The reopening of the domestic aviation sector on Monday was chaotic. After a break of two months, when all manner of air traffic was abruptly grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the civil aviation authorities and state governments seemed unprepared to meet the challenge. Tens of thousands who were stranded by the sudden lockdown were desperate to get back to their home-destinations. But flying in the age of coronavirus required its own Standard Operating Procedures. Unfortunately, with each State preferring to frame its own guidelines on treating the inbound and outbound passengers, no uniform SOP was available. Last minute flight cancellations meant that hundreds of passengers were stranded at various airports. Besides, with the state governments failing to ensure that some form of public transport was available to take the arriving passengers to their homes, there was further confusion and chaos at the airports. In short, it was a huge mess.
This was avoidable had the civil aviation ministry done its homework in advance. It seemed to rush headlong into reopening the skies without ensuring that the State governments were fully on board. At the Delhi Airport alone, 82 flights, both incoming and outbound, were cancelled at the last minute. Delhi received 112 flights while 125 took off from there. Why this chaos could not be avoided is not clear. If the concerned States were not ready to handle the air traffic, they should have been spared the additional distraction while they fought the virus. There was even a lack of uniform procedures on quarantining the incoming passengers. Whether they were to be quarantined at home or at designated state facilities was not specified. Travelling public needs to be informed in advance about the quarantine requirement so that everyone can exercise his judgment on whether or not to undertake the journey. Also, the civil aviation ministry needs to explain why the mandatory distance between passengers while inside the aircraft was abandoned, though various airports were taking necessary precautions at the time of boarding and arrivals. If the train travel requires that the middle seat in chair-cars be left unoccupied to avoid contact with fellow passengers, why was it not considered necessary for the flying public? The stressed bottom-line of the private carriers cannot justify a disregard of the necessary precautions for air travellers.
Lockdown has caused a great human distress. It has also inflicted a huge financial distress on lots of people. But having decided in the first place to put a premium on public health, the government should reopen the economy only after making certain that all possible precautions against the spread of the virus are in place. On Monday, the reopening of the Indian skies was a haphazard affair. It could have been managed better.