Meha Kapoor, a Mumbai-based radio jockey recently took a flight home to Faridabad, Haryana in light of lockdowns easing up in India. We spoke to her about her experience, flying with her mother, and maintaining social distancing in a cabin with 100 strangers.
I had been living in Mumbai with my elder sister from mid-march to early June. My mother was visiting when the lockdown was announced, so she too was stuck with us, leaving our father alone at home in Faridabad. Mumbai’s condition has been terrible and no one was stepping out at all. The way things were getting in the city, we just wanted to get home, so we booked a flight for June 4th, a day after Cyclone Nisarga hit Maharashtra.
Couple of days before we were flying, my sister and I joked if we’d get on the flight but our mother wasn’t having any of it. I do feel that all this, my ability to book a flight and just pack up and leave, came from a place of privilege, especially seeing the hardships of others. Maybe we could’ve pulled through and stayed. But we were done at that point. Mentally it had become too trying to stay for that long. Even when we were attempting to book our flights, we didn’t think we’d actually leave because so many flights were getting cancelled.
I woke up at 9 am on the day, for our 2:30 pm flight, only to realize that it was pouring heavily. We thought all of that was supposed to be over with the cyclone the day before. By the time our cab came, it wasn’t raining as much and we left for the airport wearing a mask and gloves, with one check-in luggage, a bag and the Aarogya Setu app switched on our phones. We were pretty anxious so no one said a word through the ride.
The highway and the airport were ridiculously empty. Upon reaching, even before the entry gate a guard, separated by a glass window, checked our Aarogya Setu app. Then, our temperatures were checked through a thermal screen at the entry gate, followed by ID and boarding pass shown to a guard, again separated by a glass shield. Thankfully there were markers everywhere on the floors for people to stand and maintain social distancing. Everyone surprisingly maintained that because we were all so stressed, no one wanted to make a mistake.
The glass shield and the markers remained a feature throughout, even being present at the baggage drop. This is why I also realized that there were hand sanitizer dispensers placed at regular intervals, which was thoughtful. Then we went to security, and after doing the regular baggage through the scanner bit, we weren’t frisked. We just raised our hands and walked through the enclosed space where women are usually frisked.
More importantly, we were quite paranoid, so we’d planned our toilet visits and didn’t want to go to the loo at the airport or in the flight, especially in these unusual circumstances.
We then reached our gate and settled down, and the flight staff started passing out a kit consisting of a face shield and a sanitizer. People sitting in between two strangers received personal protective equipment as well. there was a thermal screen there as well. It was quite considerate, especially because the flight wasn’t more expensive than usual. We all got to take face shields home now.
Everyone inside the flight cabin was wearing a face shield, except the babies. There were quite a few babies who kept crying throughout, and I was wondering why there aren’t shields or gloves to protect babies, especially as they’re vulnerable and have under-developed immune systems.
People didn’t move at all during the flight. They were also very cautious of expressing any symptoms of the common cold, so not a single person sneezed or coughed. I, then realized, I felt safer inside the flight than our journey from home to the airport. Maybe it’s because we’d just given up any pretense of control by then.
Everyone remained mindful of coming in close proximity with someone they didn’t know. I’m kind of protective about that in general too. So when we landed, the crew announced deboarding of rows ahead of us and some men in rows behind who weren’t even asked to line-up just started to crowd the aisle. I got up and yelled…but sadly, you can’t reason with uncles.
We deboarded and were taken to the airport in buses which also had social distancing markers. At the conveyor belt, people cooperated and picked up luggage maintaining social distancing.
Everyone knew we were in a maximum risk situation, so no one flouted any rules. I’m glad because it would’ve triggered my anxiety. I realized that the entire experience is scarier in our heads, and maybe I’m coming from a place of complete submission about the pandemic.