Vande Bharat Mission of flying back lakhs of Indians stranded abroad

NEW DELHI: The mammoth Vande Bharat Mission of flying back lakhs of Indians stranded abroad kicked off with two Air India Express flights reaching Kerala from UAE on Thursday night carrying 363 people on board. The two flights — Abu Dhabi-Kochi IX 452 with 177 passengers and four infants and Dubai-Kozhikode IX 344 with 177 passengers and five infants — landed around 10.30 pm.

Passengers of Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight at the airport after landing in Kerala

Earlier this morning, both the 189-seater Boeing 737s of AI Express took off for Kerala with two pilots and four cabin crew members on board each aircraft. The low cost arm of AI will keep last two rows of each aircraft vacant for passengers showing Covid symptoms in isolation. Thus, the effective seating available is 177 (189-12 vacant seats in last two rows). Both the Abu Dhabi-Kochi and Dubai-Kozhikode will have all their 177 seats occupied with infants in parents’ laps as per rules.

Crew members of Air India Express Kozhikode-Dubai flight
The crew members have been asked to wear full protective gear before opening aircraft gate on reaching the destination from where Indians have to be flown back.

Kochi-Abu Dhabi flight reached Abu Dhabi at 2.50 pm (local time). Crew wears PPE before opening aircraft door to begin process of return flight with Indians stranded there.
“Passengers have been asked to wear masks and gloves at airports from where they will be boarding flights. When they board, we will give a pack with two masks and a bottle of 100-ml sanitiser. A packed meal box with two cheese sandwiches, a fruit cake slice and 500 ml water bottle will be given to each guest. They and the crew will mandatorily all wear masks throughout the journey,” said an official.
AI Express will operate 23 repatriation flights in the first week of Vande Bharat Mission to fly back Indians from places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait, Sharjah, Doha, Muscat, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore to Kochi, Kozhikode and Trivandrum in Kerala and other Indian cities like Chennai, Lucknow, Bengaluru and Amritsar. In all, 64 flights will be operated by AI and AI Express in the first week of Vande Bharat from Gulf, Southeast Asia, US and UK to fly back 14,800 Indians from those places.
More on Covid-19
Air India Express has started taking bookings for the “Vande Bharat” Thiruvananthapuram-Bahrain flight that will operate on May 8 and 11. Only Bahraini nationals and permanent residents can travel by these flights, says an airline official.
AI Express had to make lot of preparations to operate the first batch of 23 allotted flights under Vande Bharat. Since schedule flights have been suspended from March 25 when the lockdown began, most crew members were in their home towns.
“We had to bring them to places like Kochi, Kozhikode and Trivandrum form where they will operate flights. Special permission was taken to open a few hotels to accommodate them and our flight caterer also took clearance to restart the facility to serve for these flights. Covid tests are being conducted and all crew members have been trained for giving basic healthcare at government medical colleges,” said the official.
AI Express has tied up with Central Warehousing Corp for disinfection of the aircraft, both passenger and cargo sections, before and after each flight.