Fearful, frenetic, furious flyers

Mixed emotions amidst chaos on day 1 of domestic air travel resumption

Business

May 25, 2020

/ By / Mumbai

Total chaos, cancellations and delays greeted the few thousand flyers at Mumbai airport on Monday as domestic air travel resumed after two months.

From a distance, rarely has Terminal 2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai looked so calm and orderly at any given time of the day or night. There are barely a couple of hundred passengers waiting patiently to get inside the terminal building, while the airport security staff completes the arduous checks of passengers, their tickets, their mobile phone for the Aarogya Setu app and of course temperature monitoring before being allowed inside.

But go a bit closer and you discover that there is total chaos and confusion as some passengers squat beside the entrance gates since their flight has been cancelled and others are not sure if their flight will take off. A couple that has downloaded Aarogya Setu only on one telephone is arguing with the security personnel that as their PNR is the same, one Aarogya Setu should be enough. There are others who are starving and thirsty as the eateries outside the terminal are closed.

But above all, one emotion seems to be common amongst all. Apprehensions or even fear about catching Covid-19 due to the travel, even if everyone seems well prepared in terms of preventive measures such as masks, gloves, sanitisers as well as a face shield or even a PPE kit in the rare case. 

However, for most passengers, the immediate headache was lack of clarity about the status of their flight. ‘‘My flight was at 11:05 am with Air India and it got cancelled. I arrived at the airport at 8 am. When I reached the airport, I was informed that the flight had been cancelled. The airline did not inform us. I am not the only one facing this issue. There are I think hundreds who are facing the same issue. And now after almost eight hours of wait I get a boarding pass for a flight at 10 pm. It’s more than 12 hours of wait. We’ll reach Delhi at 12:15 but the curfew in Delhi starts at 7 pm. We don’t know if we would get any authorised taxis over there or not,’’ says Vaibhav Thakur, a final-year student at the Indian Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai.

Thakur says he was obliged to go back as he had been stuck in the city for over two months since the lockdown began. ‘‘I have tried to get back home for a long time. I tried the Shramik Special train but that had lots of paperwork involved and those trains were giving preference to the migrant labourers. So I decided to stay back as it was safe. Since the government has assured that flights are going to be safe, I have taken full precautions and I am ready to board the flight,’’ he tells Media India Group.

Just beside Thakur is another young traveller, Sunil Sharma, who works in a start-up in Mumbai but finds himself obliged to go back to his family in Gurgaon near New Delhi as he is running out of cash as his company has not paid him since the lockdown began. ‘‘I am not getting my salary for the past two months and I can’t pay my rent anymore. I am a little concerned about taking the flights as there are safety issues but still we have to take precautions and leave as there’s no money left with us anymore. I have downloaded the Aarogya Setu app and am carrying masks and sanitisers. But we don’t know how the app is going to help. If someone has a fever and they say that they don’t, the app won’t be able to detect it. But since they have made it mandatory to travel we don’t have any option,’’ says Sharma.

The fear of contracting the dreaded disease does seem to run through practically all travellers, who say they have little option but to fly despite the risk. ‘‘I have been stuck here for the past two months and now I am going back home. My Air India flight got rescheduled to 10 pm. It was supposed to be at 5 pm. I have done my homework to be able to catch the flight and have everything that is needed. I am a little scared but I am careful and am keeping my distance from people,’’ says Priya, a finance professional from New Delhi who had got stuck in Mumbai.

Not everyone taking the flight is worried about catching the illness due to the air travel, some are fleeing Mumbai as the number of cases in the megapolis keeps on rising sharply, making Mumbai the biggest catchment of Covid-19 in the country. Carrying an infant in her arms is Priyanka Sharma, who has been living in Mumbai since her marriage. ‘‘I am going to join my family in New Delhi, along with my husband and child, as we are worried about staying in Mumbai. The number of cases just keep on rising here and we don’t feel safe anymore living here. So, I prefer to go to my family and stay there till things become normal here. I am not worried about the risk of air travel as we have taken all precautions for ourselves and our baby,’’ she says.

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