It seems quite clear that air travel in the country will not be resumed any time soon. When that does eventually happen, airports in India and flights within India and on international routes may not be anything that we are used to. Social distancing will be a norm at the airport and on flights and air travel will be far more expensive than it has been in years.
Social distancing will begin even before passengers enter the airport. Personnel from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) who are posted at airports will be equipped with thermal temperature scanners and will not allow passengers with a fever to enter the airport. Queues will be strictly managed with a gap of at least one metre being maintained between passengers.
This practice will be maintained during the check-in and security check procedure as well.
Once passengers board the aircraft, they will find middle-row seats unoccupied in order to maintain a distance between passengers.
The fact that flights will operate at 50 per cent of their capacity will mean that airlines will need to substantially hike ticket prices. Basic tickets between Delhi and Mumbai could begin at Rs 8,000 to compensate airlines for having to operate at half the capacity of their aircraft.
Given the sharp drop in demand that is expected as per the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, there could be a surplus for 200-250 aircraft in India, many of which would need to returned to their lessors. The overall civil aviation sector may be similar to what it was at least five years back when fewer aircraft serviced Indian skies.
The lower capacity will also mean that our airports which were running into space constraints, particularly in Delhi and Mumbai, may see some of their terminals such as Delhi’s Terminal 2 shutting down.
But the biggest variable remains the condition of the airlines once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Without a strong recovery package from the government, it’s quite possible that some airlines may not survive the impact of the coronavirus.