Covid-19: Tight screening, no meals and garbed crew to mark new flights

NEW DELHI : Domestic airlines are gearing up for a complete overhaul with rigorous screening, crew donning masks and gloves and serving in emptier planes when flights resume amid covid.

Currently, all Indian airlines remain grounded due to an extension of the government-imposed lockdown. But the new normal that will require social distancing will trim down the warmth and hospitality of airline services.

For instance, interactions between business class passengers and cabin crew members, during a medium haul flight, will come down from about 14-15 interactions to about three to four interactions.

Passengers will be asked to report much earlier than the current norm of 60 minutes to 120 minutes. The amount of food served on board, and food choices, will also be reduced significantly.

“The idea is to have minimum interaction between passengers and cabin crew staff,” said an airline official, who requested anonymity.

Another senior official with a budget carrier said that airlines may be forced to pool flights if the number of passengers are low. In such a case, airlines may as lo lure passengers to fly through rolling discounts and low fares.

“For instance, if a Mumbai-Delhi flight has a 25% load factor, they may all be pooled into one flight,” the second airline official said requesting anonymity.

“It is economically unfeasible to fly only a third or fourth of the total capacity of an aircraft. Airlines are against this. So keeping middle seats empty will not work,” the official said, adding that the focus should rather be on stringent screening norms and providing protective gears.

India’s largest domestic airline IndiGo will gradually ramp up operations and discontinue on-board meal services for a brief period after resuming services, the airline’s chief executive Ronojoy Dutta said in an internal communication earlier this month.

In a mail to IndiGo employees, Dutta said the airline will “run its coaches (bus coaches that take passengers to aircraft from terminal) at a maximum load of 50% capacity”, adding that the airline is looking to change many operating procedures to minimize costs. “We will be coming out with the new set of operating procedures soon.”

Passengers should also brace for lengthier security checks, and minimal touch points of contact between passengers and airline crew, even in the terminal.

“The end-to-end travel time is expected to increase as flyers would need to report at the airport two to three hours prior to their flight’s departure. Check-in and security checks may take more time than usual with the implementation of social distancing practices,” a Vistara spokesperson said.

“We will promote points of non-human contact such as web check-in and airport self check-in kiosks, and this would be a right time to reinforce their usage to enhance efficiency,” the Vistara spokesperson added.

A SpiceJet spokesperson said that social distancing norms will be strictly implemented while boarding aircraft, inside the bus coaches that transfer passengers from terminal to aircraft.

Depending on the government order, we will take a call if we will have to keep certain seats empty inside the aircraft to maintain social distancing norms, the spokesperson added.

“Our well trained operating crews will be provided with masks and gloves to assist with any medical situation inflight including identification and isolation of anyone onboard who may feel unwell,” said an AirAsia India spokesperson.

“Social distancing will be observed with floor markers at queuing areas, including check-in counters and kiosks,” the spokesperson added.

Spokespersons of airlines like IndiGo, GoAir, and Air India didn’t offer comments.

However, a lot will depend on the guidelines set by the civil aviation ministry and aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) once the flight services are resumed.

“A lot of practices that are to be implemented will depend on the guidelines set by civil aviation ministry and the DGCA. At present, t government is yet to come out with one,” said the first airline official mentioned above.

“Finally, it will be a combination of measures taken by airlines, airports, and guidelines by government, which will be implemented once air travel is restored,” the person added.

When contacted, a DGCA spokesperson said that the government is yet to come out with guidelines.

“We still have some distance to go (before flight operation are resumed) ,” the spokesperson said.

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