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Indian families reunited as domestic flights resume

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

A five-year-old boy stuck at his grandparents’ house was among thousands of Indians reunited with their families, as the country resumed domestic flights that were suspended two months ago as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s draconian coronavirus lockdown.

Indian airlines operated 532 domestic flights, carrying 39,321 passengers, on Monday, the first day that flights had operated since the country shut down its economy and suspended all public transport in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Flights are expected to increase in the coming days as more states permit the arrival of flights from other Indian cities.

Among the first fliers to take advantage of the resumption of domestic air services was a five-year-old, who flew alone to Bangalore to be reunited with his parents after his visit to grandparents in New Delhi ended up unexpectedly lasting for months.

Most passengers were travelling to reunite with family members from whom they’d been unexpectedly separated when the lockdown was imposed. Others were going to see ailing relatives. Few were travelling for business purposes.

India’s surprise lockdown — which was imposed with just four hours’ notice and accompanied by the suspension of all public transport — left millions of migrant workers stranded without work or wages in the country’s big cities.

Many members of India’s middle and affluent classes were also left separated from family given the lack of prior warning.

India has approved the operation of around 1,000 daily flights for the next two months. Demand for domestic air travel is likely to remain muted, as many states have imposed strict quarantine requirements for travellers arriving from other areas.

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