Domestic flight operations resumed across the country on Monday amid chaos and confusion triggered by last-minute cancellations. The euphoria over flights was severely dented by thousands of passengers stranded at airports nationwide, and the change in post-arrival quarantine rules in multiple states.
Seventy-four scheduled flights were cancelled at the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) in Bengaluru, the country’s third busiest. At the Delhi airport, 80 flights did not land or take off as planned, triggering anger and frustration among passengers, some of whom had travelled from as far as Meerut.
Furious passengers, who had been waiting for nearly two months, vented their anger at the airline personnel in Delhi. At KIA too, many passengers who were informed of the cancellation of an Air India flight to Hyderabad late, protested outside the terminal.
“AirIndia Flight AI516, Bengaluru to Hyderabad, cancelled at the last moment, after travelling 60 km to the airport. People are suffering because of improper planning by governments and airlines,” said Rishabh Agarwal, a passenger.
Last-minute negotiations for restart of flight operations and the subsequent decision by states to limit flights led to cancellations that caught flyers unawares.
“Bookings have been trending at almost 40% of the pre-Covid levels. However, there is a lot of confusion among travellers due to different state protocols, leading to rescheduling/cancellations of flights,” Dhruv Shringi, co-founder and CEO of Yatra.com, told DH.
The first flight to touch down at KIA was an IndiGo plane from Chennai at 7.35 am. However, it took the over 150 passengers more than an hour and half to step out of the terminal as they had to complete all mandatory checks. By 5 pm on Monday, KIA had 43 departures and 31 arrivals.
Despite the cancellations, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri saw a silver lining. “From no domestic passenger flights yesterday to 532 flights and 39,231 passengers today, action has returned to Indian skies,” he said.
With Andhra Pradesh set to resume operations on Tuesday and West Bengal on May 28, these numbers are all set to increase further, he said.
indigoThe first flight to depart KIA was an AirAsia India service to Ranchi at 5.15 am. The first flight from the capital was a Delhi-Pune IndiGo service at 4.45 am. All passengers had to wear face masks and face shields supplied by the airlines. In Mumbai, the first flight took off to Patna at 6.45 am.
Passengers were screened at airports with electronic thermometers. A revised protocol for air travel was followed, including sanitisation of luggage through ultraviolet scanners and enhanced social distancing. At KIA, a tech-enabled contactless parking-to-boarding process was followed for heightened safety.
All four major airports in Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, began operations on Monday. A Delhi-bound Indigo flight was the first to take off from Chennai, while an aircraft from the same airline from Bengaluru was the first to land in Tiruchirapalli.
A total of 16 flights were scheduled to arrive in Chennai and 19 departures were planned. On Tuesday, the airport will handle 21 arrivals and 20 departures. Coimbatore, Tiruchirapalli and Madurai airports also began domestic operations with all precautions in place. However, all the flights had fewer passengers.
Maharashtra, the worst-hit state, wanted more time to prepare Mumbai Airport, the second busiest in the country, to handle passengers. The state government agreed to accept flights late Sunday but set a cap of 50 per day, as against the 900 odd operations it used to handle pre-lockdown.