Limited domestic flights from Monday; Protocol today a lean in the sky

Even before the lockdown 4.0 ends, the government on Wednesday decided to allow a limited number of domestic flights from Monday, two months after both domestic and international flights were banned. The disclosure came in a tweet posted by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. It said that "domestic civil aviation operations will recommence in a calibrated manner from Monday" and all airports and airlines have been put on alert. The standard operating procedure for movement of passengers and the details of flight schedules are expected to be announced during the minister’s press conference on Thursday. While there has been a buzz about a "new normal" when flights start again, with fewer passengers on board, Puri made it clear that it would not be possible to keep the middle seat vacant, which had been one of the suggestions for ensuring physical distancing.

"If you were to do it, then you would have to hike airline ticket price by 33 per cent," the minister was quoted as telling news agency ANI. Fastidious filling up of a detailed questionnaire, the mandatory use of Aarogya Setu app, bar on cabin baggage and arrival at airport two hours before departure might well be among the other requirements during the initial phase.

Cabin crew members will be seen not in their freshly starched uniforms but in protective overalls; besides, face shields, gowns and masks will make the flight experience more impersonal and detached. It is understood that starting from entry gate to the alighting point the motions would be contactless. Airport authorities are also in talks with cab aggregators for introducing a "sticker system" to indicate that the vehicle is ready and sanitized for passenger use. A matter of concern would be whether the passengers would be quarantined on arrival at their destination. The pent-up demand is another prickly issue that the ministry needs to address.

Incidentally, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray was not amenable to immediate resumption of flights, primarily because Mumbai is one of the busiest destinations and also one of the most congested airports. Puri did not disclose whether the regular flight schedule will be followed or the operations will begin in a "calibrated manner." The Railways, too, had initially started with Rajdhani-type special air-conditioned trains and then graduated to special Shramik trains; next on anvil are 200 non-air conditioned trains from June 1. Puri also had no word on resumption of international flights. All domestic flights remain grounded since March 25.

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