From keeping the various documents ready prior to the journey, to all the procedures and possible mishaps that could occur at the airport, travelling feels like a daunting mission nowadays. Vandana Srivastava shares her first person account
A tense mood had surrounded our household, as our family braced up for a monumental change in their 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. 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. However I maintained my calm, and felt stronger by reassuring myself that this time would soon pass.
Finally, when all the boxes were packed and the rooms rendered empty, it was time for us to leave. As I started packing my final bags, I realised that it was time to say goodbye to Dubai, the place where I had spent 5 and a half golden years of my life. We were finally done with our final shopping in the region, and were getting braced up to travel during these trying times. Obviously, our main travel essentials were going to be Sanitisers, PPE, Masks, Face Shields, Disinfectant Sprays, and the like: as opposed to the usual earphones and a good book to read.
As advised by various acquaintances, we wrapped our entire check-in luggage in cello-phane 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. We reached the DXB airport at 10.00 hours (UAE time), and saw quite a meticulous arrangement of people waiting for their health checkup before moving on to the usual airport protocol. A vivid depiction of responsibility and unity was portrayed before our eyes as we saw every single person wear masks, gloves, maintain social distance, and follow all the new rules and regulations during the pandemic throughout the airport.
We passed our Covid health screening at the airport, and moved on to the usual airport procedure. We got our boarding passes, gave our check-in baggage, took care of some over-sized baggage since we 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 gave us Face Shields, 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 traveling with me, they decided to give PPE kits to all of us. Even the security at the airport allowed all kinds of sanitisers and sprays to be taken on flights during this pandemic, which was strictly forbidden in the past.
Finally, our flight’s announcement was called out and it was time for us to suit up in our PPE kits, Face Shields, Masks, and Gloves. We all resembled astronauts on a field mission in our face masks and shield combo. We boarded a bus and entered our airplane as usual, but were informed soon that there would be no food or drinks served in this flight. Contrasted with the old times, 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.
A small box of food and a water bottle were already kept on everyone’s seats, but we chose to keep it on the ground and ignore it. Owing to our fear and alertness, we did not eat or drink anything throughout the journey, and realised later on that it was everybody on the flight who did the same. It was pretty uncomfortable for all of us to wear masks and shields, and to add on to the inconveniences, the flight was already running an hour late. Living such a surreal moment, I was reminded of John Milton’s poem, “On His Blindness”, where he thought that god was testing him during every single moment of his life.
The 3 hour journey seemed much longer than it actually was, but we soon made it to the Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi. However, as opposed to what everyone believed, this was nowhere close to the end. We were told to remain seated inside the plane until further notice, and to also download the Aarogya Setu app on our smartphones, which was a contact tracing app created by the Government of India in order for citizens to protect themselves from the Coronavirus. 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.
Upon entering the New Delhi airport, we were informed that a flight from Melbourne had just landed and the airport authorities were conducting their due procedures with passengers of the Melbourne flight first. Once all the passengers from that flight were cleared out, we proceeded to our checkups, and kept all our documents ready. Firstly, our temperatures were taken and our self-declaration health forms were checked, and stamped. This allowed us to carry on to the next process, which was the standard immigration process, upon which our health forms were checked once again. Notably, they also kept a copy of the same for their own records. We followed the standard airport process since and moved to the conveyer belts, where the luggage was kept by the side of the belts instead of on the belt, owing to the very few amount of flights operating. We looked for our luggage and gathered it, all while maintaining social distancing and using disinfectant spray throughout.
After all standard procedures were over; we met yet another medical official at the airport who checked our Blood Pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels. Then, we went outside of the main airport building to a small makeshift office made by the airport authorities. The purpose of this office was to rule out if we had the Coronavirus or not, and would suggest the necessary means of precaution tailored to each person’s health situation. We cleared all formalities, and were declared Covid negative. There was an SDM to check our quarantine documents, and we availed due permission to use our personal vehicle to get to our hotel, which was our designated quarantine center. It was now 21.30 hours (IST): almost 12 hours since we had started our journey from Dubai.
As soon as we reached, the hotel staff 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. It truly was pure bliss to finally see this journey come to an end successfully, and we were grateful that we made it safe.
To conclude, I would like to preface by saying that travelling anywhere during this pandemic is obviously not an easy thing to do. Ranging from the various documents needed to be kept in order prior to the journey, to all the procedures and possible mishaps that could occur at the airport, travelling feels like a daunting mission nowadays. However, throughout this experience, I would like to mention that the airports were well equipped and very cooperative, and all essential measures were taken to ensure that all passengers travel safely with the least amount of hassle possible.
The writer is a lawyer by profession and philanthropist by heart