Safety first: CISF for major changes in the way you fly post lockdown

NEW DELHI: Reporting up to 2 hours before flight time armed with protective gear like masks, gloves, 100-ml sanitisers and flying with a seat vacant between every two people could be the “new normal” for air travellers when schedule passenger flights resume.

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has finalised a new protocol which it has submitted to the aviation ministry, seeking staggering of flights to avoid crowding at airports at any time. The paramilitary force has suggested that Defence Research and Development Organisation and/or some other organisations develop “sanitising tunnels” that can be placed at airport entry points for passengers and employees.

Anticipating these changes, IndiGo told its employees on Friday it will resume operations “slowly at first” whenever the lockdown is lifted with onboard measures like half-filled aircraft and no meal service for some time. Air India has decided to follow DGCA’s social distancing norms issued last month just before the lockdown, like ensuring a vacant seat between every two passengers, when flights resume.

M A Ganapathy, CISF special director-general and head of the airport sector, told TOI: “We have formulated protocols for all agencies concerned (like airlines, airports) to prevent coronavirus spread amongst travellers and airport staff. This plan has been given to the aviation ministry.” The DGCA is working on flight resumption plan that will take all these suggestions into consideration.

CISF has advised airlines to prepare a questionnaire. Passengers who have undergone home/hospital quarantine in last one month will need to declare the same in it during check-in. These passengers will be screened at earmarked/isolated security check unit — separate x-ray for baggage and frisking booths. Screeners doing pre-embarkation security check at earmarked/isolated security check point will wear complete personal protection equipment (PPE) suits for their protection.

The security force’s plan for airlines requires them have an enhanced reporting time of upto 120 minutes for passengers so that they can clear access control, random screening, check-in and immigration (for international travel) by maintaining appropriate distance. The security agency wants airlines to keep alternate check-in counters open with social distancing markings. Airlines will tell flyers to be prepared for delays in processes.

“Flight crew will offer sanitiser to each passenger when they occupy their respective seats,” says the plan. Airport operators have been advised to keep a dedicated staff with thermometers at all the entry points and staff gates.

The government will soon decide on whether to extend the 21-day national lockdown (which is till next Tuesday), and if so by how many days. Odisha and Punjab have already decided to extend it till April 30.

IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta wrote in a mail to employees Friday: “We do not know when the lockdown will be lifted but our plan going forward is to start the airline up slowly at first and gradually ramp up the capacity…. we will deep clean our aircraft more frequently, we will discontinue meal service for a brief period and we will run our coaches at a maximum load of 50% capacity.”

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