Opinion and Editorial

Travel tales: On a wing and a prayer

Joydeep Sen Gupta
Filed on April 3, 2021

Earlier, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation had issued fresh advisories with effect from February 22.

Can I, or can’t I? I was haunted by this existential dilemma 48 hours before boarding my flight to Delhi in early March. Fear was the key, as India was reporting a second wave of Covid-19 cases. On a wing and a prayer, I booked an appointment for an RT-PCR test around 48 hours before boarding, as the rules had changed from 96 to 72 hours.

Earlier, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation had issued fresh advisories with effect from February 22.

Stricter rules were enforced at entry points in India to help stop the spread of new, mutant strains of Covid-19. “All three variants of the virus, from the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa and Brazil, have demonstrated increased transmissibility,” the ministry had said.

Though the airlines were advised to warn passengers about the new rules and regulations, this is where the cookie crumbled. Persistent calls to the Indian carrier’s local office proved to be an exercise in futility, as all queries were fobbed off with a templated response: check with the ministry or the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) authorities about the revised guidelines.

Besides, all passengers on transit flights from West Asia, Europe or the UK would also have to declare their travel history for the past 14 days.

Rules stipulate that passengers who are not in transit but are coming from those regions and have travelled elsewhere in the past 14 days will also have to self-declare. They will have to upload a negative Covid-19 test report and fill in a self-declaration form. The rule applies to all destinations in India.

There were swirling rumours about the quarantine rules as well. No two states back home seem to have uniform quarantine rules.

Fortunately, on the day of the journey, two incidents in quick succession gave me the confidence to make the trip. The RT-PCR test result was negative, and I also managed to take the booster dose of the vaccine.

However, confusion prevailed about what lies on arrival till the final moments of boarding the flight. India’s Ministry of Health had issued a fresh advisory. It stated that passengers arriving from and transiting through on flights originating in the UK, Europe or the Middle East shall be mandatorily subject to self-paid tests on arrival. A litany of rules made the flying experience like that of a bat out of hell.

Onboard the choc-a-block flight, comprising a mixed bag of blue-collar stragglers, jaded honeymoon couples and lonely souls like me, I overheard animated conversations about the evolving rules that needed to be dealt with at IGIA upon arrival.

All passengers are required to submit details about connecting flights and their final destination in India. Airlines had been told to inform passengers to allow up to eight hours in transit while booking a connecting flight. Passengers from West Asia and mainland Europe will be allowed to exit the airport after taking the test and are expected to receive the results within 24 hours.

But where rules end, confusion reigns supreme. I landed at IGIA at 4am, a good 80 minutes ahead of schedule, thanks to a massive tailwind. I expected to breeze through the Covid-19 test centre, immigration and make a quick exit from the airport in less than an hour.

But it took around three hours — longer than the flying time between Dubai and Delhi. In hindsight, which is always beautiful, I shouldn’t have pre-booked the Dh40 Covid-19 test. The unplanned got the better of a meticulous traveller.

But once I hit the streets of Delhi and caught the rays of the glistening morning sun, the contagion failed to dampen my spirits. Two days later, a whirlwind three-day trip to Kolkata reinforced a similar feeling.

Covid-19 is a state of mind, as all social distancing norms have gone for a toss in poll-bound West Bengal. Has Bengal won over the Covid-19 scourge? Well, the jury is still out there on that.


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