Before I took the trip from Bengaluru to Imphal, I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to travel by flight during Covid-19 with all its protocols. An N-95 mask — of the dimension 15.5×10.5×1.0 cm weighing just 10 grams and covering the nose and mouth — when coupled with a face shield, while promises optimum protection against the virus, also makes you feel extremely sick during travel.
My motion sickness got aggravated, all this protection gear triggered excessive sweating, which in turn made me feel exhausted from dehydration and lack of oxygen. It is one thing to wear a mask for a few minutes or even an hour or so, and another to wear it for 11 hours at a stretch, that too in a closed space at high altitude and during a flight.
My headache and sweaty body could still be tackled, but the clumsiness, blurred vision and a sense of disorientation is what most of my travel experience during the pandemic consists of.
The process of check-in has been simplified to minimise interaction between passengers and airlines staff. For example, web check-in and carrying a print out of your boarding pass have become mandatory. If you don’t know how to web check-in, then may God come to your rescue. Even then, the entire process at the airport takes longer due to social distancing. It must have become difficult to verify passengers’ identity with everyone wearing mask(s).
I have never seen the Kempegowda International Airport this vacant before nor have I suffered so much during a flight. The air traffic in the Northeast has dropped significantly and flight cancellations are high. After three take-offs and three landings, with layover at Kolkata and Agartala, I finally reached my hometown, Imphal. My dad and nephew were waiting for me at arrival and I cried half from the relief I felt at the end of my journey as much as from the joy of seeing them.
Even though very few people are travelling nowadays, funnily, excess baggage is still charged. The airlines gives you a face shield, few sachets of hand sanitiser, a surgical mask to every passenger and PPEs to passengers sitting in the middle seat after security check-in and before boarding the aircraft, which I believe is way too late in the process and should be given as soon as passengers step inside the airport.
I was also taken aback to see that many people were travelling without a Covid-19 negative test report. No social distancing was being maintained in the way passengers were seated inside the flight and if the seats were vacant, it was because they weren’t booked. This was perhaps the only time in my life where the stewards/stewardess weren’t as friendly and helpful due to social distancing. Dressed in a PPE sets from head to toe, they almost looked apologetic for not being there amidst us in close proximity.
Once I reached home, along with the tradition of crossing a small fire that was lighted as a mark of welcome, there was an additional tradition this time, of getting sanitised from head to toe by a sanitiser gun that sprays volumes of sanitiser on you. Someone told me to stay near the fire longer so that the germs get killed, some pointed out to spray my face, too, so the virus is killed. Gone are the days of hugs, kisses and merry chatting on reunions.