With domestic flights being resumed in a calibrated manner from Monday, May 25, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) have issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) for airports, airline staff and passengers to follow. The government will also now put in place upper and lower limits for air fares and has ordered airlines to adhere to the same during the coronavirus crisis. From reaching the airport at least two hours in advance, and wearing protective gear, the SOP lists several guidelines to be followed during departures and arrivals.
The Ministry has advised elderly passengers, pregnant women and passengers with health issues to avoid air travel. All passengers must wear masks throughout the journey.
Only web check-in will be allowed at all airports and there will not be any physical check-in counters. Passengers will only be allowed one hand baggage and one check-in baggage.
Should a passenger not have the facility to do web check-in, the ministry has asked airlines to provide a telephonic check-in facility. It is the airline’s responsibility to inform all passengers that they will have to necessarily follow a web check-in or tele check-in process.
The Aarogya Setu App is recommended to be downloaded for everyone above the age of 14 and will be verified by the CISF airport staff at the entry gate itself. While it was initially said that the app will be mandatory, the Aviation Minister clarified that passengers who don't have Aarogya Setu app can give a self-declaration form, and will not be stopped from boarding flights, according to PTI.
Not all passengers will be allowed to enter the terminal building at once. Only those passengers who have departures in the next 4 hours will only be allowed to enter and all passengers will be required to reach the airport two hours before the scheduled time of departure.
Traveling to the airport
Passengers living in containment zones and those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two months cannot travel.
“The passengers are expected to certify the status of their health through the Aarogya Setu app or a self-declaration form,” the ministry says. If a person not permitted to fly undertakes the journey, they will be liable for penal action.
Commuting to and from the airport for passengers and staff will be only through personal vehicles or select authorised taxi services/transport services with restricted seating. The state government and local administration will be responsible for ensuring availability of public transport and private taxis.
“Passengers shall compulsorily walk through the screening zone for thermal screening at a designated place in the city side before entering the terminal building,” the AAI SOP states.
For this purpose, the government has said that the airport operator should set up thermal screening stations in the city. Once at the airport, temperature screening should be done with validated equipment and trained manpower to be provided by the airport operator.
Trolleys in the departure and arrival areas will be provided only on request to those requiring it for genuine reasons. “All trolleys must be sanitised by suitable means like disinfecting spray, etc. and should be placed at a suitable location.”
Physical distancing markers at a distance of not less than 1 metre shall be provided by airport operators at appropriate places and at all checkpoints, including entry gates and screening zones.
Body temperatures of all passengers will be taken, and if they are symptomatic, they will not be allowed to enter the airport. However, if they are found to have only high temperature, then the airline must let them change their date of travel without any penalty.
In the airport
All passengers are required to give a declaration stating they don’t reside in a containment zone, are not suffering from fever/cough or any respiratory distress, and are not under quarantine. They are also required to declare that they will contact health authorities if they develop any of the above-mentioned symptoms.
Passengers also need to declare that they have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two months and are eligible to travel as per the extant norms. They also need to provide contact details to the airlines whenever required by them, among others.
Boarding passes will be given only after the declaration is provided.
While the AAI suggests that alternate counters be used, all counters, as far as possible, should be mounted with a glass or Perspex/Plexiglass sheet with a corner having a magnifying area to check the ticket, boarding card and identification documents. If not feasible, personnel manning the counter should wear a transparent face shield to provide a physical barrier.
Hand sanitisers shall be made available for passengers and airport staff at various locations.
At the baggage drop counter, the passenger shall display their PNR and ID to the staff along with the PNR number printed on their baggage. Instead of issuing a printed receipt of the baggage tag, an electronic receipt will be sent to the passenger as an SMS.
For passengers with special needs like wheelchair, unaccompanied minor, etc., the handling staff has to be in full protection gear with pre-sanitised wheelchairs.
At security, the staff will practise ‘minimum touch’ to reduce physical contact with passengers.
Airports should use open-air ventilation wherever possible instead of central air-conditioning.
All food and beverage and retail outlets will be opened, but with COVID-19 precautions. Take-away is to be encouraged to prevent crowding. The SOP also suggests promoting digital payments and self-ordering booths at all outlets.
Airport operators should depute sufficient staff near counters, washrooms, x-ray machines, conveyor belts, F&B outlets, etc. to guide passengers to maintain sufficient distance.
Passenger seating arrangement should follow physical distancing by blocking the seats that are not to be used with proper markers.
All airport staff handling the flight should be provided with hand sanitisers and essential Personal Protective Equipment such as face masks, etc. as per guidelines issued by the MoHFW.
Newspapers and magazines will not be provided at airports, lounges or in flights.
“To ensure use of sanitised vehicles with restricted seating for transportation of staff and passengers within the airport including golf carts facility provided for persons with reduced mobility (PRM),” the SOP adds.
At boarding gates, passengers will be allowed to board only in batches as per seating arrangements in the aircraft to avoid crossing inside the aircraft.
When passengers wish to board, they will have to collect a safety kit, which will contain a three-layered surgical mask, face shield and sanitiser from the airline near the boarding gate. Passengers will have to wear these and sanitise their hands before they proceed for boarding.
While boarding passes were earlier checked by airline personnel, it will now be an e-boarding pass which will be self-scanned, and the ID card will be shown to the staff.
Inside the aircraft
Once inside the aircraft, face-to-face interaction will be minimised, and minimal lavatory use is advised.
Meal services will no longer be available on the flight, and water bottles will be made available in the gallery or at the passenger’s seat. People cannot consume any food on the flight. No magazines and papers will be available, nor will there be any inflight sale.
Passengers will be allowed to disembark in batches sequentially by the airline to ensure physical distancing.
While collecting baggage as well, markings will be provided around the baggage collection carousel to ensure physical distancing. People will have to pick up their bags in batches.
Before handing over luggage to the passengers all luggage must be sanitised by the airport operator in the baggage break-up area before placing them on the conveyor belt.
All information regarding physical distancing, personal protection, Do’s and Don’ts should be displayed on the Flight Information Display System (FIDS) and standees at prominent locations.
Fumigation of the passenger drop off/pick up zone on the land side, normally used by taxi/cab operators and private commuters is to be carried out at regular intervals/whenever required.
There should be a dedicated triage or isolation area in the terminal building or outside as per availability at respective airports, adhering to requirements of health authorities with primary medical facility for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients. These can even be located in the Meet & Greet area depending on availability.
On arrival at the destination airport, passengers will have to adhere to the health protocols prescribed by the destination state/UT.
Planes will be sanitised between every trip and at the end of the day. Tickets must also be sold electronically as much as possible.
The government has asked all airlines to take steps to ensure their staff and ground handlers know the various measures that need to be taken. They have also been asked to educate passengers about the check-in process.
“The airlines shall ensure that the boarding pass is issued only after the declaration has been made by the passenger. In case of a PNR having more than one passenger, the declaration would be deemed to be covering all the passengers mentioned in the PNR,” the guidelines state.
If a bus is being used to take passengers to the plane for boarding, the bus should not be crowded, and should be sanitised continuously. If a step ladder is being used, the grab rails need to be sanitised continuously.
For airport staff
Disinfection of the entire terminal should be performed using duly approved disinfectants through fogging/spraying machines or physical mopping at regular intervals.
Employees showing symptoms such as high fever, cough or difficulty in breathing should not be allowed to come on duty and not allowed entry into airport offices. Such cases should be reported to the appropriate health authorities. The SOP also restricts gathering of a large number of staff at one place near the terminal building.
If any crew or other staff come in contact with COVID-19 patients or are exposed to possible infection, they are to be quarantined as per the advisory of the Health Ministry.
In case a particular area in the terminal is exposed to a COVID-19 affected patient, disinfection of that area of the terminal is to be carried out.
Note: An earlier version of this report said that the Aarogya Setu app was mandatory for travel. This has been changed to reflect the government's latest stand, that the app is not mandatory.