Two months after it shut down and a week after it was ravaged by Cyclone Amphan, the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport reopened in Kolkata today with flights scaled down to just 11 arrivals and 11 departures instead of the usual 150.
For incoming and outgoing passengers, a huge relief, much bigger than the fear of exposure to the virus. And most passengers gave the new protocol for protection against coronavirus at the airport and on the flights a thumbs up.
Visually, the most startling change was the number of airlines personnel wearing full personal protection equipment while passengers were not only gloved and masked, they had all been given face shields by the airlines.
A couple in their 70s returned from Mumbai in the afternoon along with their son and daughter-in-law. Mrs Rao is a cancer patient and Mr Rao a patient of gout. Her treatment was completed. His was not as patients were being discouraged from coming to hospitals for non-emergencies. So the family took the first opportunity for fly back home.
"There was no problem travelling, except that we had to wear all this equipment," Mr Rao sat on a wheelchair at an exit waiting for a car to pick them all up. "Everything went smoothly."
Dolly Singh, who works in the entertainment sector, gave the Airports Authority of India full marks. "They have done a lot to ensure contact free, touch free travel and I will say I came away from both Mumbai and Kolkata airports that if I do contract COVID-19, it will not be because i took this flight," she said.
A father and daughter, both heavily masked, were spotted taking a selfie. "I am happy my daughter is back after two months of lockdown," Arun Bhattacharya said. Daughter Ahana is a student in Pune and had not be able to come home before the lockdown though her college declared a holiday. She said, "it is good to be back."
While it was reunion for some, for others it was a major financial relief. Shamsher Mondal of Nadia district is a cancer patient. He completed his treatment on March 26. But by then, the lockdown had started and he and his wife were stuck in a guest house and were almost running out of money when the flight to Kolkata was announced.
"Its a huge relief to be back. As someone who has suffered because of the lockdown, I can tell you people stranded away from home are in great difficulty. The government must help to get them back," he said. And the fear of the virus spreading? "We have to be responsible and careful," Mr Mondal said. "The virus is our new reality. We have to learn to live with it."