Heavily sanitised airport and airplane’: How I finally travelled from Delhi to Bhopal battling COVID-19 scare

New Delhi: Strange are the ways of the world. Bhopal suddenly seemed far and distant since the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown was announced on 24th March 2020. An hour and a half’s flight or an overnight train away, a weekend hop to met folks, family and friends often, the 750 odd kilometres between Delhi and Bhopal seemed to carry the weight of distance now.

With state borders closed and lockdown extended to almost two months, I waited for this new normal to normalise with what was the known normal. So when the resumption of flights was announced, I booked a flight back home on day one.

I am at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on May 25, 2020, all geared to take the Air India flight from Delhi to Bhopal. I booked an Air India flight ticket for 5 pm departure on May 23 and the ticket price was a regular one under INR 4000. As a prep, read the SOP for travellers at the airport and saw some of the videos on Twitter shared by journalists.

While doing the web check-in on 24th May, the boarding pass issued was for 8 pm and seats previously chosen were different so there was a lot of confusion whether the flight was departing at 5 pm or 8 pm on May 25.

The helpline call numbers had a long waiting and so we waited with multiple screenshots on flights schedules saying that it will depart at 8 pm.

Finally, while news of multiple flights came through in the first half of 25th May, we got to know that the flight we had booked was cancelled but passengers on this flight would be shifted to another one that would be flying to Baroda via Bhopal from Delhi at 5 pm.

So we reached the airport- I and my childhood friend with her three-year-old kid.

All our bags were thoroughly sanitized – showered and sprayed at a point in the line to have our tickets/boarding passes on the phone checked. There are marking on the floor to maintain social distancing.

An airline kiosk asked us regarding our flight and reconfirmed that the original one was cancelled and that we would be accommodated in the Baroda bound flight AI 819.

The CISF officer at the gate checked the ticket and the identity card like pre-lockdown journeys but while standing behind a glass wall now. Even asking to lower the mask to crosscheck and match the face. Once inside, between the two entrance doors, the sanitizer-soaked carpet sanitised shoes. An official asked if the Arogya Setu app was on the phone and I showed it to him. The thermal scanner checked the temperature and I was inside the airport.

The check-in bags were scanned again and Air India and airport staff were there to help travellers take out a printout of the boarding pass at the kiosk.

The lines for the bag drop kiosks were also marked to maintain social distancing and everyone at the airport was seen wearing masks, a lot of people were also wearing gloves and some even wearing the face shield.

The check-in bag was dropped and I headed for security check line again marked with lines on the floor to indicate the place to stand and maintain social distancing.

The CISF officer in a PPE suit checked my boarding pass and I was at the security check counter as usual. Except the lady checking wore a double protective face shield.

The T3 airport seemed to be open to inch back to life. The shops and eateries were open but they were empty. No one was browsing or even window shopping for now. But having the shops open did give a sense of things inching back to normal.

A coffee at Starbucks was a takeaway with only one person allowed to order.

At the boarding gate, the seats in the waiting area had yellow strips marked to not sit on them to maintain social distancing.

Just before boarding, the Air India ground staff gave all the passengers a safety kit – a face shield, masks and pouches of sanitizers.

And before boarding the flight, at the boarding gate, thermal scanning of body temperature also done once again.

The airline crew is wearing Protective suits from head to toe. Announcing restriction of movement inside the aeroplane to passengers.

The middle seats in the flight haven’t been booked and are empty as of now. Everyone is adhering to wearing the face shields, wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing. Except for three-year-olds who are tough to convince for now, but still are being cajoled.

It’s a quieter airport on day one as flights resume in the new normal way of life as with learning to live with Covid19 for the time being. A heavily sanitized airport and aeroplane. And we collectively wait to take off in this flight due in a few minutes, while in our own little bubbles covered by face shields, masks, gloves and armed with sanitizers – as we resume what used to be normal in the new normal.

(Nanditta Chibber is an Author and a Media & Communication Professional based out of Delhi.)

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