Passengers taking a flight must prepare for a longer travel time, temperature checks, fewer frills on board and possibly higher air fares, as airlines, airports and the government work to ensure physical distancing, hand hygiene and sanitised environment to keep the novel coronavirus infection at bay once the lockdown is lifted.
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“The key aspect we have to keep in mind is the safety of passengers by ensuring social distancing so that the infection does not spread. This means travel time will increase. Where passengers were asked to report 45 minutes before the departure time (for domestic flights), they will now have to report two hours earlier. We will encourage passengers to use automated modes as much as possible to avoid manual contact. For example, they may be asked to check in through the mobile application or self check-in kiosks, which will undergo frequent cleaning,” Vistara chief commercial officer Vinod Kannan told The Hindu in a telephone interview.
GoAir, however, requires its passengers to report three hours before a flight.
“The Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the safety regulator DGCA and the aviation security watchdog Bureau of Civil Aviation Security are finalising guidelines for airports and airlines. Several airports have already started marking circles and squares at various contact points on their premises,” AAI Chairman Arvind Singh said.
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The CISF has submitted its recommendations on security protocol to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which include measurement of body temperature at the airport entrance, filling up of a questionnaire on health conditions by passengers, only alternate check-in counters being opened and security personnel equipped with protective gear. CISF airport in charge M.A. Ganapathy said that at the time of entering the terminal building, passengers would be asked to remove their mask for identification by security personnel and CCTV cameras.
Once you board the flight, the middle row seat is likely to be left empty, in accordance with the DGCA guidelines, or possibly four out of six seats in a row could be left empty. While low-cost airlines IndiGo and GoAir will discontinue meals on board, Vistara will continue to provide them, with some changes in the delivery.
“In order to ensure a superior quality of service, our cabin crew members interact with passengers several times and explain the menu. We will limit the number of interactions. We will offer pre-packaged cold meals to minimise contact,” Mr. Kannan said.
Passengers must also be prepared for a costlier travel so that airlines can operate flights in a cost-efficient manner despite being required to leave 33%-50% of their flights empty.
“If we are operating only two-thirds of our flight capacity, the cost per ticket will go up. But airfare is a function of supply and demand and we can’t predict the nature of demand. We know that in the first few days, there will be a lot of demand from passengers, but what happens thereafter is uncertain,” Mr. Kannan said.
Vistara and other airlines have already announced that they will remove all reading materials from seat-back pockets, clean the aircraft after every flight and deep-clean the aircraft after every 24 hours and provide passengers with hand-sanitisers and masks.
With multiple agencies involved in minimising the risk of infection, Mr. Kannan advises passengers to travel free of stress. “This is not an easy time, but air travel is the safest mode. The air inside the plane is re-circulated through HEPA filters to minimise infection. Just remember to wear your mask and factor in extra time.”