India resumes flight services, but passengers harried
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI, MAY 25 (IANS): After some initial hiccups, India on Monday resumed domestic passenger flight services, exactly two months after these operations were suspended due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Barring just Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, domestic flight services resumed across most states in the country, although with limited operations.
Marking the occasion, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri shared a live image of India's airspace with flight movements on Twitter.
In the tweet, Puri said: "Indians soar in the skies again! A beautiful live capture from #flightradar24 shows how our skies look busy again as domestic civil aviation recommences in India from today." Industry insiders pointed out that majority of bookings were for flights between metro cities, due to the "pent-up demand".
Furthermore, airlines reported healthy load factors and expected passenger count levels.
An AI spokesperson told IANS: "Our experience of operating numerous evacuation flights since January 31 along with repatriation services for foreigners and now Vande Bharat ferry operations gives us a unique experience in operating domestic flight services during the new normal of Covid-19." "We are the only airline with such a huge experience in handling flight operations during this pandemic." Airline major IndiGo said it plans on flying more than 200 daily flights until May 31, 2020.
"Our schedule also takes in to account that some stations could only be opened at a later stage due to certain constraints imposed by different airports and states," the airline said, "IndiGo's flight operations will support more than 20,000 passengers to be home by tonight." On its part, SpiceJet said that apart from servicing major routes, it has also operated 20 UDAN flights on Monday.
"This indeed is a new beginning in the lives of everyone associated with airlines, including passengers who have been eagerly waiting to return home," said Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, SpiceJet.
However, the resumption did face some initial hiccups as passengers were se en harried across airports, including the national capital's Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) after many domestic flights were cancelled due to the limit on arrivals and departures by state governments.
On the first day of resumption of domestic passenger flight services, the IGIA witnessed over 80 flight cancellations.
According to industry insiders, the IGIA is slated to handle 118 arrival and 125 departure flights on Monday.
Similarly, Mumbai's CSMIA will be handling 24 arrivals and 23 departures. It was scheduled to handle over 100 flights, but the Maharashtra government on Sunday capped this to 25 each.
IANS had on Saturday and Sunday reported that new flight acceptance and quarantine norms could lead to cancellations on the intra-metro routes.
"The problem for passengers began with states rolling out their separate guidelines on operationality of airports and post-travel quarantine. With only a fraction of flights allowed to operate from some of the busiest airports, cancellations spiked leaving travellers uncertain about their travel," Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of EaseMyTrip.com, told IANS.
"Some airlines informed passengers at the last moment about the flight cancellation. Many passengers had reached airports as SMSes were received only after midnight. Also, these airlines failed to make changes on their website and even the cancelled flights were being shown as confirmed." A day before, several states moved to limit air operations.
Even airline executives were left in lurch as state after state came out with new norms for flight operations, thereby, distorting their network planning.
Consequently, passengers who had booked tickets rushed to cancel them.
Another confusion was over the quarantine norms, which many states said they would enforce on air travellers.
To calm nervous passengers, the Central government had said on Sunday, all states but for two (Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal) were open to accepting domestic flights.
The Centre has allowed limited passenger flights -- about one-third of the summer schedule -- to operate between metros and other destinations from May 25.
Passenger air services were suspended on March 25 due to the nationwide lockdown to check the Covid-19 spread.