Homeward Bound: My Experience On The Vande Bharat Flight To India
Being away from home during a time of crisis can take a toll on one’s life. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, I have somehow managed to make these past 18 months productive. Yet, I knew something was missing: the surreal feeling of being with your family. Even after making countless memories with my friends, I still longed to see my parents. After spending months of seeing them over video calls, I realized that it was about time I visited them. This is where Air India stepped in.
While other airlines were restricting their operations to domestic flights and very few international flights, Air India was one of the few airlines offering safe evacuation flights back to India. In partnership with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, the airline offered select flights directly to India for Indians stranded abroad due to the pandemic. The airline upheld their safety protocols during the flight, ensuring a safe homecoming for all passengers while reducing the disease’s risk. From my experience, I must say that the experience put all my apprehensions regarding air travel to rest.
Before boarding the flight, I was required to take an RT-PCR COVID-19 test to be eligible to be exempted from the quarantine rules enforced in the state. I also had to fill out a Self-Reporting Health Form provided by the Airport Authorities of India (AAI) declaring my health status. It was only after my health status was approved with my results from the PCR test that I was allowed to board the flight.
First, I had to get my temperature checked by two health officials present on-site at the check-in counter. With that step done, a sticker was placed on the back of my passport indicating that I was safe to travel via air. Following the usual drill of baggage drop and security check, I was made to sign a Health Undertaking by the Indian Consulate stating that I was responsible for my health and safety and would follow the necessary COVID-19 protocols.
On-board the flight, I was welcomed by the cabin crew wearing PPE gowns, face shields, and masks. The seating arrangement was spaced out to comply with physical distancing measures and we were required to keep our masks on throughout the flight unless you had a respiratory issue. We were also requested not to crowd outside the lavatories to comply with physical distancing measures. Not much had changed in terms of the quality of service on-board the flight, except that extra precautions were taken to avoid any direct contact with surfaces or people. For example, all passengers were provided with a goody bag that contained assorted snacks, meals were served in pre-packed boxes instead of being served on the tray-table as the food services were restricted, and interactions with the cabin crew were limited for the safety of the passengers.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Air India’s team who ensured the flight to be as safe as possible and took every precaution possible to reduce the threat of transmission. This flight experience, even though it was different than usual, has surely been a memorable one.