Coronavirus Lockdown: Passengers on flights were seen wearing face shields.
Air travel resumed across India this morning, two months after the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bringing relief to the aviation sector that was on the brink of collapse. Hundreds of people reached airports to take early morning flights to their hometowns and workplaces. However, there was chaos and confusion at several airports, including Delhi and Mumbai, as a large number of flights were cancelled on Day One. 82 flights to and from Delhi were cancelled, with angry passengers at Terminal 3 of Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport claiming that they were not informed till the last minute. While the passengers wore face shields and masks inside flights, it was a novel sight for fliers to see crew members protective gowns, masks and face shields welcoming them inside the planes. The flights resumed after the details were finalised on Sunday after what Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said was "a long day of hard negotiations" with various state governments, which were not on board with the idea. With the number of coronavirus cases crossing 1.3 lakh, the government announced a series of do's and don'ts that would begin with social distancing at the airport and no-contact check in. Various states, however, are insisting on varying degrees of quarantine creating huge confusion among travellers. The aviation minister has indicated that international flights could begin in June.
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Those who took first flights included paramilitary personnel, army men, students and migrants. The first domestic flight took off from New Delhi for Pune at 4:45 AM. A Patna-bound flight was the first to take off from Mumbai at 6:45 AM. The first arrival at the Delhi airport was scheduled for 7:45 am. The centre has not insisted on any quarantine either, with Mr Puri saying it would not be necessary in "short-haul" flights.
The government has asked all passengers to download the Aarogya Setu application on their mobile devices and states to ensure thermal screening. Passengers have also been asked to reach the airport two hours before departure and maintain social distancing.
The pricing of air tickets have been fixed in seven bands between Rs 2,000 and Rs 18,600 for the next three months, depending on flight duration. The plan to keep the middle seat vacant -- in keeping with the idea of social distancing -- was dropped to cap the ticket prices.
Maharashtra, which was among the states that sought time in view of its huge number of coronavirus cases - the highest in the country -- said at the last minute that it would operate 25 flight take-offs from Mumbai and 25 landings in the city. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray earlier said the state would need more time to prepare for flight operations.
Hours before the passenger service started, two customs officers tested positive for coronavirus at the Mumbai airport. Mumbai has 20,000 of Maharashtra's 50,000 cases of coronavirus.
Several states, including BJP-ruled Assam and Uttar Pradesh, have said quarantine will be mandatory. Uttar Pradesh said people flying into the state will be put in home quarantine for 14 days unless they are staying for less than a week or if they have already cleared the coronavirus test earlier.
Other states plan to have varying degrees of quarantine. Chhattisgarh will insist on 14-day institutional quarantine. Punjab, Kerala, West Bengal will have 14 days' home quarantine for all passengers. Karnataka and Assam will divide the 14-day quarantine period between home and institutional quarantine. Jammu and Kashmir and Goa will test all incoming passengers. Mizoram will have coronavirus test and 14-day quarantine for passengers.
Andhra Pradesh and Bengal had sought more time before allowing passenger service. Bengal, battered by the cyclone Amphan, had asked for more time. Northeast India too witnessed a disruption of flights, with flights arriving only in Assam's Guwahati and Manipur's Imphal airports. All flight to Agartala, Dibrugarh, Silchar, Aizawl and Dimapur were cancelled because the Kolkata airport is not functional yet, sources in the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said.
Tamil Nadu has agreed to allow only 25 flights to land in Chennai daily with several conditions for incoming passengers after pushing the Civil Aviation Ministry hard to defer resumption of flights in a calibrated manner till 31, citing rising COVID-19 cases in Chennai.
Today, the country registered the biggest single-day jump in the number of coronavirus cases for the fourth straight day as 6,977 new patients were reported in the last 24 hours. The total is now 1,38,845 cases, including 4,021 deaths which have been linked to the highly infectious virus.