Coronavirus lockdown | 532 flights take off but over 50% seats go empty
39,000 passengers ferried; last minute cancellations leave many frustratedby Special Correspondent
Airlines ferried more than 39,000 passengers on 532 flights on Monday as domestic air travel was resumed after two months. But a large number of passengers were left stranded as airlines were forced to cancel half the flights they planned just hours before take-off due to poor co-ordination between the Centre and the States.
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Late on Sunday, airlines were told to curtail their operations after Maharashtra, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu, with some of the busiest airports in the country — Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai — restricted the number of flights that could be operated. Others like West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh postponed the re-opening of their airports until May 28 and May 26, respectively.
“From no domestic passenger flights yesterday to 532 flights & 39,231 passengers today, action has returned to Indian skies. With Andhra Pradesh set to resume operations from tomorrow & West Bengal from 28 May, these numbers are all set to increase further,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri tweeted on Monday.
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However, in a possible sign of reluctance among passengers to travel in the times of COVID-19, occupancy was sparse with just 25%- 50% seats filled. This has come as a surprise to airlines as it was felt that there might be pent-up demand for travel, especially from people stranded in different States.
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But many of those who did decide to fly despite the tough protocols and health guidelines were hard hit by last minute changes and cancellations. Airlines had their hands full reworking flight schedules and facing passenger ire over cancellations.
The travellers’ misery was compounded as airlines issued credit shells instead of refunding money for the flights cancelled.
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“I just received a message of cancellation of my flight which is from Mumbai to Dehradun (25-May-2020). Please process my full refund and don't offer credit shell to me,” tweeted Rajdeep Singh Negi to a private airline.
“My e-ticket has been cancelled as flights from Kolkata are not starting on 26. Please reschedule the flight on 28 with the same charges,” a passenger identifying himself as Amit requested another airline.
The number of flights on Day 1 were half of what the Ministry of Civil Aviation had sanctioned. While airlines were given the nod to restart upto 30% of regular flights, 532 flights are a mere 15% of pre-COVID-19 days of nearly 3,300 arrivals and departures.