Mumbai: Chaotic scenes at airport on Day 1 as flights are cancelled without notice


Mumbai: Chaos reigned at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport on Monday, when its doors were opened to flyers exactly two months after the suspension of all passenger flights in the wake of the nationwide lockdown. Many passengers were seen waiting, ostensibly to enter the premises or pondering their next course of action on learning that their scheduled flights were cancelled.

Several others complained about not being notified about cancellations in advance. Extra-anxious passengers had reached the airport on Sunday night itself, to ensure they did not miss their flight and to also complete the necessary formalities well on time. Social distancing at the departure gates of the airport went for a toss, as there were no floor markings to indicate safe distances, but only inside the airport, right from the entry to the terminal. While hundreds stood at the departure gates either waiting or confused about their flight status, the queue to enter the terminal gates was slow-moving, what with the thermal screening and vetting of whether each passenger had downloaded the Aarogya Setu app on their mobiles and submitted a selfdeclaration form on arrival at the airport.

The declaration stated they were not from any containment zone, not suffering from any fever or cough and respiratory distress and neither had they tested Covid-19 positive in the last two months. Some passengers were agitated over last-minute changes while some had to spend time downloading the Aarogya Setu app before boarding, as mandated by the Union Health ministry in its guidelines issued on Sunday. Others faced problems with web check-ins, so there were huge queues For many others, it was a struggle to reach the airport in the first place, as there was no public transport available and it was the same story for arrivals who struggled to leave the airport.

While some had prior transport arrangements, others had to wait for more than four or five hours, as they contacted family or friends to help them out. Minister of Minority Affairs Nawab Malik admitted there was confusion among the passengers about to and fro conveyance at the airport in the absence of public transport. ‘‘However, passengers can reach the airport or later leave for their residence in their vehicles after showing an e-ticket or boarding pass,’’ he told The Free Press Journal. Forty-seven flights were operated on Day 1, with seven airlines catering to 14 sectors. In all, 4,852 passengers passed through its gates, with 3,752 departures and 1,100 arrivals. The highest passenger load capacity was on the Mumbai-Delhi route on Monday. A senior official from the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) informed, budget carrier IndiGo was the first to get off the mark, with the departure of its flight to Patna at 6.45 am and the arrival of its first flight from Lucknow at 8.20 am.

On Sunday, Mumbai airport authorities had announced it would restart operations with 50 flights per day to begin with - 25 arrivals and 25 departures. A 35-year-old Delhi woman, Preeti Bajwa, waiting to board a flight from Mumbai at 11.05 am, was dismayed to learn her flight was cancelled but was ready to continue waiting another eight hours with her 7-year-old daughter, as the airlines hoped to accommodate mother and child on a later flight. "There has been complete chaos at the airport as neither did we get any notification of our flight being cancelled, nor is the airline helpline number of any use, as they are equally clueless about the situation. When I enquired about my flight status, the helpline executive said it was on schedule, while the flight was cancelled at the airport," said Bajwa.

Another irate passenger, whose flight to Bengaluru was cancelled, complained about the severe mismanagement by airport and state government authorities, "Firstly, it took me four hours to find transport to get to the airport but that was the least of it. On reaching the airport, I learnt that my flight was cancelled and all my efforts had been in vain. Now, I am not sure how I am going to return to my parents' home in Bhayandar from the airport." According to a MakeMy Trip spokesperson, the lack of clarity and confusion at the state-level on restrictions and quarantine guidelines have resulted in a significant increase in customer queries on its platform over the last three days.

‘’The last-minute updates from the states about travel restrictions has left many flyers anxious, with most inquiries being about rebooking options, cancellation and refund policies of respective airlines. Travellers have also been enquiring about airport guidelines, flight schedules, terminal information and even the check-in process, among others, as they return to airports after 61 days of lockdown,’’ the spokesperson said.