–Kakali Das |
Aviation industry is playing a heavy role in the economy of the country; laying the aircrafts on ground is a major liability to the owner and to the government as well. Hence, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has decided to resume the domestic airline services from 25th May in a “calibrated manner”. There are a few major chances in the regulations by the aviation industry that I would like to pinpoint beforehand – Only a third of the flights will be start to function; everyone who flies will have to use the Arogya Setu app; there is a baggage limit of ‘one check-in, one cabin bag’; vulnerable persons, such as, elderly, pregnant ladies, passengers with comorbidities have been advised not to fly. Only web check-in is allowed, one can drop off their bag an hour prior to the flight if taken on-board, print out our own baggage tag, everyone has to wear masks. During transit there will be no physical contact between the passenger and the security personnel or anybody from the airline. No food will be served on the flight except a bottle of water. The entire crew will be in a full PPE equipment and people from containment zones won’t be allowed to travel.
What’s interesting is that the middle seat won’t be left vacant as according to the minister of aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri, it isn’t viable to keep the middle seat vacant and even if it’s kept vacant we will still have a situation where prescribed social distancing isn’t followed. Considering the fact that the airline industry is undertaking all preventive measures to ensure that only those who are uninfected must travel, but when there are people in the middle seat, they are likely to have contacts with each other – there will be sharing of fomites – it simply violates the basic epidemiological conditions of containing the coronavirus. People are maintaining social distance in the areas where somebody is asking them to do so and where there is any punitive action been taken for that. It’s bitter to read but the fact is that ‘we aren’t an organised race’. I can’t shy away from the fact that we are hardly going to follow the rules of lockdown, neither here nor at the airport. So resuming the airlines and above all, in such a haphazard fashion is uncalled for. By giving people 3 and a half hours of exposure with the virus in the flight, along with the time taken for boarding the flight, waiting for the flight to take off, landing and then un-fastening of the seat belts, the lives of the passengers will be put to test. I have read this somewhere that we, the humans have a gene “the cannot wait gene” in us (pun intended), the moment the flight lands everybody unbuckles their seat belts and as soon as the air hostess asks to retrieve our baggage we start hustling, pushing one another like it’s a scrimmage – who can move out before whom and reach the carousel! With a culture like that how can we resume our flights at regular fares with all seats occupied and expect forgiveness from the virus!
Since compressed air conditioning spaces can be dangerous as it restricts the exhaling air in the room, it has been switched off or kept inactivated in many hospitals. Being in a flight for 2-3 hours would effectively mean exposing oneself to the virus for that many hours, even if the air keeps on getting circulated in and out from time to time. It’s extremely easy to contaminate in such a remote setting. Secondly, allowing the passengers to carry handbags would excessively increase the proximity and contact of the people with each other. Everybody would get up of their seats and reach out for it while increasing the chances of contacts between them. With the limited knowledge that I have, I think at this point in time, central seats shouldn’t be allowed. I encourage the fact that there is no food being served, else everybody would take their masks off to have it. Moreover, clarification by the government should be made regarding the kind of masks that have been or will be provided to the passengers while they travel. Since general surgical masks can hardly prevent the virus from infecting, it is necessary for the government to provide either the N95 or any masks strongly effective in the containment of it. Alongside the mask, a face shield and a hand sterilizer at every seat for each passenger is utmost important in preventing the contamination of the virus inside the airport and the flight as well. Thirdly, it will indeed be a false feeling of security with the Arogya Setu app with the in-numerous asymptomatic people wandering around. Time and again the doctors have been witnessing people who apparently feels fine but has congestion in the chest and later gets diagnosed with the virus. So how many people in the pre-covid19 stage are going to be missed out by the app is unlikely to be known. Moreover, even if the advisory recommend passengers to not use washrooms, people are unlikely to avoid and hold the nature’s call for longer time until they reach their respective stations. So touching of doorknobs including other accessories in the washrooms would make the passengers highly prone to contacts between them.
The expression “we have to learn to live with the virus” that people have been rattling is defective if the ongoing pandemic is concerned. We seldom can disregard the fact that the virus doesn’t want to live with us, it wants to kill us. It isn’t our friend; just because we are familiar with the virus now for the past two months doesn’t mean it’s going to politely allow us to get on with our lives. I can hardly understand how to get past this point and consider living with the virus and moving on with it. Although personally, I am not of the view that the government should put air travel to a halt, they need to be resumed because in comparison to both the trains cooped up with 2 lakhs or more of people and an aeroplane of 100-150 people, the latter is way more safe. If the infection is likely to spread through trucks, trains, then a few people in a plane, well secured, is relatively safe. But what I believe is that the resuming of airlines at this alarming stage is a bit premature or at least requires to be more thought out. Instead of seeking advice from the bureaucrats, the government should take the voices of the experts, the doctors into consideration. It’s basic common sense to ask the doctors about the virus, than the ministers or any other civil servants for that matter.