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Combating coronavirus: How to survive an Indian repatriation flight during pandemic
Wife of a top Indian diplomat, Vandana Srivastav, shares her top tips after returning to India after five and a half years in UAE.
After spending five-and-a-half-years in the UAE, wife of an Indian diplomat, Vandana Srivastav, and her children Syona and Kushagra Srivastav, were faced with the daunting task of returning to India.
Her husband Rahul Srivastav, consul visa at the Consulate General of India in Dubai completed his term a few months ago. A legal and business consultant, Vandana said she was supposed to return to Delhi several months ago, but the ongoing pandemic delayed her departure considerably.
Finally, on June 22, Vandana and her kids flew back to India on a Vande Bharat Mission repatriation flight. Since travelling during this time was an extraordinary feat, Vandana chronicled her journey on social media to educate and support other travellers on what they can do to be safe pre-departure, in-flight, and upon reaching their destination.
Speaking to Khaleej Times after nearly completing her mandatory quarantine period, Vandana said: "A tense mood had surrounded our household, as our family braced for a monumental change in our lives. My husband had just got his transfer order, which would entail us to move back to Delhi from Dubai in one of the repatriation flights, since we were diplomats."
She added: "Undertaking such a massive transfer process along with the four-hour journey in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic got me anxious for quite a few days."
Here are some helpful tips from Vandana on what travellers must take care of and look forward to before embarking on their journey.
Pre-departure preparation at home
Vandana said: "When I started packing my final bags, I realised that it was time to say a heartfelt goodbye to Dubai, the place where I had spent five and a half years of my life. We were finally done and were getting ready to travel during these trying times."
Vandana said the main travel essentials must be sanitisers, personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, face shields, and disinfectant sprays are a must, as opposed to earlier where travellers could take earphones and a good book to read.
She also strongly advises using cellophane wraps over check-in luggage. "We wrapped our entire check-in luggage in cellophane wraps. This would allow us to just open and discard them as soon as we reached our destination, allowing the main baggage to not be contaminated, and eliminating the need to disinfect the same," explained Vandana.
At Dubai International Airport
She said, "We reached DXB airport at 10am, and saw a meticulous arrangement of people waiting for their health check-up before moving on to the usual airport protocol. Every single person was wearing masks, gloves, maintaining social distance and following all the new rules and regulations during the pandemic throughout the airport."
After passing the Covid health screening at the airport, the family got their boarding passes, gave their check-in baggage, and took care of some oversized baggage since they were moving on a transfer basis, and moved on through the X-Ray area to the gates, where we would wait until boarding started.
Air India also provided the family with face shields, hand sanitisers, and extra face masks for use during the journey. "They were also giving out PPE kits to everyone sitting in the middle seat. However, upon seeing two kids travelling with me, they decided to give PPE kits to all of us," said Vandana. She insists that all passengers wear a PPE kit. "There is nothing embarrassing about being careful. even if you look like astronauts," she added.
Safety in the aircraft: It is better not to eat
Compared to pre-Covid-19 days, air hostesses were giving out hand sanitisers instead of refreshments. "On top of all the security measures taken by the airport and the airline, we also made it a rule of thumb to spray disinfectant everywhere we went and everything we came in contact with," said Kushagra.
"A small box of food and a water bottle was already kept on everyone's seats, but we chose to keep it on the ground and ignore it," said Vandana, who recommends it is better not to eat or drink on the flight. Three hours later, the family arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi.
Arrival and quarantine in India: Gear up for a long wait
Upon arrival, the family was asked to download the Indian 'Arogya Setu' app, which is used to track Covid-19 patients in India. "The plane was being sanitised from the outside, and soon the air hostess started calling out seat numbers on the PA system, upon which the respective passengers stood up and left the plane," she explained.
Since a flight from Melbourne had just landed in Delhi at the same time, the Srivastav family took at least three hours to exit the airport upon completion of health procedures. "Once the Melbourne passengers had been processed, we proceeded to our check-ups and kept all our documents ready. Firstly, our temperatures were taken and our self-declaration health forms were checked, and stamped," she said.
At the standard immigration counters, health forms were checked once again. "They also kept a copy of the same for their own records. We followed the standard airport processes and moved to the conveyor belts, where the luggage was kept by the side of the belts instead of on the belt. We kept using a disinfectant spray," she added.
Medical officers checked blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels of all passengers. "There was an officer to check our quarantine documents, and we availed permission to use our personal vehicle to get to our hotel, which was to our designated quarantine centre.
By now, it was 9.30pm, almost 12 hours since we had started our journey from Dubai," explained Vandana.
"The hotel staff at the quarantine facility disinfected our luggage. We were taken to our room quickly, where we removed our masks, took a bath, and felt like we were in paradise. It was almost after 13 hours now, when we had the second meal of our day," she concluded.
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