, which includes a disposable gown, safety visor, masks and gloves.
Emirates’ crew wearing PPEs on flights
Etihad Airways has suspended its sale of flight tickets till June 16, but it has been plying special repatriation flights to help travellers return home. In May, they plan to slowly increase the number of flights from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Frankfurt, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London Heathrow, Manila, Melbourne, Seoul Incheon, Singapore, Tokyo Narita, Zurich, and will also add flights to Dublin and New York JFK. The airline has stated that they are taking the utmost care to keep the crew and passengers safe.
America’s Delta Airlines, which is operating limited flights at the moment, require their staff to wear masks if they come within six feet of customers or other employees. They are encouraging passengers to wear masks and offering sanitizers at various check points apart from fogging the aircrafts.
Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific, which reduced its flying capacity by 96 per cent in April amid the spread of COVID-19, plans to increase its international flights by June 21. The crew has been wearing PPEs since late January.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation in India is still in the process of determining the guidelines when it comes to airlines. It remains to be seen whether domestic carriers will take off on May 3 or witness another delay.
This article was updated on May 20.

 

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