Cancellation of flights creates chaos at airports


New Delhi

India’s domestic flight services resumed on Monday after a gap of two months but a large number of last-minute cancellations by airlines triggered chaos leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

According to aviation industry sources, about 630 of an estimated 1,150 domestic flights for which bookings opened on May 22 were cancelled after some states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu allowed only limited operations or delayed reopening of their airports owing to a spike in coronavirus cases.

The Centre for its part said 532 flights carrying 39,231 passengers were operated on the first day of resumption of flights.

On Sunday night, it had announced a delay in resumption of air services in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal by up to 3 days and only limited operations at major airports such as Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.

Thousands of passengers reached airports since early in the morning on Monday only to be told by the staff of airlines that some of their flights have been cancelled causing hardship to them. Many people also took to social media to vent their anger. Gripped by anxiety and uncertainty, some came from faraway towns and were on the road for several hours wanting to catch the first flight to their respective states.

The varied COVID-19 quarantine and self-isolation rules in states and also the Union Health Ministry guidelines for arriving travellers also compounded their travel woes.

The airlines, which were allowed to operate one-third of their pre-lockdown domestic services from May 25, had to further truncate their flight schedules on Sunday leading to the cancellations. All carriers except GoAir operated their flights on Monday.

The flights were resumed on a day when India registered the biggest single-day spike of 6,977 new coronavirus cases.

Commercial flight operations have remained shut from March 25 owing to the nationwide lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic though special evacuation flights have been carried out in the last few weeks to bring back stranded Indians from abroad.

“From no domestic passenger flights yesterday, 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,” Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said, as India entered the last week of the thrice-extended 68-day lockdown that is due to end on May 31.

The first flight took off from Delhi for Pune at 4.45 am under strict regulations recommended by civil aviation authorities. The first flight from Mumbai was to Patna and it departed at 6.45 am. Both were operated by Indigo airlines. Delhi and Mumbai are the country’s two busiest airports.

People wore face masks and gloves as they boarded flights to their hometowns and workplaces from different airports in the country after following strict health protocols like thermal screening. Some also wore the full body personal protective equipment (PPE) suits.