How will air travel change in post-Coronavirus era
On Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Ministry came up with a draft standard operating procedure (SOP) for commercial flights, indicating that air operations could also start, in a calibrated manner, in the fourth phase of coronavirus-induced lockdown. Reportedly, cabin baggage won't be allowed and passengers will have to fill a detailed questionnaire revealing their travel history. Downloading the Aarogya Setu app will also be mandatory.
The Ministry said it sought suggestions from airlines and airports. "The suggestions have been received. The final SOP is yet to be issued," it said. To recall, domestic air services were suspended on March 25, when the first lockdown was announced. Meanwhile, the Centre took on a gigantic exercise to bring stranded Indians home, as part of Vande Bharat Mission, through air and sea.
A green signal on the Aarogya Setu app, web check-ins, screening at departure and arrivals, are some of the suggestions. Another proposal is to keep three rows of the aircraft vacant, to help an ill passenger. However, nothing was mentioned about leaving the middle seat vacant to practise social distancing. The Ministry is mulling having the same set of crew to prevent cross-contamination.
The SOP suggested ditching identity card checks at entry gates. According to the document, passengers should be made familiar with new procedures, especially about social distancing. They should also be told against touching surfaces. "Any passenger who has undergone quarantine in the last one month should be sent for security at the isolated security check unit only," the document read.
The Ministry proposed that passengers should reach the airport at least two hours before departure and take steps to minimize rush at gates. Passengers who are denied flying due to high temperature or age must be allowed to change the travel date, the SOP suggested. For this, airlines shouldn't charge a penalty, the Ministry emphasized.
Further, isolation zones should be set up in the terminal building and the airside for passengers showing COVID-19 symptoms. In case an airport doesn't have an APHO (Airport Health Organization) set-up, state governments must help. Airports are expected to put distancing markings and disinfect lifts, chairs in seating areas, food and beverages, and retail outlets frequently. Movable hand-wash carts and sanitizers must also be made available.
Separately, the government has also re-started 15 select passenger trains after nearly two months on May 12. Passengers were allowed to embark on the journey only after they showed no coronavirus symptoms. They were asked to arrive at departing stations 90 minutes in advance for screening. In these special Rajdhani trains, patrons neither got blankets/linen nor food. Housekeeping staff weren't deployed either.