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As Domestic Airlines Resume Flights, Here's a Look at the New Rules You'll Have to Follow

May 24, 2020 12:41 PM 4 min read

On Monday, May 25th, India’s airplanes will take to the skies again. After two months of total lockdown, the aviation industry will resume operations. However, it won’t be business as usual. Not all routes will reopen and there are new rules for aircraft crew and for passengers alike. 


Let's take a look at why the decision was made to let flights fly again, the new norms and regulations, and the road ahead for the aviation industry.



Why the Change of Heart?


The decision to resume flight operations was announced by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on May 20th. But only three days earlier, the Government had said that domestic travel would remain prohibited till May 31st, which is when the present extension of the nationwide lockdown is scheduled to end. It would also seem strange to allow people to fly again at a time when India’s COVID-19 count and death toll are rising by higher amounts every day.


What changed? Possibly the degree of economic destruction being wrecked upon the aviation industry. On May 18th, airline executives reportedly met ministry officials and warned that they would have to “sack people en masse and use fleet to pay off mounting debt and were being pushed towards bankruptcy”. 


Executives argued that if trains could be allowed to ferry people from red zones to green and orange zones, why could flights not be allowed to do the same, even if only between red zones (so, major metros)?


Furthermore, bankruptcy and imminent closures loomed over the debt-laden sector. By one estimate, the industry lost ₹70-90cr ($9.3-12m) daily during the last two months, when revenue (non-recoverable) was effectively zero.


Consultations with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and states followed. In the end, the threat of mass layoffs (3m jobs were at risk) propelled the Government to take note and announce a phased resumption of flight operations.


What are the New Rules We Have to Follow?


Unsurprisingly, the days of long check-in queues and jam-packed flights are behind us. There’s a virus floating around and social distancing is the zeitgeist of our time. So there are a number of new restrictions in terms of arrival time, check-in procedures, baggage and transportation from the airport:


  1. You’ll need to report at the airport at least two hours before your flight departure time.
  2. Wearing face masks is mandatory throughout your time at the airports and during the flight as well.
  3. Passengers will be issued a “safety kit” with mask, face shield, sanitizer etc.
  4. Thermal screening is mandatory for all passengers.
  5. Everyone is required to have the Arogya Setu app on their phones.
  6. Passengers will have to sign a declaration saying they have not been infected with COVID-19 (or at least don’t display symptoms of the same).
  7. Only web check-ins are allowed; there will be no physical check-in counters.
  8. Only one cabin bag and one check-in bag are allowed.
  9. As for baggage tags, passengers will have to take a print-out of the baggage tag at the time of web check-in or write their ticket PNR + their name on paper and paste it on their luggage.
  10. In-flight meals and newspapers will be prohibited. Lavatory usage will be kept to a minimum.
  11. Only authorised taxis can be used by passengers as they depart the airport.
  12. Elderly citizens and pregnant women are discouraged from flying right now.
  13. Passengers can’t travel to or from containment zones. They also can’t travel if they have a “red” status on their Arogya Setu app.


Point to note: 383 routes will reopen on Monday and they have been divided along seven bands based on flight duration. Only a third of flights will be allowed to fly and fares will be capped as per Ministry of Aviation guidelines.


Does this Mean the Aviation Industry Will Start Recovering?


The recovery is likely to be a long (and painful) process. As things stand, the industry is expected to post losses of $3-3.6bn this quarter. Resumption in business could provide some respite, but the limited capacity and capped fares mean airlines will continue to tread on a shaky path. Additionally, the new safety protocols will add to airlines’ expenditures, so any benefit from record low global fuel prices would be offset.


What’s more, the lack of Government relief has put a damper on the industry. The industry was promised a “a big package” in the Atma Nirbhar economic stimulus package. The announcements for the industry, however, were merely a rehash of already-existing measures.


Then there’s the issue of demand. COVID-19 has changed the way we look at travel. Even if the pandemic dies down in the coming weeks and India sees normalcy resurface, consumers would think twice before booking long flights, especially international ones. Businesses may prefer to hold video conferences rather than send employees on business trips. Travellers may opt for closer destinations that can be reached by road rather than fly to faraway places. This could considerably drive down demand for air travel, further hurting airlines’ revenues.


Smaller airlines are at greater threat and may not be able to weather the uncertainties ahead. We could very well see mergers and acquisitions in the future if the industry decides to consolidate to tackle mounting debt and losses.


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