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No smooth take-off as domestic flights resume in India

An airport staff member pushes trollies at the entrance of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport after the government allowed domestic flight services to resume during an extended coronavirus lockdown, Mumbai, India, 25 May 2020.
An airport staff member pushes trollies at the entrance of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport after the government allowed domestic flight services to resume during an extended coronavirus lockdown, Mumbai, India, 25 May 2020. © REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Chaos, confusion and long queues greeted passengers in India as domestic flights started up again after a two-month air travel ban to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Monday's resumption got off to a disorderly start with almost 630 flights cancelled across the country and passengers kept in the dark about the decision. 

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Only half of the scheduled operations could resume amid widespread confusion over operations and reluctance by some states to allow inbound travellers.

“It was during the screening that the officials said my flight has been cancelled,” Manish Gulati, a businessman, tells RFI at Delhi's Indira Gandhi Airport. "I’ve come all the way from Meerut, some 100 kilometres away from Delhi and the next flight is tomorrow morning."

Inside Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi where strict protocols are in place for passengers
Inside Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi where strict protocols are in place for passengers © Murali Krishnan

Similar scenes were witnessed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, with dozens of disappointed passengers seen sitting outside the airport after their flights were cancelled.

“I have an emergency and now am told the flight to Delhi has been cancelled. Nobody told us beforehand,” says Vinita Ray, a doctor.

 'Glitches'

The western state of Maharashtra, which has India's highest number of Covid-19 cases, said it would only allow 50 flights a day, leading to several cancellations

The confusion was further compounded by a variety of quarantine protocols by state governments, leaving many flyers exasperated.

“All of us are struggling to get flights going,” a senior civil aviation official told RFI. "There are multiple stakeholders and multiple obligations. There have been glitches."

The two busiest airports, Delhi and Mumbai, saw over 100 flights cancelled.

Officials in the capital said the cancellations were mostly on account of some states, including West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, refusing to allow flights to take off due to empty seats and other operational issues.

Smaller airports have also had their share of cancellations, with passengers complaining that they were not informed until they arrived at airports.

The national carrier, Air India, in particular, received criticism on social media for lack of communication with its passengers.

Despite the confusion, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri hailed the resumption of air travel by tweeting an image of air traffic in the skies. 

Delays galore

Ahead of resuming domestic flights, several preventive measures were put in place.

Security officers check each passenger's temperature and verify that they have downloaded the government's Covid-19 tracking app, "Aarogya Setu". Other measures include disinfecting shoes and luggage and allowing just a small bag as carry-on.

Protocols are in place for passengers boarding flights
Protocols are in place for passengers boarding flights © Murali Krishnan

Aviation is among the worst-affected sectors under the Covid-19 crisis. It is expected to crash land with a massive revenue loss of over 3 billion euros.

Following the resumption of domestic flights, the government is hoping to restart a most international passenger flights before August.

  >> Starving migrants head back to villages as unrest grows in India amid lockdown

  >> Chaos in Indian cities as alcohol back on sale after 40-day lockdown

 

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