BENGALURU: The first domestic flight in two months from Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) left at 5.33 am, 18 minutes behind schedule, on Monday to Ranchi in Jharkhand carrying 176 passengers on board, including three infants. Most of the passengers on this Air Asia flight were IT professionals who decided to return to their hometowns and work from there.
The first incoming flight from Chennai, an Indigo flight (6E 6987) carrying over 150 passengers, arrived at 8.05 am. It was late by 30 minutes.
These delays were nothing in comparison with the tumult that followed with cancellations throughout the day. By noon, 22 departing flights and 20 incoming flights stood cancelled. The huge display boards in both arrivals and departure zones were dominated by red signs highlighting cancelled flights.
The revised figure of flights to be operated on Monday was changed to 60 departures and 54 arrivals by 10 am from the 95 arrivals and an equal number of departures planned initially.
While Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted that states across the country will resume domestic flight services on Monday except Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, it became clear last night that cancellations were set to follow on Monday. In a second tweet, he had added that there will be limited flights from Mumbai.
Neither the airlines nor the airport operator, Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), had any clue till 10 pm last night as to which flights would operate and which would not.
Flights to Vijayawada, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mangaluru and Agartala were among those cancelled. Incoming flights on the same routes as well as Kochi also stood cancelled.
Asked about the chaos caused due to cancellations, the CEO of BIAL Hari Marar told The New Indian Express, "Neither the airport nor the airlines can be blamed for it. Individual state governments took the decision late and so the cancellations happened. These are initial teething problems and most of our operations were smooth."
Air India staff at the airport came in for massive criticism and suffered much abuse at the hands of passengers who gathered outside its cubicle as they did not alert flyers about the cancelled morning flight to Hyderabad (AI 0-516) at 8 am.
"I came to the airport to collect my boarding pass at 6 am and saw the word 'cancelled' written on the board. Can they not even send an SMS?" asks Ranganadh Kotta, a software professional. A big crowd gathered outside its cubicle here with one person shouting that he had spent Rs 1,500 to reach the airport and Air India needs to pay him the cab fare to reach home. An official was trying to pacify the angry passengers by promising to reimburse the amount in their accounts within 48 hours.
Meanwhile, passengers from the first flight in Chennai and a few from succeeding flights initially resisted efforts to send them to a seven-day institutional quarantine. They refused to step out of the terminal but finally relented later in the day. All passengers arriving from Delhi and Chennai were sent to hotels for quarantining purposes. Some touching scenes were witnessed when parents of students came to the airport to see their children before they were taken to a quarantine facility.
The BMTC arranged 65 buses to ferry passengers being quarantined. "Each passenger has to pay Rs 300 as a flat ticket rate," informed a BMTC official. But poor occupancy in most flights ensured that more than half the buses remained unutilised.
The safety measures put in place at KIA came in for much appreciation from passengers. The pleas to ensure social distancing on stickers pasted on the floor were observed by flyers who praised the handing over of masks, sanitisers and helmets, the constant spraying of disinfectants and the contactless baggage check-in and entry into the terminal.