Over 500 flights take off, but states create plane confusion at airports

Maharashtra clears air, says short-term visitors exempt from isolation


It was a day of delight and despair for passengers as domestic airlines resumed flights on Monday after two months of suspension. While more than 39,000 people flew on Day One, several hundred remained stranded due to last minute cancellations.

Even as airlines were supposed to operate 33 per cent of the approved summer schedule, they were forced to rework their itineraries late Sunday evening following many rounds of discussions between the Centre and states.

The original schedule turned upside down as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana, allowed operations with only limited number of flights.

Airlines operated 532 flights on Monday, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted. While commercial domestic operations were pegged at around 410 flights, Puri’s estimate perhaps includes Vande Bharat operation flights. Normally, 3,000 domestic flights operate daily.

Industry sources estimated the average passenger load on Monday at around 55 per cent, with IndiGo operating half the total flights.

For some flights, fewer than 10 passengers turned up. Alliance Air’s Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Dehradun flights flew with two and three passengers only, executives confirmed.

While flights from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Northeast states saw 100-plus passengers each, Bengaluru and Mumbai-bound flights from the Capital had lower number of passengers. Short-duration visitors, including business travellers, will not be required to undergo isolation in Maharashtra, the state said in its standard operating procedures for domestic air travel on Monday.

“Passengers who are coming to the state for less than a week and have planned for onward/return journey will have to share details of the same and will be exempted from isolation,” the government order said.

Among other states Karnataka is giving exemption from quarantine to businessmen visiting for urgent work. But this exemption would be granted on production of negative Covid-19 test report. Last-minute cancellations turned out to be a spoiler, adding to gloomy passenger sentiment over mandatory quarantine in some states.

“We had bookings for Dehradun, but we saw some cancellations last night. A few passengers reported at the Delhi airport and refused to fly after hearing of quarantine measures in Uttarakhand,” said C S Subbiah, CEO of Alliance Air. He said loads were higher on return flights to Delhi. Operational stability and safety were more important on day one and the numbers would increase gradually with passenger confidence, he said.

Similarly in Bengaluru, some passengers opted to return to the cities from where they had travelled after landing. They were not prepared to go through the quarantine process. “We had deployed staff outside terminal entrance to help passengers with all the formalities. Operations were smooth,” said Hari Marar, managing director of Bangalore International Airport Limited.

At Mumbai and Delhi airport, however, passengers complained of long queues. Passengers faced other hassles too. “Air India was the last airline to inform passengers regarding cancellation of their flights,” said Nishant Pitti, CEO of EaseMyTrip. In fact, many reached airports as Air India had texted customers much past midnight and had failed to make changes on their website.

Some of the cancelled flights were still showing confirmed, said Pitti.

SC: Be worried about health of citizens, not airlines
The Supreme Court on Monday allowed Air India to keep middle seats occupied on its flights to bring back stranded Indians up to June 6. It said the government “should be worried about the health of citizens, not the health of airlines”. PTI