KOLKATA: Airline companies with business operations in India are setting up their domestic flights for a complete overhaul. These remediations will include rigorous screenings and crews utilising protective personal equipment (PPE). Moreover, airlines are sparing no effort to ensure that the passengers’ flight experiences are as contact-free as possible.
India is currently going through a 40-day nationwide lockdown, from March 25, to curb the spread of COVID-19. Consequentially, Airlines had to suspend all flights that were set to depart in this duration. On Saturday, private-sector airline companies re-opened advanced bookings for flights departing from May 16. This new decision came after DGCA ban to book tickets for flights, starting May 4.
Now, industry insiders are saying that airlines are trimming down the warmth and hospitality that is usually expected in-flight, to align with social-distancing and hygiene norms.
For instance, during a medium haul flight, interactions between business class passengers and cabin crew members will drop down from about 14-15 interactions to about three to four interactions. Moreover, all passengers will be expected to report 120 minutes before flight, compared to the 60-minute norm, earlier. The meals served and in-flight snacks options will also be severely limited.
Senior airline officials claims that carriers may be be forced to pool-in flights, with low passenger count. If that’s the case, the airlines may have to lure in more passengers by offering discounts and price-cuts.
Although, analysts were expecting prices to increase by more 50% as a result of the extra precautions that might be taken. But, for instance, officials are now explaining, if a Mumbai-Delhi flight has a 25% load factor (passenger count), they may all be pooled into one flight. Unlike experts’ predictions, they are saying that it would be economically unfeasible to fly only a third or fourth of the total capacity of an aircraft. So, Airlines will be against keeping middle seats empty.
Earlier this month, IndiGo airline’s CEO Ronojoy Dutta stated that they will gradually ramp up operations and discontinue on-board meal services for a brief period after resuming services, in an internal communication.
In a mail to IndiGo employees, Dutta declared the airline will “run its coaches (bus coaches that take passengers to aircraft from terminal) at a maximum load of 50% capacity”, adding that the airline is looking to change many operating procedures to minimize costs. “We will be coming out with the new set of operating procedures soon,”he assured.
Airline passengers should also expect lengthier security checks aside from minimum contact between them and the crew, even in the terminals.
An Air Vistara spokesperson said, “The end-to-end travel time is expected to increase as flyers would need to report at the airport two to three hours prior to their flight’s departure. Check-in and security checks may take more time than usual with the implementation of social distancing practices.”
Furthermore, that spokesperson stated, “We will promote points of non-human contact such as web check-in and airport self check-in kiosks, and this would be a right time to reinforce their usage to enhance efficiency.”
A SpiceJet spokesperson said that social distancing norms will be strictly implemented while boarding aircraft, inside the bus coaches that transfer passengers from terminal to aircraft.
Depending on the government order, we will take a call if we will have to keep certain seats empty inside the aircraft to maintain social distancing norms, the spokesperson added.
In a separate press release, a spokesperson from AirAsia India stated, “Our well trained operating crews will be provided with masks and gloves to assist with any medical situation in-flight including identification and isolation of anyone onboard who may feel unwell.”
Additionally, the spokesperson said, “Social distancing will be observed with floor markers at queuing areas, including check-in counters and kiosks.”
Airlines like IndiGo, GoAir, and Air India did not respond to any calls, seeking comments, about this development.
However, a lot will depend on the guidelines set by the civil aviation ministry and aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) once the flight services are resumed.
Aforementioned senior officials said, “A lot of practices that are to be implemented will depend on the guidelines set by Civil Aviation Ministry and the DGCA.”
Upon contact, a DGCA spokesperson commented, “At present, the government is yet to come out with any directives….We still have some distance to go (before that).”