‘After jumping through several hoops, I am so near, yet so far...’

Contrast: While physical distancing norms were followed in Mumbai, (below) they were violated in Dehradun.

Contrast: While physical distancing norms were followed in Mumbai, (below) they were violated in Dehradun.  

A day that began with eager anticipation turned into a nightmare for a Mumbai-Dehradun flier due to mismanagement at multiple levels

After two months of anticipation, and a weekend of political drama, I heaved a huge sigh of relief on getting to know that my Mumbai-Dehradun flight was among the ‘select 25’ that were allowed to fly from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA).

The excitement and travel anxiety ensured I barely had any sleep, and I wearily got out of bed on Tuesday morning. The only thing keeping me moving was my ultimate goal: seeing my family. By 7.15 a.m., I was standing outside CSMIA packed and ready, armed with an N-95 mask, gloves that were a little too big for my hands, and two kinds of sanitisers.

A verification of my identity and thermal screening later, I stood at one of the self-check-in kiosks, befuddled, like most other fliers, but we pulled through with some guidance from airline officials. As I walked past the security check towards my gate, I couldn’t believe this was the same airport that once bustled with life. Most shops were closed, barely any humans were in sight and there was absolutely no sound apart from the occasional wail of a baby.

In all, the boarding experience in Mumbai was quiet and organised, and the flight took off before the scheduled departure of 10.05 a.m.

The real nightmare awaited us at Dehradun.

Everyone followed rules up until they reached the terminal, but physical distancing norms were quickly forgotten as people went to collect their baggage and waited to be allowed out.

Fliers sweated it out for over two hours in the airport, as none of the air conditioners or fans were working. “I don’t know about COVID-19,” but I’ll definitely die of dehydration,” said a girl wearing personal protective equipment. With barely four to five people being allowed out every 10 minutes, the crowd grew impatient and thronged the gates, questioning the medical staff on duty. “We have no jurisdiction over what happens after you leave, ma’am,” said a doctor, trying to calm down a passenger. “That is the State administration at work.” He promptly redirected the questions to a CISF staffer.

Quarantine blues

Most passengers were riled at the ‘compulsory paid quarantine’ requirement, which as it turned out, was an example of more mismanagement and apathy.

Passengers demanded to know why only air passengers were being discriminated against while road and rail passengers were being allowed home quarantine. In response, an official had this to offer, “Kal toh aapko pata chal gaya tha na ki rule badal gaya hai, toh ticket cancel kar lete (when you got to know yesterday that the rule has been changed, you could have cancelled your ticket.)”

Nearly three hours later, passengers were finally let out as fliers on board the next flight entered the terminal building. .

But this was simply the beginning of a new ordeal. After we were finally let out, we were to choose a paid facility, but the options were limited and many of the reasonably-priced ones were full. Then there was the hour-long wait in a makeshift tent under the scorching sun, with the token fans in the area being directed towards officials.

‘After jumping through several hoops, I am so near, yet so far...’

A group of unyielding fliers had decided they would refuse to fill the forms and wait till the end of day to talk to the authorities and ensure they do not have to go to the paid quarantine facilities. “When we signed the undertaking, it clearly mentioned 14 days of home quarantine. We did not sign up for this,” said one. “This is all just a ploy for the hotels and government to make money,” said a flier who owns a hotel in the city.

Finally, my name was called out to board a bus to the hotel I had opted for, but the bus stopped at several other similar facilities along the way. “I have to reach the hotel and report to work,” said Katyayni Jain, who is with a consultancy firm in Mumbai. She and her sister had decided to return to Dehradun and work from home due to the fear of the growing number of COVID-19-positive cases in Maximum City. This was true for several other youths who were on the flight.

If the tired passengers thought they could get some rest at the hotel, they were in for more nasty surprises. While some passengers were shocked to hear the prices claiming they were not briefed properly at the airport, others felt the demand that the entire amount be paid in advance was ridiculous.

Hotels, too, are underprepared, with no idea on whether those quarantined will be tested, or clarity on the actual time period of quarantine. The hotel I was sent to had a power outage, and electricity was restored around 9.30 p.m. For over two hours, the staff just kept repeating, helplessly, “Ma’am, please give us 10-15 minutes.”

As I sit in pitch darkness and type this, I can’t help but wonder, why this discrimination against those travelling by air? What is the State administration up to? And of course, when will I get to see my family?

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 5:04:20 PM |

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