Trials for domestic flight operations were held at the airport on Wednesday
KOLKATA: The city airport will take baby steps to join the domestic aviation map with 10 flights — four to Delhi, three to Mumbai and one each to Bengaluru, Chennai and Dibrugarh — on Thursday. The schedule though is valid only for Thursday with airlines proposing direct flights to other cities and towns on Friday.
Though Kolkata airport has operated 50 special flights and nearly 300 freighters since Cyclone Amphan last Wednesday, domestic operations has remained suspended since March 24. These will be the first set of commercial flights to and from the city in two months. Another 10 flights will operate from Bagdogra.
“Everyone — passengers, airlines and the airport operator — are looking forward to resumption of flights. We are starting with only 10 flights but we expect to soon ramp up and have a third of the pre-lockdown flights back in Kolkata,” said Kolkata airport director Kaushik Bhattacharjee.
While IndiGo, which used to operate 120 out of 240 flights from the city prior to the lockdown, will operate five flights on Thursday, SpiceJet will operate two flights and Air India, AirAsia India and Vistara will operate one each. The first arrival will be from Delhi at 6.50am and the first departure will also be to Delhi at 7.15am. The last arrival of the day is from Dibrugarh at 4.05pm and the final departure at 5.55pm for Mumbai. While Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai are obvious destinations that airlines would want to link, Dibrugarh is a surprise choice for a direct link with many expecting a connection to Guwahati, Hyderabad or even Bagdogra closer home.
With so few flights on offer, airlines are deploying the largest planes in their fleet to ensure they can carry the maximum number of passengers.
Vistara has deploeyed the Dreamliner Boeing B737 that has 299 seats while IndiGo and SpiceJet are deploying the Airbus A321 with 222 seats and Boeiong B 737-900 with 212 seats.
“The restart of domestic flights has been fraught with uncertainty with last-minute changes in schedule owing to several states, including Bengal, Maharashtra and Telangana putting an embargo on the number of flights that can be operated to Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Once more flights are allowed, the schedules will become more predictable and less uncertain,” said an airline official.
Flying will also be a very different experience from Thursday with measures and curbs in place to ensure social distancing and hygiene norms and contactless travel to prevent spread of Covid-19. Everyone has to wear a mask and only those passengers who do not have fever or other Covid symptoms will be allowed into the terminal. Web check-in is mandatory with passengers required to produce printouts or soft copy of the boarding card at the entrance along with an ID card and the Aarogya Setu app to weed out people from containment zones.
Those who do not want to download the app will have to give a declaration that they have not had the novel coronavirus in the past two months and are not from a containment zone.
Though one cabin luggage will be allowed, inculding women’s handbag or laptop bag, airlines have advised passengers to travel with only one check-in luggage with wheels that will be decontaminated at the entrance. “Use of luggage trolleys is discouraged,” said an airline staff.
For arriving passengers, too, thermal screening will be done to check if anyone displays Covid symptoms. While asymtomatic passengers will be allowed to proceed, those who display symptoms will be taken to a Covid facility for swab test and evaluation.
“We are glad flights are starting and hope everyone soon adapts to the new normal though a degree of concern exists over lack of social distancing norms in flights,” said Travel Agents’ Federation of India chairman (east) Anil Punjabi.