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Your flight check-in will never be the same again

By Arindam Majumder and Aneesh Phadnis
April 26, 2020 11:35 IST
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Extended check-in time, frequent disinfection every hour, additional queue managers at entry, exit, boarding point, check-in halls, security check areas and boarding gates, with social distancing markers and reminders – welcome to our airports post-coronavirus. 

Indian airports are preparing to resume business in a scenario where they know business will be unusual. 

While counting their losses and strategising on how to protect revenue, India’s major private airports and State-owned Airport Authority of India (AAI) are ramping up sanitisation. 

They are also implementing procedures to comply with social distancing measures which will become a norm when air travel resumes in a controlled manner after lockdown. 

Airports expect passenger footfall to drastically reduce for the entire year. This will harm the revenue of airports and the vast retail ecosystem that serves their customers at airports. 

 

But fewer footfalls will make it easier to prevent crowding in the immediate days after travel begins. The Airport Council International (ACI) a group of world’s largest airport estimates that due to the pandemic, footfall to reduce by 40 percent in 2020 at Asian airports. 

“Several airports have already started marking various contact points for making zones for social distancing,” AAI Chairman Arvind Singh said. 

Delhi Airport, India’s largest in terms of passenger capacity, said it has deployed a team of 500 professionals to carry out frequent disinfection every hour. There will be additional queue managers at entry, exit, boarding point, check-in halls, security check areas and boarding gates, with social distancing markers and reminders. 

“We are conducting training and assessments of key service personnel, check on major facilities and performing risk evaluations to prepare for resuming operations. We will leave no stone unturned when it comes to the well-being of its passengers, said Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, CEO at Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL). 

The airport which pays 47 per cent of its revenue as rental to State-owned AAI has started negotiations for a waiver on that till business returns to normal level. 

Mumbai airport has formed quarantine centres at both the terminals if a passenger develops symptoms during screening which will be compulsory before entering the airport. It advises travellers to carry less luggage and wear masks and gloves. 

Hyderabad airport will aggressively promote its digital entrance facility which allows self check-in, self bag-tag and travel without a printed boarding card. 

“We are disinfecting the entire airport premises during this closure with high-grade disinfectants and will increase the frequency of sanitising and deep cleaning once operation resumes,” said Hari Marar, MD & CEO at Bangalore International Airport. 

CISF, the paramilitary force that guards airports, said measurement of body temperature at the airport entrance will be made mandatory. M A Ganapathy, special DG (airport security) said the closure of check-in time for passengers may have to be increased to 120 minutes from the current 45 minutes to prevent queueing and make time for multiple checkings. 

The airports’ business will be severely impacted by a government recommendation to keep business outlets closed for a certain period. The rents or concession fees from such stores, which has become zero over the last one month form a large part of the private airports’ revenue.  

“To avoid crowding and breaching of distancing norms all outlets except pharmacy shops and ATMs may not be allowed to operate till the situation is normal,” the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security has proposed. 

The ministry of civil aviation has formed a committee headed by joint secretary on the procedure to finalise guidelines on how to resume air travel. CEOs of private airports along with airlines are part of the committee. 

Sources said that multiple global chains are discussing to invoke the force majeure clause saying that they will be unable to pay rentals to airports for FY 21. 

“We are accounting for zero non-aeronautical sale for the rest of the year, this will be damaging for sustenance," said an executive of a private airport. 

Hence, airports does not want blanket ban on stores and assure that strict crowd control measures will be implemented there too. 

“We are even changing the store layout plans and making clear demarcation signs and will encourage customers for no-contact purchase options,” says P K Thimmaya, CEO of Flemingo Travel Retail which operate duty-free stores at Mumbai airport. 

“They can shop on our website and just collect their purchase from a pre-designed counter,” he says, pointing out that they provide livelihood to almost 1,000 families.

Photograph: PTI Photo.

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Arindam Majumder and Aneesh Phadnis in New Delhi/Mumbai
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