NEW DELHI :
Air travel got off to a chaotic restart with fewer than half the scheduled 1,095 flights taking off on Monday, leaving behind scores of angry travellers who had been waiting for nearly two months to get back home or to their jobs.
Airlines scrambled to revise their schedules late on Sunday night as states restricted the number of flights that could take off or land in major hubs such as Mumbai and Chennai, leading to last-minute cancellations.
Finally, only about 532 flights took off, according to civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri.
“From no domestic passenger flights yesterday to 532 flights and 39,231 passengers today, action has returned to Indian skies," Puri said in a post on Twitter. “With Andhra Pradesh set to resume operations from tomorrow (Tuesday) and West Bengal from 28 May, these numbers are all set to increase."
States, especially those worst-affected by the coronavirus pandemic such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, are reluctant to lift the curbs as they fear it will worsen the severity of the outbreak. Travellers were also inconvenienced by the quarantine rules set by some states.
“The problem for passengers began with individual states rolling out their guidelines relating to the operationality of airports and post-travel quarantine rules that left travellers high and dry," said a senior executive with an online travel portal who did not want to be identified. He estimated that about 20% of total tickets for Monday were cancelled.
India’s largest airline, IndiGo, operated about 200 flights and SpiceJet around 80 on the first day of eased curbs.
Many passengers had to return from airports as airlines failed to inform them about flight cancellations until just a few hours before boarding.
“Till midnight, we had no clarity for a flight which was scheduled to depart at 11am. In the morning we were told the flight was cancelled," said a communications professional seeking anonymity.
Other passengers, who finally managed to travel after a tense wait, said their experience wasn’t smooth.
Manvi Ghildiyal, an IT professional who wanted to travel to Dehradun from Pune, said she had to pay double the fare to book a local taxi for the airport.
“What caused discomfort was the poor coordination between what the rule book said and ground realities," said Ghildiyal. “We booked directly from the website and it didn’t mandate us to take printouts; only PNR and flight details were to be written on paper and stuck to bags. At the airport we were asked to show printouts to cops standing behind the glass window. Fortunately, the airport gave free printouts," she said.
With the initial uncertainty about flights, many are waiting for operations to stabilize before they book tickets.
The lower limit on fares on key sectors like Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Bangalore were triggered on Monday, which showed people are able to travel at affordable rates. The airline regulator last week issued seven bands of ticket pricing with lower and upper limits.
The lowest cap for Delhi-Mumbai at ₹3,944 per one-way ticket was triggered on an IndiGo flight, while the lowest on Delhi-Bangalore route for one way was ₹4,994, according to EaseMytrip.
Jayshree P. Upadhyay, Deepti Bhaskaran, Sharan Povanna and Ridhima Saxena contributed to the story.