Coronavirus | Air passengers perplexed over protocols

Two flights returned to India on Thursday with 363 passengers, including nine infants, on board Air India Express flights from Abu Dhabi to Kochi and from Dubai to Kozhikode. A flight from New Delhi departed for Singapore at 11.15 p.m. to bring back stranded Indians. The government has decided to allow foreign nationals and Indian citizens to book a ticket on outbound flights to Singapore, the U.K. and certain destinations in the U.S.

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But the government’s standard operating protocols have only thrown more questions, some of which have been answered below based on information from government officials.

How can passengers travel to an airport located in a different city or State to catch a flight?

After being flooded with queries, the Ministry of Civil Aviation clarified on Wednesday, “as per MHA guidelines, except in containment zones, movement on roads [with seat restrictions] is duly permitted” to travel to reach an airport in a different city. Passengers are being helped by the District Commissioner to procure e-passes.

Can passengers book a transit flight? For instance, can a traveller wishing to travel to Canada book Air India’s flight to London and then book another airline for the onward journey as there are no flights announced by the government yet?

Air India is operating only “point to point flights as of now”, said a senior airline official.

Passengers on outbound flights are allowed only if the destination country permits travellers from another country to enter. Therefore, while Air India is flying to 12 countries, only flights destined for Singapore, U.K. and Chicago, Newark, San Francisco and Washington in the U.S. will ferry passengers from India.

It is expected that there will be flights to Canada in subsequent phases and the Indian government is pursuing the matter with Canadian authorities.

Also read: Air India to charge commercial fares for stranded Indians

Are H1B and H4 visa holders allowed to board flights to the U.S.? The Air India website says only Permanent Residency visa holders and U.S. citizens are allowed, but this information is different from the MHA order that requires a person to have a visa valid for a year or a Green Card or OCI Card. It is also not clear from the MHA order whether a visa needs to be valid for a year from the date of issuance or the date of travel.

These questions did not receive a response. An official of the Ministry of External Affairs said a meeting would be held on Friday to provide clarity on some of the questions posed to it.

What are the quarantine facilities planned by the government for passengers arriving?

The order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on March 5 states that passengers found to be symptomatic on arrival at an Indian airport will be taken to a medical facility as per the protocol laid down by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. However, all other passengers will be sent to a quarantine facility arranged by the respective State and Union Territory governments. While many State governments are in the process of identifying these facilities, those like Delhi have issued an order saying that these will be a paid service such as hotels. The Delhi government has also asked all its District Magistrates to ready these facilities under their jurisdiction. A list of these hotels is yet to be released.

Also read: Air India to charge commercial fares for stranded Indians

What are the criteria for selecting who gets to board one of the flights returning stranded citizens to India?

The Ministry of Home Affairs order which lays down guidelines for the repatriation exercise says that priority will be given to “compelling cases in distress, including migrant workers/ labourers who have been laid off, short-term visa holders faced with expiry of visas, persons with medical emergency/ pregnant women/ elderly, students and those required to return due to the death of a family member.

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