Here’s how Day 1 of resumption of flights unfolded:
States reluctant to open up airports
States like Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, which are home to some of the busiest airports in the country, were reluctant to allow domestic flight services from their airports, citing swelling cases of the coronavirus infection.
The West Bengal government did not relent to a request by the civil aviation ministry to allow flight services.
According to aviation industry sources, around 630 domestic flights were cancelled as a result.
From no domestic passenger flights yesterday to 532 flights & 39,231 passengers today, action has returned to Indi… https://t.co/Hcf56TukCl
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Airlines were jittery in resuming services as multiple states have put in place separate norms and conditions for quarantining passengers arriving there by domestic flights.
Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Punjab, Assam and Andhra Pradesh, among others, have announced their own quarantine measures for passengers arriving at their airports. Some states have decided to put passengers in institutional quarantine while several others have talked about putting them in home quarantine.
“The problem for passengers began with states rolling out their separate guidelines on operationality of airports and post-travel quarantine. With only a fraction of flights allowed to operate from some of the busiest airports, cancellations spiked leaving travellers uncertain about their travel,” Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of EaseMyTrip.com, told IANS.
Chaos and confusion at airports
Many passengers reached the airports only to be told by the airline staff that their flights have been cancelled, leading to chaos and confusion.
At Mumbai airport, social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn – all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.
More on Covid-19
Passengers of an Air India Bengaluru-Hyderabad flight said their flight was cancelled without prior notice from the airline. “Only when our boarding passes were scanned at the airport entry we were told that boarding has been cancelled. We don’t know what to do now,” said an irate flyer.
Similarly, a passenger at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport said that her Air India flight to Delhi was cancelled without any prior information from the airline.
Nervousness and uncertainty
Meanwhile, confusion about quarantine rules and risk of infection prompted jitters among passengers and staff.
“While I’m looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary,” student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.
“Anything can happen. It’s very risky. I don’t really know when I’ll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time,” she said.
One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt “very nervous” about starting work again.
“Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning,” she told AFP, not wishing to be named.
“There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday,” one pilot told PTI.
Subham Dey, an engineer travelling to Assam, said: “Flying to meet my family almost feels like I am entering a war zone, it’s the mask and gloves that add to the stress.”
Flyers disappointed after last-minute cancellations
With people travelling long distances to the airport, flight cancellations left many disappointed.
Naik Satish Kumar’s Kolkata-bound flight got cancelled as the state decided not to resume operations till May 28.
“I travelled all the way from Ambala (in Haryana) on a bus to take a 6 am flight to Kolkata. When I reached here, I got to know the flight had been cancelled. I am returning home now,” he said.
Excited to meet his two-year-old daughter, Santu Mandal, a resident of West Bengal’s Bardhaman district, reached the airport along with his brother, Nasiruddin Mandal, at 1 am, unaware that the flight to Kolkata had been cancelled.
The Mandal brothers, who are engaged in hand embroidery, spent Rs 12,000 to book the tickets “because we could not get a confirmed train ticket”.
19-year-old Raibul Sheikh and his two friends, who had not been paid by their employer in Delhi since the lockdown began on March 25, decided to return to their loved ones back home in West Bengal on Eid.
Their joy, too, was short-lived as barely five km away from the Delhi airport, they received a message from the airline informing them that their flight had been cancelled.
Another woman who was waiting at the Hyderabad airport after her flight was cancelled said, “I have to go to Assam, the flight was booked at 7 pm yesterday, as it is curfew time, we reached airport yesterday afternoon. We had to stay the whole night in the lounge, with no food, and now they have cancelled the flight and asked us to select another date. Now the authorities are not allowing us inside. We have left our room and we have nowhere to live till then.”
While several flyers were left disappointed, there was relief for some, especially those who were finally able to reunite with their families.
It was a sweet homecoming for five-year-old Vihaan Sharma who flew back to Bengaluru alone on Monday from Delhi and was received by his mother.
The boy was among those who arrived from Delhi as domestic air services resumed after two months of Covid-19 lockdown.
His mother told reporters that he was coming to Bengaluru after three months.
Sandeep Singh, 19, spent Rs 5,500 to reach Delhi from Dehradun where he studies. “I remained stuck in my PG (pay guest accommodation). Mummy and papa were worried. I am taking the first flight home,” he said.
Aamir Afzal, a mechanical engineer, who had come to Delhi on an official visit on May 23, was among those who took an early morning flight to reach Patna to celebrate Eid with family and friends.
“I had been staying in a hotel in Mahipalpur with my co-worker. The hotel charged us Rs 900 per day. We could not get a confirmed ticket on a train back home,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)