Thursday, May 07, 2020

Vande Bharat Mission starts with 2 AI Express flights scheduled to reach Kerala from Gulf tonight

New Delhi: The mammoth Vande Bharat Mission of flying back lakhs of Indians stranded abroad will see the first set of countrymen returning home on Thursday night when two Air India Express flights reach Kerala from the Gulf with 363 people on board.

IX 452 is scheduled to take off from Abu Dhabi for Kochi with 181 people on board (161 adults, 16 children and four infants) while, IX 344 will operate from Dubai to Kozhikode with 182 on board (164 adults, 13 children and five infants). Both these flights are expected to take off after 5 pm on Thursday (local time) from the Gulf and reach India later tonight.

Both the 189-seater Boeing 737s of AI Express took off from Kerala with two pilots and four cabin crew members on board each aircraft earlier this morning. The low cost arm of AI, which will operate 23 repatriation flights in the first week of Vande Bharat Mission, will keep last two rows of each aircraft vacant for seating any passenger showing Covid symptoms enroute 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 and some infants in their parents’ laps.
As per protocol, the crew members will wear full protective gear before opening aircraft gate on reaching the destination from where Indians are being flown back.

“Passengers have been asked to wear masks and gloves at airports from where they will be boarding flights. When they board, we will be given 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 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 from 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.
07/05/20 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India
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