Air travel in the times of coronavirus: Delhi to Goa, with hand sanitiser, mask and alcohol swabs

Aaron Pereira
coronavirus, coronavirus outbreak, coronavirus in India, coronavirus cases in India, coronavirus India cases, Delhi Airport, coronavirus Delhi Airport, India news, Indian Express

Airline crew, airport staffers and CISF personnel said there was a slight drop in passengers over the past week. (Express Photo by Aaron Pereira)

A flight home to Goa from Delhi, amid the coronavirus outbreak (3 cases in India when I booked, 73 when I boarded), had me thinking: was it worth the risk?

Given the 24x7 coronavirus outbreak updates and information I’ve been processing over the past few weeks, I decided to consciously map my route from the time I left for the airport, till I got home — almost six and a half hours later — and try and limit my interactions as much as possible.

Overdoing it? Not really. If you actually try, there’s much you can avoid... and the hand sanitiser comes in handy quite a bit.

Given how quickly the virus spreads, the effort the government has been taking to contain it, and the general panic being made out on family WhatsApp groups and social media, I expected to see a significant drop in passengers, masks on every other face and a bombardment of Coronavirus awareness standees and announcements asking passengers to step up on hygiene.

At the departure bay, as I got off my cab, I saw a kiosk that from far appeared to be a coronavirus information board. It, however, turned out to be a walkthrough for passengers on registering one’s bio-metrics for a quicker check-in. “Your face will be your boarding pass”. I quickly walked away.

As I got off my cab, I saw a kiosk that from far appeared to be a coronavirus information board. It, however, turned out to be a walkthrough for passengers on registering one’s bio-metrics for a quicker check-in. (Express Photo by Aaron Pereira)

Airline crew, airport staffers and CISF personnel I spoke to said there was a slight drop in passengers — more international than domestic — over the past week. Some check-in counters did look deserted at 6 pm although it could well have to do with flight timings.

Passengers at the airport didn’t appear to be very worried about the now pandemic. While several had masks on, many didn’t seem to care that they were greeting hand rails, some even with their faces. At check-in counters, many ground staff had masks on and workstations were being sanitised. While dropping off my luggage at the Air Asia check-in kiosk, I looked around to see if there was any awareness poster or even hand sanitiser being made available to passengers given it was a mass point of contact/interaction. There wasn’t. There were no announcements, too, given T3 is a silent airport. The awareness and screening, staffers said, was focussed on incoming international passengers at the arrival terminal.

coronavirus, coronavirus outbreak, coronavirus in India, coronavirus cases in India, coronavirus India cases, Delhi Airport, coronavirus Delhi Airport, India news, Indian Express

Staffers said those working at the airport outlet were, a few days ago, directed to wear a mask at all times. (Express Photo by Aaron Pereira)

As I moved to my gate, a stop at a coffee shop is where I first spotted a hand sanitiser. Staffers said those working at the airport outlet were, a few days ago, directed to wear a mask at all times.

Now at my gate, a quick tip: boarding towards the end has its benefits if you do not have much cabin luggage. You skip the queue just outside the boarding bridge and inside the aircraft where your fellow passengers push to get to their seats. And if your preference, like mine, is the aisle seat, you do not have to keep getting up to let your seat buddy in. This of course doesn’t mean you turn up late for your flight.

Now in my seat, I had my task cut out with my quickly-put-together safety kit in preparation for a 2.5-hour journey: a mask, hand sanitiser, and several alcohol swabs.

coronavirus, coronavirus outbreak, coronavirus in India, coronavirus cases in India, coronavirus India cases, Delhi Airport, coronavirus Delhi Airport, India news, Indian Express

I had my task cut out with my quickly-put-together safety kit in preparation for a 2.5-hour journey: a mask, hand sanitiser, and several alcohol swabs. (Express Photo by Aaron Pereira)

First things first — I put on my seat belt, used the alcohol swab to wipe my seat tray and hand rests (much to the amusement of my fellow passenger) and then sanitised my hands before putting on a mask. Health experts and authorities say the mask should be used primarily by those who are sick (to prevent spread) and those caring for them. However, being in a closed space for three hours and not wanting to touch my face during that time got me to wear it. And it worked.

A few on-board chose to wear surgical gloves too. I asked a crew member wearing a mask if they were carrying supplies for passengers but she said no such directive had been issued yet nor any to make in-flight announcements reminding passengers of basic hygiene steps.

Given the planning I put into this travel episode, my in-flight entertainment had to be related. I watched the 2011 film Contagion by Steven Soderbergh — a must-watch medical thriller inspired by earlier pandemics. It’s streaming on Prime Video.

coronavirus, coronavirus outbreak, coronavirus in India, coronavirus cases in India, coronavirus India cases, Delhi Airport, coronavirus Delhi Airport, India news, Indian Express

Passengers at the airport didn’t appear to be very worried about the now pandemic. (Express Photo by Aaron Pereira)

At the Goa airport exit, I finally see a coronavirus help desk albeit unmanned. Airport staff say it was meant for international passengers, but now that all general passenger visas have been cancelled, no international flights are landing.

On Twitter, Goa airport authorities are quick to respond: “It’s Domestic arrival, arrangement there is for general information purposes. The screening and other related processes (are) for International passengers only. We wish to convey the message to all segments of pax and CoVID 19 info is also being displayed thru FIDS at all points.”

As I walk out and check my phone to see what I have missed, a bunch of alerts stand out:

Breaking: India confirms its first Coronavirus death - a 76-year-old man in Karnataka

Breaking: Italy coronavirus death toll crosses 1000

Coronavirus Outbreak: Global markets in meltdown, worst in decades