Travel Photograph:( Others )
This is how flying domestic feels like in the times of coronavirus
With boarding pass in one hand and identification proof in the other, dozens of passengers flocked to the domestic airports to board flights to go back to their hometown.
Reaching the airport was a task in itself, as Chennai has not allowed cab services to function. Little did they know that they will reach the airport only to be told that the flight has been cancelled at the last minute.
The morning at Chennai domestic airport started with angry customers at Air India's window. Dozens of people, few who had travelled hours to reach the airport, were told to take a refund and go back home as the Civil Aviation Ministry cancelled few Air India flights at the last minute. When the angry crowd protested against it, the tickets were finally rescheduled for a later flight.
Absence of crowd
The Chennai domestic airport saw only 30 per cent of the usual rush, as few selected flights were allowed to take off and land. Passengers, including students and elderly, travelled from far off places.
Before entering, every passenger is asked to show the 'you are safe' badge on the Aarogya Setu app. The airport authority makes sure that passengers maintain the decided social distance before entering.
To enter the airport, after checking the Aarogya Setu App, the passengers are required to show the e-boarding pass and identification proof to the personnel standing behind a glass sheet. This is the first place where the passengers are asked to remove their masks for facial recognition.
Then, the luggage is checked in and boarding passes are issued, all while maintaining social distance.
The passengers are then asked to head to the security check, where once again personnel behind a glass wall ask to show the boarding pass along with an uncovered face in the camera.
This is the point where all passengers expect to go through the much talked about thermal screening.
As the electronic gadgets go in the tray, and one steps into the security check booth, the passengers realize that there was no specific change and no identified thermal screening happening (although few cameras installed might be helping to screen the passengers). It was one policewoman doing the regular security check, but while wearing a face shield that resembles a bee-keepers face shield.
A self-declaration form was also signed by and collected from the passengers, through which the passengers declare that they are ready to cooperate with the authorities if an unfortunate situation takes place.
A long wait
Since the passengers are urged to report 3-4 hours before the departure time, they had to wait for a long time in the waiting lounge. The waiting area's shopping area is functional. However, the food services are limited to liquids (barring alcohol) and packaged goods such as chips, chocolates and cup noodles.
The executives running the shops told WION, "Before entering the airport premises, they check our fever. If they suspect anything wrong, they don't allow us to enter. It is risky for us personally, but this is my job and I have to do it."
"The sales are obviously less, but it is better than zero sales," he said while talking about the downfall in business.
The waiting area is marked with social distancing marks, i.e. on a chair set of three, one middle seat had to be left unoccupied. All passengers waiting have to compulsorily wear facemasks and avoid all physical contact.
If this is the new normal, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) will have to face financial blunt for the next few months.
For boarding the flight, the passengers are asked to queue in small groups, depending on seat numbers. The ground staff, equipped with face masks and gloves only, stands behind a small glass screen and checks the boarding pass from behind the wall and hands over a care package to all passengers which consists of a face mask, a face shield and five sachets of hand sanitizer. All passengers are told to discard their old face masks and only wear the ones provided by the airlines. The face shields are compulsory from this point forward.
The passengers then go through one more temperature check, and are then greeted in the aircraft by flight attendants, who are dressed in PPE suits.
That, surprisingly, was the end of the much talked and much-hyped strict health check-ups.
On landing, passengers are allowed to deboard in small groups. With no change in baggage claim, passengers are allowed to exit the airport through a specific gate which is manned by personnel keeping an eye on a camera-monitor screen.
And that is how flying domestic feels like in the new normal.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)