India extended lockdown till May 3, 2020 as a continued measure to flatten the COVID19 curve which has been upward to this day. Hence, all domestic and international passenger flight operations will remain suspended until further notice. India, where 171 million people travel on domestic flights a year and the busiest Delhi IGI airport handles over 1300 commercial flights daily, needs a highly viable plan for its airports and airlines to resume operations post the COVID19 lockdown, with passenger safety being the sole focus of preparedness.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) that helms the security of all commercial airports in India has already submitted a new protocol to the civil aviation ministry, seeking to ensure safe resumption of air travel across the country post lockdown.
CISF’s new set of rules to be followed at airports includes installation of “sanitizing tunnels” at all entry points of airports for both passengers and aviation staff. Defence Research and Development Organization is required to build “sanitizing tunnels” in compliance with the standards of India’s civil aviation infrastructure.
In the plan submitted to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, CISF has proposed dos and don’ts to be followed by airlines post lockdown in India. A slew of onboard measures for airlines include no overbooking of flights and no in-flight meal service immediately after the travel restrictions are lifted. Co-owned by the wealthiest Indian American Rakesh Gangwal, IndiGo with a 47.5% share of India’s domestic travel market has announced to resume operations at a slow pace and half-filled planes post lockdown.
Reportedly, Air India flights will be operated with a vacant seat between every two travelers on board, in compliance with the in-flight social distancing norms that Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) mandated just before the lockdown.
CISF’s flight resumption plan requires airlines to prepare a questionnaire for passengers to furnish with details of their home-quarantine or isolation history in the past 30 days. Those with quarantine/isolation history will be screened at dedicated security checkpoints at airports. Installation of separate baggage x-ray machines and frisking booths at airports is also proposed in the protocol that CISF has submitted to DGCA.
CISF does also require airlines to increase passengers’ reporting time up to 120 minutes before the scheduled flight. It will help them maintain social distancing when they go though the check-in, screening and immigration processes (in case of international travel) at major airports. Travelers should be prepared for delays in the boarding process once airlines resume operations post lockdown in India. Alternate check-in counters will open with vivid markings of social distancing.
In-flight attendants will give sanitizer to all passengers on board, according to CISF’s flight resumption plan. There are instructions for airport operators to deploy dedicated personnel with thermometers for temperature reading of passengers and aviation staff at all entry points. People traveling by air post lockdown in India may be required to wear masks and gloves right from entry to the departure airport till exit from the arrival airport.