06.06.2020, 1.29 am
Three months and a lot of procrastination later, we took our first domestic flight after all of five months. Also, I’m happy to report that my sister, Neha Dwivedi, and I have safely landed in Delhi from Mumbai, the city with the highest number of cases in India right now. The Metropolis has over seventy seven thousand confirmed cases, but the number I’ve brought myself to focus on now is thirty three thousand six hundred and eighty one recovered cases. I’m hearing that many Indian states are showing a recovery rate of over fifty percent, and if that’s not good news right now, 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, Neha Dwivedi, and I landed in Delhi the day before, on the 2nd of June, 2020. But, our ticket was booked for the 1st of June. However, we randomly got a message on the night before (31st May) that the flight had been canceled for 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 have traveled recently or knew someone working with the airlines (Vistara) because, on Google, 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. Precautionarily, we had done that a couple of days ago since obviously, our excitement knew no bounds.
When asked from people, we got mixed responses. Most of them told us not to panic and to just arrive at the airport since we had the boarding pass, so even if our flight didn’t take off, we could book another. We didn’t know if it were the best idea since we didn’t even know if the counters would be open. So, the 31st night was going to be a long one.
We desperately wanted to leave on the first of June 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 hours 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 since forever. 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 behavior 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 the 2nd of June. Had we not made that call, we would’ve landed at a crowded Mumbai airport on the first, putting ourselves at risk for no reason. Instead, we upgraded our seats and took the next available flight for the 2nd of June. Also, I’m glad we didn’t wait till the 3rd of June, which the executive gave as an option to reschedule our flight with the same seats. Why? Because the third of the month 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 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 right now.
Moving on, we were booked on the 31st of May late night for our flight on the 2nd of June in the afternoon. We checked the probability of that flight operating daily and it seemed good. So, another tip I could give here is that when you’re booking your flight, book for the first half of the day. Hence, avoiding the evening or night flights.
Finally, we nail-bitingly, waited on the 1st of June to get through the day without any cancellation message, and when it was just a few hours to our flight, we were certain it was time to go home. We left for the airport at 11 am the next morning for a 2.40 pm flight and that’s a buffer (3-4 hours) you must take 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 for yourself too, 1-2 days prior. I wouldn’t trust an Uber or an Ola right now.
We landed at the airport around 11.30 am I think and it was a sight I’d never seen before. I'm guessing 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 up in PPEs from head to toe.
I could appreciate that because I noticed it was mainly people who were old or had a low immunity who wore those. So, 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 one handbag only 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 carry your stuff are sanitized and wet.
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 three numbers at a time to avoid crowding I guess. 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.
I slept through most of the flight. We got lucky that we got Business class seats right now, it’s definitely the best bet right now if you’re taking a flight and worth spending your money on for your own safety.
In no time, we arrived at Delhi airport, which seemed way more crowded, tranquil and calm.
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 and that’s the beauty of this democracy. 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 fourteen days hoping to get back to normalizing our lives one step at a time. 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.