Hundreds of people wearing face masks and gloves boarded early morning flights to their hometowns and workplaces from the Delhi airport on Monday as India resumed domestic services after two months, owing to the novel coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown.
Those who took first flights from the Indira Gandhi International Airport included paramilitary personnel, army men, students, and migrants, who failed to book a ticket on the special trains being run by the railways.
Many said they shelled out more to reach the airport as there were limited public transport options available.
With trains running full and inter-state buses remaining off the roads, Sandeep Singh, 19, spent Rs 5,500 to reach Delhi from Dehradun where he studies.
“I remained stuck in my PG (pay guest accommodation). Mummy and papa were worried. I am taking the first flight home,” he said.
Aamir Afzal, a mechanical engineer, who had come to Delhi on an official visit on May 23, was among those who took an early morning flight to reach Patna to celebrate Eid with family and friends.
“I had been staying in a hotel in Mahipalpur with my co-worker. The hotel charged us Rs 900 per day. We could not get a confirmed ticket on a train back home,” he said.
Due to the lesser number of trains, the tickets get sold out within 5-10 minutes. It is difficult for a person to book a ticket using a mobile phone, Afzal said.
Afzal’s friend Rahid Ali said he was happy he would be able to join his family in Bihar’s Begusarai district on Eid.
“But it will be a muted affair as so many homeless and hungry migrants who cannot afford to travel on train or flight are still stuck in various parts of the country. It doesn’t suit one to celebrate the festival in such circumstances,” he said.
Scheduled commercial passenger flights were suspended on March 25, when the Centre imposed a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
It was announced last Thursday that one-third of pre-lockdown domestic flights will operate from Monday. International scheduled commercial passenger flights remain suspended.
Delhi airport saw its first departure at 4.45 am to Pune while Mumbai airport”s first departure was at 6.45 am to Patna, according officials, who also said that the country will see around 600 services on Monday.
A few people travelled long distances only to find that their flights had been cancelled.
Naik Satish Kumar’s Kolkata-bound flight got cancelled as the state decided not to resume operations till May 28.
“I travelled all the way from Ambala (in Haryana) on a bus to take a 6 am flight to Kolkata. When I reached here, I got to know the flight had been cancelled. I am returning home now,” he said.
Excited to meet his two-year-old daughter, Santu Mandal, a resident of West Bengal’s Bardhaman district, reached the airport along with his brother, Nasiruddin Mandal, at 1 am, unaware that the flight to Kolkata had been cancelled.
The Mandal brothers, who are engaged in hand embroidery, spent Rs 12,000 to book the tickets “because we could not get a confirmed train ticket”.
It is the first time Sudhir Kumar will be on a plane. The army man posted in Punjab’s Bhatinda district says he never considered taking a flight home earlier as train travel was convenient and cheap.
But trains are full already, he said.
The airport staff wearing face shields and masks were seen asking passengers to follow social distancing norms.
A few travellers reached Terminal-3 wearing full personal protective gear.
Airline crew present at the terminal said the check-in process, printing of boarding pass, and frisking has been made contact-less.
Air hostesses were seen wearing protective gear, security officials at the entry gates wore face masks, face shields and gloves, while passengers maintained physical distance in queues.
The Union Health Ministry in its guidelines issued for domestic flights has advised airlines not to board anyone showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
All passengers are required to wear face masks and download Aarogya Setu application on their mobile phones.