Mandatory masks, no in-flight meals, restricted lavatory use: Delhi airport to reopen with all new rules

Mandatory face masks for all travellers and crew, no queues for security clearance, restricted use of in-flight lavatories and a stop on all in-flight meals — Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) may soon resume flight operations but with strict restrictions and curbs in place.

Senior officials said the new rules, which have been recommended by stakeholders to the Union aviation ministry recently, may mean that it would take a little longer than usual for flyers to get through security checks.

It has been a month since India suspended all domestic flights on March 25, the first day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, which was later extended till May 3. On March 22, the international flights to and from India had been suspended.

But expecting to resume operations after May 3, the Delhi airport operator, various airlines and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which handles airport security, came together to formalise a plan on how to handle hundreds of passengers once the airport reopens, while at the same time ensuring social distancing and high standards of sanitation to keep the Covid-19 infection from spreading.

An officer from the CISF, who did not wish to be named, said it is being planned that the moment a passenger arrives at the terminal, she will be screened for body temperature. “Only those with no symptoms of flu will be allowed into the terminal building. Those without face masks will also be denied entry,” the officer said.

The CISF officer said it is planned that once the passenger arrives for security clearance, there will be no queuing up. “The passengers will be divided into batches with the help of the airline staff and there will be seating arrangements in the check-in area. The seats will be adequately separated from each other to ensure social distancing. Instead of queuing up, passengers will remain seated until they are called for security check. As planned, our men will carry out touch-free frisking using metal detectors and a safe distance will be maintained from the passenger at all times,” the officer said.

To make this possible, Delhi airport operator, DIAL, said additional seating arrangements will be made the in check-in area and markers will be put on alternate chairs to maintain a gap between passengers.

The CISF officer added that the temperature screening at the terminal entry and the newly introduced “sit-&-wait” rule in the security hold area (SHA) may cause a delay of five to seven minutes per passenger and therefore all passengers will need to reach the terminal well in advance and cooperate with the CISF and airport staff.

A CISF spokesperson said the recommendations have been sent to the ministry of civil aviation to lay down the formal guidelines.

But these measures aren’t all that a passenger would need to get used to. GoAir said all in-flight sales of meals and beverages will remain suspended until further notice. “There will be no meals or snack service available during the flight to minimize interaction between passengers and crew, and only water will be provided. In-flight announcements will be made to minimize use of lavatories, and to avoid any non-essential movement in the aisle,” an airline spokesperson said.

Passengers will be encouraged to print their boarding passes at home to minimise interactions at the airport, GoAir said.

Meanwhile, IndiGo said it will only begin domestic operations and international routes would be opened gradually. “We will be discontinuing on-board meal services and on-board duty-free sales. To maintain social distancing, the capacity of airport buses has been reduced to 50% and boarding will be allowed in a staggered manner,” the airline spokesperson said.

However, one crucial aspect that neither airline nor the aviation authority mentioned was about maintaining social distancing on-board the flights, which normally have congested seating arrangements. When asked about this, the airlines said there was no clarity on the seating arrangements on board the flights yet. They said the the ministry will take a call on that.

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