Domestic flights resume today after ‘long day of hard negotiations’
Air travel across the country was set to resume on Monday, with all states finally agreeing to accept at least some flights but announcing varied quarantine and self-isolation rules for arriving passengers to address misgivings about infections being brought in from other cities.
Instead of following the national guidelines issued by the Union government for all departing and disembarking passengers, many of the states chose to set their own rules: Karnataka, for instance, requires mandatory institutional quarantine for passengers from worst-affected states, while Punjab and Meghalaya have made a swab test mandatory for arrivals.
Several states said passengers will be taken to a facility only if they show symptoms of fever or cough — in line with Union government guidelines released on Sunday — while several among them decided to additionally mandate or suggest self-isolation for either 14 or 28 days, even if a traveller is asymptomatic.
Some other states, such as Mizoram and Himachal Pradesh, said that only state residents will be allowed to enter the city from the airports.
The announcements came a day after three states — Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — requested the Union government to reconsider the decision to allow domestic flight operations to resume as it could lead to a spike in infections. On Sunday, the ministry held several discussions with these states and airline representatives.
“It has been a long day of hard negotiations with various state governments to recommence civil aviation operations in the country. Except Andhra Pradesh which will start on 26/5 and West Bengal on 28/5, domestic flights will recommence across the country from tomorrow,” civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said in a tweet on Sunday evening..
In the morning, he spoke to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray over video to convince the state to allow some flights to resume.
Shortly after, Thackeray, in a press conference, said: “I spoke to civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri today and told him that the Mumbai international airport needs more time to resume its operations. Till the time the airport plans and fine-tunes operations, aviation ministry should initiate minimum possible domestic flights from Maharashtra from May 25.”
On Sunday evening, the ministry announced that some 50 flights will operate from Mumbai. “It’s extremely ill-advised to reopen airports in red zone. Mere thermal scanning of passengers, inadequate without swabs. Impossible to have autos/cabs/buses ply in current circumstances. Adding positive passenger will add Covid stress to red zone. #MaharashtraGovtCares,” Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh said in a tweet before the two administrations came to an agreement.
Several discussions also took place between officials of other states, civil aviation ministry and airline representatives. The meetings covered the quarantine rules for flyers as well as standard operating procedures for airports, according to officials aware of the discussions.
“Negotiations were held with the state governments and they all came on board, as we also agreed to certain terms and conditions. A state like Maharashtra had genuine concerns as it has the most number of cases. We agreed to run fewer flights — only 25 will operate to Mumbai. West Bengal, too, had concerns due to the damage caused by cyclone Amphan and we agreed to delay flight operations,” said an official, asking not to be named.
Flights to and from West Bengal will resume on May 28. After initially seeking time till May 31, Tamil Nadu came on board with the Union government’s plan early on Sunday.
The Union health ministry separately released guidelines for travellers on domestic and international flights. In both types of flights, airlines have been advised not to board anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19. All passengers will need to wear masks while on board.
The federal guidelines lay down that anyone showing symptoms when they land will need to be taken to a facility for isolation where they will be assessed. Passengers will also be advised to download the Aarogya Setu mobile application.
“These guidelines are an extension of our earlier travel advisories with modifications made as per the current Covid-19 situation. Now that travel restrictions are being eased, it will be our aim to ensure disease transmission stays under check. These guidelines can be modified as per what the latest situation demands,” said a senior government official, who asked not to be identified.
The government is yet to allow international flights, but the SOPs for when they resume say that all passengers will need to go into a week-long quarantine at a facility for which they will need to pay.
According to PTI, Saujanya Shrivastava, chief operating officer - flights, MakeMyTrip and Goibibo, said: “With domestic flights taking off after 61 days of lockdown, there is an understandable apprehension amongst flyers. That said, we expect the situation to smoothen out as flyers gradually get attuned to the new safety protocols.”