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The pandemic created havoc in the air travel industry once again.

The pandemic created havoc in the air travel industry once again. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

During the height of the pandemic, after getting fully vaccinated, I had to do a few cross-border flights. They were not fun at all, but confusing and exasperating. Check-ins, security checks, body scans, customs and immigration clearances, uploading vaccine certificates, and downloading apps for departure and arrival are time-consuming and, in many instances, complicated even for the tech-savvy.

I remember my first transoceanic flight on an Air India Jumbo Jet, Emperor Ashoka, from the Santa Cruz airport in Bombay to the JFK airport in New York City. The aircraft had a Mughal décor and it felt like a flying palace.

The exquisite sari-clad cabin crew, the smell of the newly furbished interiors and the ambience, the roar of the jets, and the food and drinks, all had mesmerising appeal.

That was the heyday of air travel. Stylish, vibrant advertisements depicting beautiful sceneries and young people extolled the virtues of flying.

I reminisce one of the airlines’ commercial taglines, “It’s the good life, to be free and explore the unknown.”

September 11, 2001, was a turning point in air travel. The worst day in aviation history has caused unimaginable travel woes to the flying public. Travellers were put under a microscope, their names and genealogy, and biometrics were put through many filters, as if they were all criminals. There were blacklists, whitelists, and multiple lists without a provision to cross-check or verify.

However, the passenger pre-clearance systems progressed over the next many years. From in-flight security personnel to the reinforced cockpit doors, all were to ensure safety. The checks and controls evolved as more and more new technologies were applied to help screen passengers. Sharing of information across many levels of authorities and country borders was unheard-of till then.

As post-9/11 concerns started subsiding, the pandemic paranoia escalated creating havoc in the air travel industry once again. The pandemic with prolonged lockdowns, mask mandates, the massive number of infections, hospitalisations, deaths, border restrictions, and vaccine mandates are fanning fears of an economic meltdown.

Struggle for survival

As all other businesses, air carriers are also struggling to survive while providing a crucial service. They are cutting corners or tightening their budgets as the cost of fuel and wages are escalating. Flight delays for a variety of reasons, from staff shortages, weather issues, and technology problems are exasperating. Airlines are trying to pack the maximum number of passengers possible by cramming them into smaller seats. They stopped offering freebies and free food. Everything comes at a price.

We have no choice but to adapt to the changes as they won’t go away anytime soon. Flying is not fun anymore; it has many pain points.

se.kumars@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 22, 2022 12:05:29 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/air-pocket/article65420819.ece