Is Air travel during the Covid-19 pandemic risky? In this article, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on flying safely during Coronavirus outbreak.
For a person who is always-on-the-move and spends 60-70% time travelling, the five-month-long lockdown and travel restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic was like a death sentence. But sometimes drastic steps are required to fight drastic enemies, especially when it is a faceless enemy like COVID19. But does that mean we stay locked up forever? Not really. That’s not a long-lasting solution. So, I decided to not to postpone my outstation trip anymore and flew to Hyderabad during the COVID19 pandemic and came away impressed by how well IndiGo, Delhi Airport, and Novotel Hyderabad Airport Hotel are handling the social distancing and sanitisation.
As per the experts and my personal experience, the risk of contracting the virus when flying are slim to none because of the stringent safety measures put in place by the authorities. Despite being an enclosed space, the aeroplanes have not been the hotspot of the super spreading virus, at least so far. A road crash is ten times more likely to kill someone than getting infected by COVID-19 virus.
Does that mean flying is 100% safe? Not necessarily. After all, safety is relative and depends on a lot of external factors. But as India is unlocking in a phased manner, the only way to move forward through this long pandemic is to start evaluating the risk-benefit ratio and flying definitely poses very fewer risks as compared to the benefits it offers. The fact is more people are suffering from the pandemic induced economy collapse than the virus itself.
The good news is people want to travel, but they are a bit reluctant at the moment – they are looking but not booking. And, that is why, as a responsible citizen, I plan to clear all myths surrounding how safe is air travel, and how to go about it without sacrificing your health. Here is my step-by-step guide on flying safely during Coronavirus pandemic:
Before Booking a Flight
The most important thing before booking your ticket is to check the coronavirus travel restrictions by each state. Different state governments have laid out their respective protocols for passengers arriving at their airports. Some require you to have a mandatory COVID19 negative test report not older than 48 hours’ others will quarantine you for 7-10 days, and some might not have any restrictions at all. Many states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Karnataka, and Delhi among others will not require you to quarantine if you are a business/corporate traveller travelling for a short duration (24 hours -7days).
Please do check the coronavirus travel restrictions by each state before booking your ticket. It’s better to get clarity beforehand than being turned back from the airport or spend days locked up in a mandatory institution or home quarantine for a 2-3-day trip.
Once you have checked the state-wise regulations and booked your tickets, you are required to download the Aarogya Setu app, declare your health status online, and web check-in 48 hrs to 60 mins before your flight time. Reach 2 hours before your flight wearing a mask and carrying a printed or soft copy of your boarding pass and baggage tag.
As per the latest guidelines issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) airlines are empowered to put those passengers on the ‘no-fly list’ who violate the standard operating procedures (SOPs) or do not wear masks during a flight. This means you will no longer be allowed to fly if you don’t wear masks or comply with the COVID related protocols.
At the Airport
One important thing to be remembered while flying is that wearing a face mask is compulsory to enter the airport, and you are required to continue wearing it at all times. So, I was masked up from the moment I got out of my home. Also, as per the travel mandates, I was wearing gloves and carrying a bottle of hand sanitiser.
As soon as I arrived at the Delhi Airport, I found markers and regular announcements reminding the passengers to practice social distancing. Right from the airport entrance to the baggage drop counter, boarding gates, coaches, toilets, food courts, shopping outlets, toilets and baggage claim, everywhere, social distancing markings were put up.
My luggage was disinfected through an Ultraviolet (UV) light disinfection tunnel, post which contactless experience became a norm wherever I went. Thermal screening and Aarogya Setu app status were checked both at the departure as well as arrival gates.
Since food and drinks aren’t allowed during the flight, I had a quick bite at the food court, where social distancing was in full swing.
At the boarding gate, I was given a Personal Protective Kit (PPE) containing a face shield, mask and some sachets of sanitiser. To have a contactless experience, we had to self-scan our boarding passes and our boarding was done sequentially based on our seating arrangement to maintain social distancing.
Inside the Aircraft – Lean Clean Flying Machine
The most impressive thing about the whole flying experience was how thoroughly the aircraft was sanitised and disinfected before and after every flight. Every possible touchpoint such as the baggage drop counters, boarding gates, wheelchairs, coaches, aircraft, crew vehicles, ramps were cleaned with approved cleaning agents. The tray tables, armrests, seats, overhead nozzles, lavatories, and even the small switch overhead was thoroughly cleaned before and after every flight.
Before booking a flight, I had done my background research to find out whether it is safe for travelling by air during a pandemic. And guess what? I found that nearly all aircraft today have very sophisticated air filters called High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which catch 99.999% of viruses and bacteria, including the coronavirus. Moreover, the cabin air is also replaced with new fresh air from outside every three minutes. You breathe on board the same quality as in an operating room at a hospital. In the usual scenario, there is a 1:4300 chance of contracting COVID-19 on a two-hour, packed flight. And, adding the additional protection layer of a face shield, and mask makes it even more challenging to catch a virus.
Luckily, my entire row was empty. However, in case the flight is full, the middle seat passenger is given the complete PPE kit to have maximum safety. Moreover, the crew on board was wearing appropriate PPE kits and serving the passengers with all safety measures in place. As per the domestic flying norms, no food or beverages were served on board.
As per an order issued by the Civil Aviation Ministry under Unlock 4.0, “Airlines may serve pre-packed snacks/meals/pre-packed beverages on domestic flights depending on the duration of the flight,” and serve alcohol and hot meals on international flights.
At the Arrivals
Whether you arrive at the terminal through aerobridge or coach, social distancing was a top priority, and there was a PPE dispose-off bin at the entrance gate right after disembarking from the plane.
At the baggage collection area, there were clear markings to maintain social distancing, and an IndiGo staff member was there to help incoming passengers. And, not just that the social distance markings were put at all transport waiting areas and all taxi providers needed to follow the sanitisation and disinfection SOPs before entering the airport.
Some Red Flags
While the authorities have put in all the necessary measures to safeguard our travel journey, we – the travellers – are slacking a bit. Despite repeated announcements made by the airport staff, I saw some travellers openly flouting social distancing norms. It is clearly mentioned that at a given time, not more than two people should get into an elevator, yet I saw a family of six squeezed-in together. Another very common sight is of people standing up as soon as the aeroplane comes to a halt as if they’ll be left behind if they don’t deplane immediately.
Maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask and sanitising regularly are required for our own safety. We should be a little more responsible.
So, what is the Final Verdict?
The aviation industry is taking every possible precaution to minimise physical contact and give us a Lean Clean Flying Machine experience. So, it won’t be wrong to say that flying is safe in the times of corona, provided the safety precautions are fully adhered by one and all. Here’s a video explaining my flying experience with IndiGO.
Have you flown during the pandemic or planning to? How was your experience? Please do share your feedback in the comments section below.
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I was invited to experience IndiGo’s Lean Clean Flying Machine. However, everything expressed above is based on my personal experience, and all the images are shot by me. Please don’t use any image or text without my written permission.