The New Normal

Prologue: Before the lockdown was announced in India, we wanted to go back to our hometown Lucknow to be with our parents for some time and help them out during these tough times. What we did not realize that that “some time” would stretch for more than 2 months and we would yearn to come back home (also cos our organizations might soon be reopening offices)!

Hence, when the restrictions were relieved on domestic air travel, we decided to take the 3rd flight back home.

Pro tip: Taking the first flight, train is always risky – the administration is still trying to figure out things and you might be in for nasty surprises. By the second or third flight, things would have settled in.

Taking all this into account, we booked tickets for 27th May 2020. The first surprise came too soon – our flight was cancelled, and we decided to take the option of flying on 26th May 2020 i.e. advanced by a day. Essentially everything from booking, cancellation, rescheduling and the travel itself happened within a span of 5 days.

It has been a crazy ride – difficult and eye opening at the same time. Will this change the face of travel and our travel selfies – definitely yes!

This is our experience flying Indigo 6E 844 from Lucknow to Hyderabad on 26th May 2020. Hope this will help many of you who are planning to travel for important reasons or otherwise.

Pre-travel tips:

  1. Central government guidelines:
    • Go through the central govt guidelines here.
  2. State & local government guidelines:

As per the MoHA guidelines, states can also develop their own protocol with regards to quarantine and isolation as per their assessment. And this will override the central guidelines. Hence it is of utmost importance that you keep checking the guidelines for the arrival and departure states until the time you leave for the airport to avoid any hassles. There have been frequent changes to guidelines set by a few states in the recent times.

Check for the following here or keep searching on the internet for latest guidelines.

  1. Home vs. institutional quarantine (if any) requirements
  2. Number of days of isolation/quarantine
  3. Thermal screening or testing for COVID at airports
  4. E pass/Travel permit requirements
  5. Registration on any state portal to inform about the travel
    • For e.g. If you are travelling to Kerala, after obtaining the flight tickets, the travelers need to register their details in Covid-19 Jagratha following the link https://covid19jagratha.kerala.nic.in/

To share an example of how to confirm the guidelines if you do not find authentic news sources; make social media your friend and follow the Twitter handles of health ministers, municipal corporations, airlines, airports. Telangana had published the guidelines for air travel late evening on 24th and there were multiple news articles doing the rounds before that. To get a confirmation, we put a tweet for RGIA Hyderabad before traveling for getting a confirmation from the horse’s mouth:

They were responsive enough to answer our queries as soon as the guidelines were published. Social media is the best platform to reach the authorities if you find it difficult otherwise 😊

  1. Check flight status

Flights are getting cancelled (ours did!) and rescheduled by the minute. You might have to choose between another flight or an imaginary refund (credit shell 😊), depending on the airline.

  1. Seat reservation
    • If you are traveling solo, get a window seat to avoid the traffic in the aisle
    • If you are traveling as a couple, and have some extra money to spare, buy an additional ticket to book the aisle seat as well.
  2. Web check-in & mandatory self-declaration

Once you have confirmed that you can travel, do a web check-in on the flight operator’s website. For Indigo, web check-in closes 60 minutes before departure as of 27th May, 2020. One CANNOT enter the airport without web check-in.

Fill the self – declaration mentioning the details correctly and honestly. This is required for every passenger on the PNR and you need to mention the phone, email ID and residential address on destination of all passengers.

  1. Download Aarogya Setu app on your smartphone and check your health status

As per the govt guidelines, your status should be green in the app. If you are travelling without the app, either you’ll be asked to download and check the status OR you’ll be asked to fill out a manual self-declaration.

  1. Get printouts of luggage tags/bagtags and boarding passes

After you have done the web check-in, boarding passes and bagtags will be sent on your respective email IDs. Make sure to take print outs of both using a good quality printer so that the bar codes can easily be read by any scanner.

Print well in advance and don’t leave it for the last minute, as the situation changes frequently.

Packing/Luggage tips:

  1. As of now the domestic travel luggage limit is 20 kg for check-in baggage (1 piece), small cabin baggage (1 piece) which can fit under the seat in-front of you. To summarize – travel light!
  2. Your luggage will be sanitized (sprayed with a disinfectant) when you enter the airport so keep edible items in a sealed box or a carry bag.
  3. Keep all electronics (wires, laptop, mobile, chargers, power banks) in a zip-lock or plastic packet so that it does not touch the tray during security check.
  4. Keep a water bottle to avoid buying one or using the one provided in the flight.
  5. Stick the printed bag tags to your bags AND/OR you can also stick plain piece of paper mentioning the name, phone and PNR.
    • Indigo staff prints the bag tags and attaches them to bags similar to how they used to do earlier and the bag tags serve as your receipts. This might differ from airport to airport hence it’s a good idea to attach the bag tags to your bags for identification

What happens when you reach the departure terminal?

Luggage sanitization, Thermal screening & other checks

  1. Complete luggage is sprayed with a disinfectant – cabin and check-in both. Hence, it’s a good idea to
    • keep medicines, food etc. in air-tight containers and then keep them inside the luggage
    • carry waterproof bags instead of purses, cloth bags etc.
  2. Temperature check using an infrared thermometer
  3. Aarogya Setu check
    • The app status should be green
    • At the Lucknow airport, surprisingly, the staff just asked about whether we had downloaded or not. This might be a one-off case and might not happen at other airports.
  4. Show your boarding pass and ID before entering the terminal to the CRPF staff – they will be separated by a glass window or screen
    • You might have to scan your boarding at a few airports depending upon the arrangements made by the authorities.
  5. Go to the airline staff and check-in your baggage, they’ll again check for IDs and ask you to scan your boarding pass barcode. Check-in your luggage and attach bagtags if required.
  6. Once the luggage is submitted, all passengers will receive an SMS for luggage receipt.

Security check changes

Instead of handing over the boarding pass to the CRPF staff before entering the security area, they now capture a picture of you holding the boarding pass. At this point, you’ll have to remove the mask so make sure you sanitize your hands beforehand.

Once you enter the security area, the regular process of keeping all electronics on one tray and scanning them through X-Ray is done. Avoid wearing any metal or belts during the check.

The security personnel will scan you and luggage as usual and pass it off if all looks okay. They will NOT stamp the boarding pass or take it in their hands to check the same. You might just have to show it from a distance to the staff or scan the bar code, depending upon the airport norms.

Just before boarding

Airlines are providing sanitization kits with mask, sanitizers and face shield. Queue up for boarding adhering to the floor markings and social distancing norms.

They might also perform additional checks as per the protocols set by the states. This did not happen in our case for our travel to Hyderabad

In-flight

Sanitize the surfaces (if required). Airlines are sanitizing the planes after every flight anyway.

Listen to the instructions as informed by the staff carefully and try avoiding the washrooms as much as possible.

Airline staff also try to reconfigure the seating if they have vacant seats to ensure social distancing.

Once you reach the destination, you’ll be allowed to leave in batches (few rows at a time). Please follow the sequencing.

What happens when you reach the arrival terminal?

  1. If you want to throw any of the sanitization stuff like wipes, masks, face shield etc., use dedicated bins for it. If you don’t have spare ones and would like to keep them until the end of the journey, you can keep them too. Make sure you throw them before entering your home.
  2. Follow the markings at the airports during luggage collection, in the washrooms and all places possible.
  3. Thermal screening and additional checks:
    • In our case, our arrival terminal was Hyderabad. Every state has different guidelines for arriving passengers and this will differ based on that. As per Telangana state guidelines, asymptomatic passengers could go home and monitor health while the symptomatic ones were sent to institutional quarantine.

Post travel:

  1. Follow the guidelines of home isolation or quarantine of the arrival states. Isolate yourself for 14 days even if there are no specific rules – it’s always better to be safe than sorry! 😊
  2. As soon as you reach home,
    • Sanitize your luggage (and wheels) and only then get them inside the house. Do not touch them for at least 24 hours unless required. Keep them outside in the sun if possible, to avoid any contact whatsoever.
    • Wash your hands and feet completely
    • Leave shoes outside the house
    • Take a full body shower before you do or touch anything else

Travel tips

Sanitization tips:

  1. Wear masks and keep wearing them throughout the journey
    • If you feel uncomfortable, find a secluded spot and take a few breaths without the mask but this will be at your own risk since airports are enclosed spaces with ACs. Such environments are known to aggravate spreading.
  1. Keep a disinfectant spray which is not canned or stored under pressure. The current limit of liquid allowed in hand baggage is 350 ml (as of 27th May 2020).
    1. You can purchase such sprays here (not sponsored)
    2. OR You can fill in alcohol based sanitizer in a normal generic spray bottle and carry it with you to spray on surfaces.
  1. One can also carry disinfectant wipes such as Clorox, etc to sanitize surfaces which might be frequently touched (e.g. chair or seat handles, air vents, seat belt buckles, etc.)
  2. Wear gloves and face shield in the cab, while getting security checks and in the flight
    • Wearing gloves for a long time can make your hands look pale, so keep an extra pair handy.
    • Always keep sanitizing your hands/gloves before and after touching any surface
    • Face shields might make you feel suffocated after a while so use your judgement to allow fresh air as and when necessary

Traveling with infants/kids:

  1. Avoid travel with kids, you cannot always restrict them from touching their face and surfaces.
  2. If you do have to travel, keep sanitizing their hands or make them wear mittens or gloves

Traveling with senior citizens:

  1. Keep their medications (if any) handy. Make them wear gloves, masks. They might not be comfortable wearing face shield, hence wearing spectacles is also a good option. It will not cover the face completely, but something is better than nothing.

Overall, the travel experience has been quite humbling and tiring at the same time. At the end of it, one feels exhausted, relieved and anxious all at the same time. We guess therefore it is the #TheNewNormal

Special mentions:

  1. Indigo airlines – Kudos for taking extensive sanitization measures such as
    • Flight measures – sanitized the flights after every journey, no food served for shorter duration flights, water bottles provided for consumption just before entry to avoid travel etc.
    • Measures for travelers – provided good quality masks, face shield and sanitizer before the journey
    • Measures for staff – wore disposable material over their uniform, masks and face shields
  2. RGIA – Extensive measures taken to make sure social contact is minimal or almost negligible, signage at all points of social contact (incl washrooms, luggage collection areas, walk ways, ramps, etc ), automatic sanitizer dispensers, and a super responsive social media team. To ensure an end-to-end safe experience, the airport cabs are sanitized after each journey by GMR teams.
  3. Meru cabs – The plastic separation between the driver and passengers makes one feel safe for sure, much needed innovation in the times of adversity.
  4. Lucknow airport – Automatic sanitizers might be out of of budget but we had our very own Jugaad – pedal based sanitizer dispensers 🙂
Keeping our spirits high and not forgetting the selfies 🙂

If you need to travel in the next 7 days, read about the things to-do before you fly domestic.

If you want to avoid all the hassle of travelling and sanitising, #StayHome and #StaySafe.

If you found this helpful, give it a thumbs up, and drop a comment on what did you like and what you’d like us to cover in the next blog.

8 thoughts on “The New Normal

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