Here’s what happened when India decided to fly after 62 days

Mumbai | New Delhi: As India’s skies opened, confusion ruled on the ground. Mostly, only those in dire need flew on Monday — like the five-year-old who flew from Delhi to Bengaluru alone to be reunited with his mother.Passengers, masked and gloved, often in hazmat suits, had to deal with technical glitches and sudden rule changes. Although about a fifth of the usual 2,500 daily flights were operational, boarding saw long queues as officials dealt with multiple instructions.All this, plus the difficulty of reaching the airport in cities like Mumbai, and the often impossible-to-understand city travel rules for passengers reaching some Southern cities.Social distancing wasn’t a problem, though. With flight numbers cut down from the original reopening plan, and many cancellations from passengers confused about rules, major airports were sparsely populated. Airport staff were in PPE suits, sanitisers and signs were abundant, and anyone who wanted could get masks, gloves and face shields at airports. Pritam Kumar Behera, a management trainee, took a Delhi-Bhubaneshwar flight, having paid double the fare he had paid for an 18 May flight that never happened. Assuming there will be chaos, he had reached Delhi airport at 11 am for a 4 pm flight. 75989425Many others were flying to take care of sick family members or escape increasingly dire financial situations in cities where they work. And some passengers were really angry.Airlines Kept Updating Websites“It requires skill to make such a mammoth mess of everything,” tweeted Ajay Kamath, an ophthalmologist. “First the lockdown, then migrant trains, now air travel. Absolute chaos at Mumbai and Delhi airports, each state announces its own guidelines… shambolic,” he added.But no less harried were airlines staff who were battling a blizzard of rules and updating their websites through Sunday night to try and keep passengers informed. Many digital and marketing teams across airlines were unable to produce a coherent set of guidelines from rules that were often shorn of logic.There was the additional complication for those flying to smaller cities. Many such passengers didn’t have the Aarogya Setu app or e-passes needed to gain entry into cities they were travelling to. Some didn’t even have smartphones. Result? Confusion, delays and serpentine queues.Technical glitches at airline websites were not uncommon. A journalist travelling from Delhi to Madurai couldn’t get himself web checked-in on the Air India Express website. The WhatsApp message he got from the airline to board was not accepted by security personnel. He flew finally with a paper boarding pass.But the new quarantine and entry rules imposed by states proved to be the biggest nightmare. Governments in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu require passengers to update their details on their state-run apps and get e-passes for travelling from the airport to their final destinations.Many of these e-passes require minute details like areas of the city the passenger will be travelling to. In some cases, like in Madurai, rules were changed overnight and quarantine was made mandatory.Airlines and airports had to step in to help passengers. For flyers without e-passes, officials obtained permissions for travel from destination airports. But only in some cases. More than a few ticket-holding passengers were turned away.And even if you had everything sorted, you still had to wait for health department officials tasked with thermal screening and signing forms — even with so few passengers, there were too few such officials. Time certainly didn’t fly for India’s first flyers during lockdown.

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