Flyers, airlines grapple with new rules; glitches and lack of transport on day 1 of flights resumption
India’s busiest airports in Mumbai and Delhi have cancelled close to 200 flights since last night.by Anirban Chowdhury, Mihir Mishra
NEW DELHI: India’s stricken aviation industry on Monday overcame last-minute government flip-flops and mass cancellations to successfully ferry a disparate group of passengers including adults, teenagers and even a young kid who travelled alone to their destinations on the first full day of normal flight operations after a two-month shutdown. But the day was also marked by uncertainty and chaos at airports as airlines, acting on last-minute instructions from the government, cancelled nearly half the flights that were supposed to depart leaving many irate passengers in the lurch.
Airports resembled hospital wards as passengers and air crew donned full face masks and other protective gear with the Covid-19 scare continuing to paralyse most parts of the country and its economy. India’s airlines flew only 532 flights and 39,231 passengers on Monday, which is over half of 830 flights approved by the government last week and a fifth of about 2,500 daily flights before the shutdown in March.
Indigo alone operated about 240 flights on Monday. Airlines said the operations were handled well considering the short span of time the government gave them to restart flights.
“Operations appear to have been handled well by airports and airlines, no thanks to the government that only created confusion and obstacles,” said an airlines executive on condition of anonymity.
In a change of stance late on Sunday, the government slashed the number of flights airlines can operate following objections by various states. This forced airlines to cancel about 410 flights with a few hours remaining for operations to resume. Many passengers got SMSes and emails after midnight and early on Monday morning while some others were informed only at the airport.
Airlines said the government gave them less than 12 hours to re-plan the schedule, which was badly affected by the cancellations. For instance, Mumbai departures were slashed by more than a fourth to 25 while close to 112 departures from Delhi were cancelled. Mumbai and Delhi, India's busiest airports, together cancelled more than 200 flights.
Airline sources said the number of flights may not increase substantially on Tuesday though airports in Andhra Pradesh will be connected. But they expect the inconvenience to reduce a little as passengers who could not fly on Monday due to cancellations may be accommodated.
“Some passengers will be adjusted tomorrow (Tuesday). We are working on it. The inconvenience to passengers are not because of us and there are a lot of other factors responsible,” said an airline executive who did not want to be identified. Passengers who flew on Tuesday were mostly those faced with some sort of emergency and had to book tickets at high prices. Neeraj Paseeja, a financial consultant working in Bangalore, flew home to Delhi to take care of his ailing father who is now on ventilator support.
“I had to take this flight because my father is on ventilator…I would have not taken a flight otherwise. I had to pay high fares as the bookings opened with the highest fare bracket,” he said. Nikhil Kumar, who flew with his two cousins from Delhi to their hometown Patna, also complained of high fares. Travel agents pointed to the lack of clarity.
“The confusion over state-level restrictions and quarantine guidelines have resulted in a significant increase in customer queries on our platform, over the last three days,” said MakeMyTrip, India’s largest online travel agency.
“The last-minute updates from states about travel restrictions has left many flyers anxious with most enquiries coming to us around rebooking options, cancellation and refund policies of respective airlines. Travellers have also been enquiring about airport guidelines, flight schedules, terminal information and web checkin process among others, as they return to airports after 61 days of lockdown.”
“The problem for passengers began with individual states rolling out their guidelines relating to the operationality of airports and post-travel quarantine rules that left fliers high and dry,” said Nishant Pitti, co-founder of EaseMyTrip.com. “With only a fraction of flights allowed to operate from some of the busiest airports, there was a spike in cancellations with majority of the fliers left uncertain of their travel,” he added.