Domestic flights in India will resume after being on ground for nearly two months. However, the experience may not be what we are used to. Forget baggage rules, there will be specific to-dos for testing fliers before they takeoff. Fliers may only be allowed to carry one bag with them. We will have to undergo thermal scanning both on arrival and departure at the airport. We will have to also report two hours earlier and follow the prescribed rules of social distancing while we wait to board the flight in the common areas. We also have to show the present officials that we are marked safe on the Aarogya Setu App. And oh we may be discouraged from using the bathrooms on flight. I can’t even imagine not going to the loo when on my period or travelling with children. All this apart from the obvious use of sanitisers, masks and gloves to keep the chances of coronavirus spread to the minimum. Am I looking forward to this new bizarre flying experience? I am not sure. In fact I am feeling a bit breathless thinking of this.
On 10 March, I took my last domestic flight, and the experience was enough of a hint at how air travel could change, perhaps forever. There were masks all around and the smell of hand sanitizer hung in the air, along with that of vegetable and chicken sandwiches and Cuppa Noodles. But even though the number of coronavirus cases has crossed the one lakh mark in India, most of us are itching to board flights again. We have places to go, meetings to attend that cannot happen over video calls and chores to take care of. I, for instance want to meet my parents who reside in a town in Madhya Pradesh and notorious for its summer heat. The easiest way for me would have been an hour long flight, which would cut my travel time by more than half a day by train or road. But with a six-year-old in tow, I wonder if air travel would be convenient at all now.
Have you tried convincing a pre-schooler or a primary school kid to not take off their mask for three whole hours or so that you’ll be spending at the airport, plus the actual air travel time? To not touch random surfaces that seem to attract them like a flame attracts a moth? To not drag themselves, you and all your hand-luggage, to every second eatery and store present at the airport? To sit still and move as little as possible throughout the journey? I have tried, on my last trip. And let me tell you it is much more difficult than you can imagine right now. I ended up with an OCD to clean my daughter’s hands every ten minutes after that last trip. Every time she touched a surface- seats, pillars, tables, tissue paper from KFC that fell to the ground, the easy tray on the back of the seat in the plane, my heart would skip a beat. It is a miracle that I didn’t get arrhythmia from that one trip.
That ordeal will only be much worse because now we know how deadly and real the threat is. I can withhold myself from booking an air ticket for a month or two, I think. The parents are doing fine right now. But then I don’t know how long we may be travelling like that. How long can I keep postponing air travel? What if there is an emergency? Even if I don’t take my kid along, will I be required to quarantine once I am back home from my travels? And if the numbers keep piling up, we also need to be asking, is flying worth it at all right now?
If you haven’t had the chance, take a look at the guidelines.
- Report to airport 2 hours before flight time
- Face mask mandatory
- Carry only one bag, per person
- Aarogya Setu app or self-declaration form with contact information to declare self as “safe”
- Maintain social distancing at all places
- Thermal screening on arrival and departure
- Baggage receipt upon drop off on SMS
- Minimum physical contact with security staff
- Chairs marked ‘Not For Use’ should not be occupied
- Safety kit, mask, face shield, sanitiser distributed near boarding gate
- Passenger to scan in boarding pass near gate themselves
- Minimum use of toilet advised
- No ques for use of lavatory
- Passengers can’t bring their own food. No meals to be served. Water bottles will be placed on every seat
- No newspapers or magazines allowed
The views expressed are the author’s own.
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