KOLKATA: On a day flight count at the Kolkata airport increased by almost seven times, queues to enter and leave the airport reduced significantly cutting down congestion at the entryexit gates on Monday. While the queues at the airport’s arrival gate reduced with CISF officials shifting to manual check of boarding pass and other documents from behind glass enclosures instead of checking it via a camera and monitor that had been extremely time consuming, passenger snarls at the exit gate were cut down with deployment of more medical staff, conducting thermal check on passengers with more number of thermal guns.
While the airport handled 11 flights each on Thursday and Friday and 13 and 15 flights on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, the number increased to 75 from Monday. It is expected to increase more with every passing day.

“As per the changed protocol, a camera had been installed before the glass walls at entrance where the passengers needed to display their documents that were checked by CISF personnel on a monitor inside glass chamber. Several passengers faced difficulty in displaying the documents properly before the camera which was causing unwanted delay. On Monday, passengers were asked to show documents at the glass wall or before a magnifying glass fixed to the glass wall whenever there was a snarl,” said an official.
He added that the move helped them cut down verification time at the gate from a minute to around 15 seconds per passenger.
Another trouble point that had been evident at the airport last week was congestion at the exit point where only one person was present to check the body temperature of a flyer arriving in Kolkata. Even when there were multiple health staff were present, they could not work in tandem as the thermal scanners ran out of battery by afternoon. This resulted in massive queue of passengers at the departure area.
“From Monday, additional health department staff have been deployed and 14 new thermal guns have been given to them. This helped in checking congestion at the departure end,” said the official.
On Monday evening, when passenger pressure reached its peak, the authorities also opened all exit gates, for the first time since the airport resumed service last week.
Beadon Street residents Shyamsundar Mondal and his family had also reached the airport well in advance. “I was tensed but the operations were smooth at the airport. Social distancing protocols were also maintained,” said Mondal.
Meanwhile, a Vande Bharat flight brought home 165 passengers from Dhaka on Monday.



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KOLKATA: The civil aviation regulator has released a provision schedule for a whopping 93 fights out of Kolkata on Monday, the first day of domestic flights resuming operations after they were grounded on March 24 to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. Those stranded outside the city, and those from outside stuck in Kolkata, have been waiting for an opportunity to return home. But an initial lukewarm response to the flights, primarily due to concerns over Covid, has led to apprehensions that several flights may ultimately be either clubbed or cancelled.
Kolkata airport authorities, as well as members of the travel trade community, had expected to restart operations with 30-40 flights out of the city and a steady ramp up thereafter. But the provision list of 93 flights issued by Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has taken everyone by surprise. Though travel agents in the city said they were glad to be back in business and have customers actually pay for tickets rather than just demand refund, they were also apprehensive that too many flights had been announced at a time when demand was based only on emergency travel.

“The response to opening of ticket sales has been lukewarm. Only those with emergency requirement will travel. People are still wary of Covid-19 and reluctant to fly. Most companies have made online meetings a norm and corporate travel has reduced,” said Gainwell Travels MD Manoj Saraf.
Anil Punjabi, managing director of AR-ES Travels and chairman of the eastern region chapter of Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI), said the government decision to not keep the middle seat empty could also have spooked some. “An American citizen who has to fly to Delhi and then take a Vande Bharat flight next week was initially keen on taking the flight. But after learning that passengers would sit shoulder to shoulder, he wants to do the journey by car. That will cost him Rs 40,000-Rs 50,000, four-five times the flight fare,” he said.
An official at the airport said the final list to be released on Saturday will probably have fewer flights. But if it is unchanged, an airline official said flights may be clubbed together or cancelled if the passenger count remained low. That, travel agents said, could be another concern as the airline would take recourse to providing a credit note to passengers instead of refunding the amount.
Of the 93 flights, IndiGo has 37, including the day’s first departure to Bengaluru at 5.20am. The Air India-Alliance Air combine has 25 followed by 17 flights by SpiceJet. Vistara will operate eight flights while Air Asia will operate 6. GoAir is conspicuous by its absence.



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A mother-daughter unite across a glass barrier at the city airport

KOLKATA: Sixteen Indians in need of medical treatment and a pregnant woman were among the 169 passengers on board the maiden Vande Bharat flight to Kolkata from Bangladesh on Monday. The mission to bring home Indians stranded overseas since March 22 began on May 7 but Kolkata did not figure in the first phase and was initially overlooked in the second phase as well when a war of words between the state government and the Centre finally led to the Dhaka-Kolkata flight being announced late last week.
Air India special flight AI 0231 landed in Kolkata at 12.23pm, ferrying among others, 73 students, 45 tourists with ancestral links in Bangladesh and several professionals employed in the neighbouring country.
Emotional scenes played out at the foyer with passengers and their families reuniting with a plexi-glass shield in between.
State power minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay’s son, Sayandeb, was also among those stuck in Dhaka, where he works with a hotel chain. “Relieved to finally see my son after so many days. He will stay in hotel quarantine for the next two weeks before returning home,” the minister said outside the airport on Monday.
Among the returnees, 105 opted for free quarantine at government facilities while 64 – including the patients and the pregnant woman — preferred paid hotel quarantine.
“I had gone to Bangladesh in the second week of March and was scheduled to return later in the month when flights to India suddenly stopped. I stayed with a relative and kept in touch with the Indian Embassy. I finally got a confirmation on this flight on Saturday evening,” said Nitaipada Mitra, a resident of Howrah.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar promptly tweeted a welcome and thanked the ministry of civil aviation and the state government for working in coordination to facilitate the flight. “Pleased to welcome the first special flight under #VBM to West Bengal (/topic/west-bengal). AI 0231 has landed in Kolkata, carrying 169 Indians from Dhaka. Thank @airindiain @MoCA_GoI and WB Govt for support and coordination,” the message read in English and Bengali.
The passengers said there was a scramble for the best seat while boarding as the flight was full but strict social-distancing norms were followed on arrival. All luggage that arrived by the flight was also sanitized.
Earlier in the day, the AI flight had left Kolkata with 33 Bangladeshis stranded on this side of the border. “My uncle had been undergoing treatment at Tata Medical Centre in New Town since the first week of March. The doctors have advised us to return home but with no flights, we were stuck here. Finally, we can go home now,” Jolly Mitra, a resident of Chattagram who was travelling with her 70-year-old uncle, told TOI before flying out.
Family members of Kolkatans stranded in other parts of the world hoped more Vande Bharat flights will be scheduled to bring back their loved ones. A majority of those stuck overseas are students and tourists. The travel trade fraternity has suggested flights be scheduled from London, Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok where several hundred from the city and the region are stranded.
with inputs from Mayukh Sengupta



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