Airports are well sanitized. Air India is back in action. But should Indians board on a flight?
Alas! Even experts have no answer.
On May 25, the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, allowed domestic Air India airlines, including private air carrier – Indigo, SpiceJet, to resume operations across the country. Almost after two months, they grounded to a halt due to COVID-19. Since reopening, airports, and airlines have been on overdrive. They were sharing the latest photographs and statements about how they are taking massive measures to make flying wholly safe and sound for passengers.
Some are even sharing personal experiences of fliers to convince the cynic. But just a day after flights resumed, there was a report, a flyer found COVID-19 positive on an IndiGo flight. It forced all the cabin crew members and other onboard travelers on the aircraft into a 14-day quarantine.
It wasn’t the only incident. A couple boarding the SpiceJet, who traveled from Ahmedabad to Guwahati via Delhi, also tested COVID-19 positive for the coronavirus on May 27. These incidents have happened. Still, there are very few passengers boarding right now. Currently, Air India has not found any heavy business routes. The Air India reservations are mostly from people who are desperate to reach their homes as they are stuck because of the lockdown.
But as the clock tickles, life comes back to normal; flying might be the safest mode again for long-distance travel, some said.
Environment at Airport
Airports are large and indoor spaces with large air ventilation systems. They require complete airchecks and humidity controls between forty to sixty percent. Flights also fill in fliers with less than twenty percent humidity and colder temperatures which may not be conducive for Covid-19 cases.
To begin with, one should maintain the indoor air quality of their cities and airports. Experts suggested using saline nasal spray and using a moisturizer to prevent dryness. The passengers shouldn’t use contact lenses while traveling.
It’s Not Bad As It Seems
The aircraft from inside is hygienic and cleaner than some of the best hospitals and hotels in the country. The constant downward wash of air at a meter per second reduces the cross-contamination risk.
There is no right-to-left or vice versa or front-to-back airflow, and cabin air is thoroughly filtered and renewed every two to three minutes. The air inside the carrier is sucked out through vents on the floor and transported through highly active HEPA filters, which eliminate harmful particles and flush out 99.9 percent of particles, including coronavirus.
Air India and other private airline companies have add-on precautionary measures to win the passengers’ trust. An airline like SpiceJet regularly disinfects passengers’ touchpoints and surfaces before every flight. It has made web check-in mandatory to eliminate long queues at airports. The airline’s crew members and ground support staff are undergoing detailed regular check-ups, besides wearing protective gear during the entire journey.
All the aircraft now have synthetic leather seats. These non-porous seats don’t allow the COVID-19 virus to get into them and can be easily clean. The airline is also providing face shield masks to passengers and a bottle of sanitizer, at the boarding gate for use during the entire flight duration. Healthcare experts also warn that the measures taken by the airline companies do not completely guard the passengers against Covid-19.
New rules and regulations for domestic air travel during the pandemic crisis were released by the Indian government on May 21. As per the new guidelines, every passenger has to pass through thermal screening before entering into airport terminals, use of face masks is compulsory during the entire journey and displays ‘green’ status on the Aarogya Setu app.
Fliers are also required to do a web check-in at home and obtain a boarding pass before arriving at the airport. In a detailed notification released Thursday, the Civil Aviation Minister issued guidelines to be followed by all passengers related to check-in and boarding procedures.
Still Not Enough
Despite all these precautions, there’s a list of measures every passenger must take before boarding. Many healthcare experts also cautioned that the actions taken by airport authorities and airline companies are not full proof safe against the Covid-19. But air travel during the Covid-19 era is risky. Still, if passengers maintain social distancing and wear protective gear and use the sanitizers, they might be able to protect themselves.