Three months and a lot of procrastination later, we took our first domestic flight after all of five months.
And I’m happy to report that my sister, Neha, and I have safely landed in Delhi from Mumbai, the city with the highest number of cases in India right now with over 84,000 confirmed cases.
However, the number I’ve brought myself to focus on now is the 37,390 recovered cases. Many Indian states are showing a recovery rate of over 50% and if that’s not good news, what is?
I promised you on my last journal entry that I’ll tell you all about traveling during this pandemic. So, here it goes. A pandemic travel experience I’ll never forget.
My sister and I landed in Delhi on June 2, 2020, but our ticket was booked for June 1. We got a message on the night before (May 31) that the flight had been canceled due to some ‘operational reasons’.
The message and the pre-recorded call didn’t give us any clarity and there we were packing up our ‘Lockdown Mumbai house’ fully to move out to a new house once we were back in the city of dreams.
We tried to speak with many people who’d travelled recently or knew someone working with the airlines (Vistara) because our flight said ‘scheduled’ for the time of our departure.
We even had the boarding passes since it’s mandatory now to do a web check-in and we had done that a couple of days ago.
We got a mixed response to our questions: most of them told us not to panic and to just arrive at the airport since we had the boarding pass, and even if our flight didn’t take off, we could book another.
We didn’t know if it was the best idea since we didn’t even know if the counters would be open. So, may 31st night was going to be a long one.
We desperately wanted to leave on June 1 but considering the circumstances, we had to be smart too. At that moment, the most doable advice we got was to get on a call with customer care and reschedule the flight even if it meant we had to wait on a call for a long time before it got answered by an executive.
My sister made the call and waited for hours. I also simultaneously made a call from my phone later but hers was picked up soon after since she had been waiting for a long time.
A quick tip here is that you can just put the call on speaker and go on with your day till it’s answered because sometimes it can take forever. Service centers are not on their best behaviour right now for obvious reasons and for that reason our patience is crucial.
If it weren’t for my sister’s patience, we wouldn’t have rescheduled our flight for June 2. We upgraded our seats and took the next available flight for June 2 and I’m glad we didn’t wait till June 3, which the executive gave as an option to reschedule our flight with the same seats. Why? Because June 3 was the day when cyclone warnings took over the state of Maharashtra.
So the one thing I can tell you is that take this call of traveling right now only if you can promise yourself and your surroundings some patience. We’re living in extraordinary times and it’s important to adapt to the environment - the difficult customers that we could be till a few months ago, we can’t be anymore. To put it bluntly, you’re doing this country injustice if you complain at this time.
We were booked o an afternoon flight. Another tip I could give here is that when you’re booking your flight, book for the first half of the day and avoid the evening or night flights.
Finally, we we left for the airport at 11 am on June 2 for a 2.40 pm flight and that’s a buffer of 3-4 hours. That is what you must have as a buffer if you’re flying right now.
Our friend volunteered to drop us to the airport so if you don’t own a vehicle, do figure out a safe transport option for yourself 1-2 days prior to the journey. I wouldn’t trust an Uber or an Ola right now.
We reached the airport at around 11.30 am and it was a sight I’d never seen before. I think because of the physical distancing, the environment automatically becomes organized but intense at the same time.
We all stood in line with good enough social distancing and every now and then, you saw people dressed in PPEs. I could appreciate that because I noticed it was mainly people with maybe of older age or low immunity who wore those. It’s a good idea to do that if you think you’re more prone to the virus.
It was a seamless process from the entrance to the airport after. First, at the door, you show your Arogya Setu app, get temperature checked which is a 1-second process, and then at the next stop, you show your ID and boarding pass and enter.
You don’t have to necessarily print out anything beforehand. I’d advise you to carry your own sanitizer so you don’t have to keep using the knobs at the airport even though there are enough sanitizing spots at the airport.
Once you enter, you print out a boarding pass through self check-in and then get in line to check in your baggage (if any).
You’re allowed to take only one handbag on the flight so maybe you’d like to put in your laptop bag in a small trolley/bag. All of these rules are to make sure there’s the least amount of contact and fewer valuables that come in contact with any potential virus at the airport or on the flight.
Once you’ve checked in, you keep walking to your gate. Security happens in the usual manner, the only difference is that the screening is done without any contact for women too. And all trays to keep your stuff are sanitized.
You can access the lounge if you are too early at the airport, they have proper distancing there too, even with the seating arrangement. And they give you everything packed rather than serving a buffet. I found it safe to wait there rather than sitting in front of our boarding gate as it was crowded.
Once it was time, we walked to our gate, where we were given a mask, a protective shield, and a sanitizer before we boarded the flight. The boarding took a long time because they only called out 3 numbers at a time to avoid crowding.
The numbers were announced in a descending order, which makes sense. Our temperatures were again checked right before we sat on our seats on the flight.
On the flight, the crew was seated for the most part of it except for the time you called them for anything specific. They were all wearing PPEs, including a cap and gloves.
My sister and I also wore gloves for most of our travel. It made us feel safe psychologically at least since our skin didn’t come in contact with everything we touched by mistake or otherwise.
We arrived at Delhi airport, which seemed way more crowded. I noticed a stark difference between Delhi and Mumbai in terms of traffic, precautions and people in general.
But, I guess, state governments always work differently. In Delhi, it took a lot of time to receive our suitcases and there was not much social distancing so I continued to wear my protective shield. Once we received the bags, we walked out and sat in our car and left.
There’s not much to do at your destination city, all the formalities are for before you take off but it’s on you to take care of yourself till you sit in your vehicle.
Now, my sister and I are in Delhi, a city we call home, home quarantining for the next 14 days hoping to get back to normalizing our lives one step at a time after. Every state has different rules for quarantining and you must check that before you fly.
No doubt that 2020 has been full of challenges, but I’ll never forget to see it as a year that pushed all of us to really test our patience. We all need that sometimes - pause, wait, wait some more, breathe, reset.
So go ahead, travel back to your home cities but your family’s safety is dependent upon your safety, always remember that and act accordingly.
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