Corona has changed the world as we knew earlier. The way we lived in our homes, studied in schools and colleges, worked in our offices and factories, went for shopping in markets, even the way we greeted and communicated with each other have all changed.
And no one knows how long this uncertain confused state of affairs that has taken a heavy toll on human lives, health, jobs, economy and peace of mind will continue.
Yet the world has not come to a stand still. It never will. A new Normal is emerging.
After phases of lockdown a series of unlock down are taking place.
Government of India has done commendable job in facilitating travel of Indian citizens and persons of indian origin through Vande Bharat flights under which as on 3 July 2020 some 5 lakh persons have returned to India. These flights started on 7 May 2020. Vande Bharat flights also take persons who are foreign nationals or Indian passport holders having resident permit of countries where Vande Bharat flights operate on the outbound flights.
A lot of things have changed in the ways we experienced air travel in pre Corona times. Who knows, may be some of such changes that airlines are currently adopting for serving passengers may continue even after the pandemic is over.
One thing we are sure that the pandemic and its after effects will last for long.
Let me share first hand experiences of a friend who recently travelled on Delhi- San Francisco Vande Bharat flight.
IGI Airport, Delhi
The usually crowded departure entrance was visibly less crowded primarily because of very few international flights scheduled at night. Despite that, a fair number of people had come to see off passengers, a totally avoidable activity under the present situation.
Carts for baggage were hard to find and ultimately located at one extremity of the building. There appeared to be no method of sanitizing them between users. No sanitizer dispensers were visible either. Almost everybody was wearing masks. However there was a tendency to get too close whilst in queues.
The security person checking at the entrance did not touch any of the documents i.e. Passport, ticket etc and scrutinized the same from behind a glass partition.
The baggage was passed through a UV machine.At the entrance, one form (in duplicate) of self declaration of health and one of indemnity to the airline were required to be filled and shown to a health inspector who checked your temperature and stamped them, confirming your fitness for journey.
There was hardly any rush at the checkin. Usual procedure was followed and the indemnity and one copy of self declaration were retained by Air India.Rush at immigration was also lesser. However there was considerable time taken per person as it appeared that a lot of info from the second copy of the self declaration form, which was also retained by immigration, was being fed into the system for record purposes.
Again whilst in queue, people tended to bunch up. It appears our natural tendency to keep pushing prevailed over the need to keep distance. As a society we have not adapted to the need to keep distance, as was also evident many times later, in the boarding area and the aircraft.
The security check was like as earlier, including frisking. The person frisking was in full PPE whereas all other workers right from the entrance were with masks only. All passengers were to stay a metre or more away from all these officials.
The shopping areas, including the Duty Free were almost deserted. In fact most were shut.The boarding area was less crowded and generally people were sitting a fair distance apart.
Before boarding, each passenger was given a visor, mask and sachets of sanitizer by Air India. Those in middle seats were given a gown with a hood, made of cellulose like material. A second security check of passengers and hand baggage was done in boarding area, as was the case with US bound flights even earlier.
The general boarding was done for rear rows first. However, passengers made a mess by crowding and appeals by duty personnel were hardly headed. This is a malaise, that we have to get rid of.
Onboard the Aircraft
The entire cabin crew was in full PPE throughout. All stowage including bin closing was done by passengers.All food including water for the 16 hours journey was kept on the seat in a plastic bag.
There was no entertainment system or in-cabin service. Additional water could be taken from the galley, self help.Almost the entire flight was full, obviously the required inter person distances were not maintainable.
Everybody was wearing masks and visors but no gloves. However it was uncomfortable to keep the nose covered all the time and there was a tendency to uncover the nose if not the mouth too. Long flights with full passenger load are potential hazards for infection, even if one asymptomatic person gets on board.Repeated announcements were made about precautions to be taken on board, as per DGCA directions.No cabin crew was summoned by anybody. In fact they avoided the passengers.
At San Francisco
They were on board for safety needs only.The toilets had sanitizer, soap and tissue paper.Some disinfectant was sprayed in the cabin a couple of times.Whilst awaiting disembarking, the crew could insist upon the people to stay seated till people in front moved out. However once allowed to get up, it was a mess again. It is very difficult to get the people to be disciplined.
Everything was smooth. Interestingly, most workers were not wearing masks. Arriving from India, this was hard to comprehend. There was due emphasis on distances whilst in queue at immigration. There were markings on ground. The airport was less crowded than usual.We took a Uber ride home and are under self quarantine in one part of the home. There was no official direction of any kind to quarantine. A message from AT&T said that you should watch your health for 14 days as per advice from CDC. The attitude in general in the US is very relaxed, strangely. Even on the street the kids don’t don masks. In fact it is rare to see people wearing masks outdoors like during walks. People seem to wear masks only when going for shopping or work. Most people are working from home till September.