Thermal scan on Vande Bharat flyers at Kolkata airport

KOLKATA: For the first time in over two months, both the domestic and international wings of Kolkata airport operated on Friday. The domestic wing handled 10 flights while the international wing handled two Vande Bharat flights for the Indians who had been stranded abroad and repatriated home.
Two repatriation flights arrived from Yangon in the afternoon and Colombo in the evening. The flight from Yangon, which arrived at Kolkata airport around 3.15pm, had 15 passengers on board, including an infant. The other flight from Colombo flew in around 7.32pm with 33 passengers, including an infant.
While the Yangon flight flew onward to Delhi with the remaining passengers, the Colombo flight first halted at Bhubaneswar before flying to Kolkata.
Earlier, two Vande Bharat flights had operated between Dhaka and India.
All passengers, including the infants, were quarantined in hotels for seven days, following which they will have to stay in home quarantine for another seven days, if they do not display any Covid-19 symptoms. At the domestic airport, there were 10 arrivals during the day and 11 departures. Yet, the number of passengers who flew in (1,786) was more than the one that flew out (1,447).



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An outbound domestic flyer undergoes thermal scanning at the airport on Thursday morning

KOLKATA: When the Alliance Air flight took off for Guwahati from Kolkata at 6.05am on Thursday, relief was palpable among passengers, airline staff and airport officials, all for different reasons.
People stranded away from home for over two months were finally glad to fly back to their families. Airlines employees in the city were glad to see operations resume after two months of uncertainty and tension when several colleagues and friends had either lost their jobs or were sent on leave without pay. Officials of the Airports Authority of India were relieved that Kolkata was back on the aviation map, albeit three days after rest of India.
Caught in the middle of an emergency following a monstrous cyclone that devastated the city, the state government had called for postponement of flight operations till Thursday and had asked the civil aviation ministry to schedule fewer flights initially so that it had time to prepare for issues like quarantine of suspects.
The fears weren’t unfounded. A passenger in his mid-40s travelling with his relatives to the city from Delhi was detected with fever and taken to the quarantine centre in New Town. If he or his family members test Covid-19 positive, those seated alongside as well as in the row in front and back will be alerted so that they can report at the onset of any Covid-like symptom. They have also been advised home quarantine for 14 days.
“One of the passengers who arrived from Delhi by an AirAsia flight had high temperature. He was asked to wait in an isolation chamber along with two relatives. They were given PPE kits and taken to the quarantine facility in an ambulance escorted by a police vehicle. After they exited, the isolation chamber was disinfected,” an airport official said.
On the first day of flight resumption, 1,745 passengers departed and 1,214 passengers arrived in the 11 flights that operated. In additional to the five IndiGo, two Spicejet and one Air India, AirAsia and Vistara flight, AI subsidiary Alliance Air also operated a flight to Dibrugarh on Thursday.
While passengers were looking forward to the restart of flights, there was confusion aplenty with some passengers arriving at the airport to discover that the flight had already taken off and others being told that their flight had been cancelled. Initially, airlines had opened bookings in over 80 flights that were to operate daily but had to later reduce the number of flights to 11.
Incoming passengers also admitted that flying had turned from a pleasurable experience to one that was anxiety-prone and claustrophobic with masks, face shields and gloves to protect themselves from the unknown Covid carrier. Many flyers also questioned the stress on social distancing in the terminal, even among family members, when passengers were made to sit shoulder-to-shoulder in flights with no vacant seats in between. That, airlines official said, was the new normal that flyers would have to get used to soon.



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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.



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Tapas Kundu with his wife and child in Tiruchirappalli

KOLKATA: Salt Lake resident Abhishek Pal spent most of Wednesday checking and rechecking his flight ticket status and packing his bag with baby carriers, jumpsuits and sets of diapers. Once he reaches Delhi on Thursday, it will be the first time he will see his twins. The babies had been born out of surrogacy at a Delhi clinic and have been staying there ever since. He has return tickets for the next day.
“I have been dying to meet my kids since they were born on April 2. But because of the lockdown, I got stuck here. I have tried to book tickets every time the sales opened, but they kept getting cancelled. Once the sales restarted, I booked tickets at the first go and now I have my fingers crossed. I will head to Delhi, take my kids and come back home the next day,” said Pal, who runs a publishing house on College Street.
Pal is among thousands in the city who had been away from their family during the lockdown and will be able to meet them on Thursday once domestic flights resume.
The family of deceased businessman Mahesh Agarwal, owner of the Haldiram brand (Prateek), have tickets booked for a morning flight from Delhi. Meena and Avni, wife and daughter of the deceased, were stuck in Singapore for nearly two months after Agarwal died of a liver disease there on April 3. The two had a harrowing time running to and from the Indian embassy, filling out requests and requisitions to fly back to Delhi earlier this month. They got themselves quarantined for seven days there. “Finally we managed to get ourselves on to the morning flight to Kolkata and will take the 6.05am Spicejet plane from Delhi. We are mentally exhausted,” Avni said from Delhi.
Equally excited to head back home is electronic engineer Tapas Kundu who had gone to meet his wife at Tiruchirappalli on March 21. He had been stuck there since then. “I am thankful that my wife and son are here, but my other family members are in Kolkata. I am coming back with my entire family and my wife will then head to Odisha where her parents stay,” said Kundu.
There are also the likes of Garia resident Arindam Ganguly, whose tickets have got cancelled again and they have no clue when they can return. “This is the third time my ticket has been cancelled and the airline has put that on credit shell. I had booked a ticket from Bengaluru on May 21 and had been trying to web check-in only to get a text message this morning that my flight to Kolkata has been cancelled. This is ridiculous,” said Ganguly who works as a project lead in a dairy company.
There are also many who are maintaining caution and are delaying their journey to ensure they do not get caught in the “quarantine tangle”. “Several of my clients who had initially booked tickets to Kolkata from various parts of the country have been cancelling their bookings for Thursday as they say they want to see how the airport deals with domestic passengers on the first day. Most are opting for tickets in the first week of next month,” said Anil Punjabi, a travel agent in Kolkata.



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