After a two-month hiatus, one-third of the scheduled domestic flights would be flying from Monday after the airlines adhere to the government-prescribed limits on airfares categorized in seven bands based on flight duration, even as the Civil Aviation Minister indicated that the ministry was not in favor of quarantining passengers on short-haul flights.
Unveiling a set of detailed pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight guidelines on Thursday, the civil aviation ministry advised people vulnerable like the elderly, pregnant women, and passengers battling health issues to avoid air travel till the coronavirus pandemic abates.
All passengers will have to provide their medical details through the Aarogya Setu app or by filling up a self-declaration form, while those residing in containment zones will not be allowed to travel, the ministry added.
Noting that all stakeholders such as airlines, airports have cooperated, Puri said, "operations will start on 1/3 of the approved Summer schedule for domestic routes in a calibrated manner from 25 May 2020 and will be scaled up gradually. After domestic travel has been eased, we will address the issue of international travel depending on the evolving situation."
Claiming that a lot of "fuss" was being made over quarantine of passengers on domestic flights, Puri "I don't know why we are making such a fuss on the quarantine issue. This is domestic travel. The same laws will apply here that apply when you travel by train or a bus... People who are positive will not be allowed to board the flights."
"If I go to Kerala, will I be put under quarantine for 14 days? Then on my return, will I be put under quarantine again for 14 days? This is not practical," he added.
He also asserted that the larger question of quarantining would have to be tackled in a "pragmatic manner".
The minister said social distancing norms will not be implemented even if middle seats are kept vacant on flights. "Therefore, we have decided not to keep middle seats vacant," he said.
Puri said all the air travel routes have been divided into seven bands based on the duration of flights ranging from 40 minutes to 210 minutes. The aim of the exercise is to prescribe upper and lower limits of fares and the caps on fares would be in place till August 24.
Later, DGCA issued the government-decided fare limits for these bands --domestic flights with less than 40-minute duration to have a lower and upper limit of Rs 2000 and Rs 6000, for 40-60 minutes Rs 2,500 and Rs 7,500, for 60-90 minutes Rs 3,000 and Rs 9,000, for 90-120 minutes Rs 3,500 and Rs 10,000, for 120-150 minutes Rs 4500 and Rs 13000, for 150-180 minutes Rs 5500 and Rs 15700.
Flights with a duration between 180-210 mins, like ones on the Delhi-Coimbatore route, to have a lower and upper limit of Rs 6500 and Rs 18600, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said in its circular.
While aviation consultancy, CAPA's CEO and Director for South Asia Kapil Kaul welcomed the partial and calibrated resumption of flight services, he said the limit on fares is a "bad and unfortunate decision"
"This decision will hurt airlines more than helping (them)... Interfering in pricing which is most strategic to airlines is taken based on the wrong advice," he told PTI.
IATA Assistant Director (Corporate Communications - Asia Pacific) Albert Tjoeng also said, "Airlines need to have the freedom to make their commercial decisions, including the pricing of airfares. Hence, we recognize and hope that this is a one-time measure as a result of COVID-19 and will be discontinued on August 24. India's Air Corporation Act was repealed in 1994, so the announcement to regulate airfares more than 2 decades later comes across as certainly a step back."
India was one of the first countries to impose stringent travel restrictions, including banning all international passenger flights on March 25 as the country was put under lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The minister also asserted that the lockdown has been effective and that India's coronavirus-related fatality figures are one of the lowest in the world.
As per the Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs), all passengers will have to do web check-in as physical check-in counters at airports will not be functional.
The rules include no meals onboard, mandatory temperature checks for all passengers, and allowing only one check-in bag for each passenger. People who were tested positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to travel. All the passengers will have to wear masks while entering the airports and thereafter.
Passengers will have to report to airports two hours before flights are scheduled to depart and they will have to strictly follow social distancing rules.
The government's decision to allow domestic air travel comes days after the government relaxed norms allowing economic activities to resume in a bid to revive the economy that has been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown.
Aviation Secretary P S Kharola said 40 percent of seats in any flight would have to be sold at the mid-point of the lower and upper limits of air fares.
The minister said he can't comment right now on when the domestic flight operations would be restored completely, and added that only one-third flights will be permitted to operate from the metro to non-metro cities where weekly departures are more than 100.
"The passengers are expected to certify the status of their health through the Aarogya Setu app or a self-declaration form," said the ministry.
Airports have been advised to earmark areas for isolation as well as to carry out COVID-19 testing of suspected passengers.
According to the guidelines, the airports will have to ensure easy availability of hand sanitisers at all entry points and at various touch points.
The ministry also allowed resumption of services by all food and beverages (F&B) outlets on the condition that they must follow all COVID-19 precautions.
"Take-away, digital payments, self-ordering booths at F&B and retail outlets to be encouraged to prevent crowding of people," it said.