Tuesday 23 June 2020 4:05 AM UTC
Deepa arrived in the UK ten months back seeking pastures new. Like somethings are destined to be, Coronavirus put a dampener on all her plans to bring her husband and two year old to join her. She couldn’t be without returning and joining her baby and husband and thus she pulled all strings to get to the Vande Bharath Mission Air India flight for 18th June. Deepa is safe back home but she still has to wait for another 12 more days to reach near her daughter as she is quarantining safely in another home. Deepa has still not told her two year old that she is in Kerala and she makes her video calls pretending that she is calling from the UK. It’s so close but so far for her. The yearning for reaching close to her dear ones is a long wait and a tedious one. But she has to wait for the welfare of all. Deepa recounts her experience of the whole episode of her securing a place through Air India and make it to Kerala. A harrowing one but a sweet one too by making it over the other side during these difficult times which she will always remember for sure.
My experience of Air India repatriation flight to Kochi on 18th June
I was one of the lucky ones to secure the 18th June flight to Kochi through the tatkaal ticket alike Air India ticketing portal. I am now back home quarantining and thought of you all and decided to write down my experience so that it may help those still stranded in the UK.
The Day: Airport Arrival
I reached airport at 2pm BST with my uncle who dropped me at the “Departure Drop-Off” (I think that was Level 5) point. At the entry gate, a security officer was checking for ticket and letting only the passengers to enter. When my turn came and I told him my flight was Air India, he asked me to take the nearby lift and go to Level 0.
When I took the lift and reached level 0, I was clueless where to go.
Nevertheless, I walk towards the center and saw that there were many long queues in groups (Snake Queues). I walked to the very long queue, which looked like all Indians. I asked one of the person standing in the queue if this was for Air India, which he confirmed affirmative and I joined behind the line.
Soon, a ground staff came and asked to make two separate lines for Mumbai and Delhi. So out of confusion I went and asked her which line I should join for “Kochi” and she said “Kochi!!! Kochi flight is late in the evening”.
She asked me to make a new Queue for “Kochi”. Yes, only then I realized this long queue was for AI 130 (London-Delhi-Mumbai) departing at 4:35pm and I was the first person in queue to Kochi flight scheduled to depart at 7pm. Three-to-four other passengers also joined the queue who came in and joined the other queue.
After a long wait of about 1 hour 30 mins, the ground staff let a batch of 10-15 passengers go to the nearby lift and take the lift to 5 floor (Departure floor). After coming out of the lift, we walked towards the Air India check-in counter, a lady seated near to the entry of the another snake queue asked me looking at my baggage – “How many bags madam?”.
Once I told her that I have 2 suitcases, 1 small bag and 1 laptop bag and I have already bought excess baggage online (1 pcs – 114 pound which at airport is 140 pounds) she let me enter the queue.
At the check-in counter, the staff only asked me for the Passport and the printout of the Undertaking (the one we had to enter prior to booking tickets). She even did not ask me for the ticket printout, forget about all other printouts I had.
(I will still recommend carrying all the hard copies of – Air Ticket, HCI undertaking, soft \ hard copy of the Pre-Departure form and attested copy of the Bankcard used for payment if you do not have the card while travelling).
She weighted my each bag and gave me the boarding pass. 2 boarding passes London-Delhi and Delhi-Kochi. When I enquired that whether we need to switch flight at Delhi, she was not sure so she checked with her colleague and he confirmed that “No, only will need to switch the seat”.
Though I was confused, why should we need to change seat on the same flight but I did not probe further. I am now sure he had no Idea what he was saying. I also volunteered to help few aunties who were going to India for the first time.
Therefore, I waited for them to complete their check-in and then we walked to the security gate.
At the security gate, we scanned the barcode of the boarding pass and walked to the security checking. Security check process was as usual – separate electronic items, remove Jackets, remove shoes/sandals, and put all the liquid items.
Which I was unware since I was also returning from London for the first time of and the security officer opened my bag to find the travel size creams and liquid. ( I will recommend to put all the liquid items like – Sanitizer, creams, hand wash, moisturizers into a clear plastic cover and take out and keep it separate with the electronic things. I took me 10-15 mins to get that cleared, then pack and move).
After the security check, we walked to the Terminal Gate. Ours was Terminal B gate 43, which is 15-20 mins walk from the security check area. It will be little tricky if you are travelling alone and for the first time. Need to look for signs for directions, which is not very clear.
There were few in our flight who got lost and then few others helped them to correct gate.
Note: 2 shops are functional Smith and Boots between the security gate and the terminal. If you need to grab anything, get it there.
We were the first few to reach the deserted gate at 5 PM. To summarize, it took me around 1-hour and 30 minutes to complete all the formalities and reach the gate without rushing. After around 30 mins of waiting at the gate, the thermal screening started.
Another staff noted down the temperature as the Doctor screened it using a no touch forehead scanner. At the health desk, they also provided a PPE Kit for the middle seat passengers, and must be worn before boarding the flight.
Boarding & in-Flight
At around 6:15 PM they started boarding. On the way to the flight, the ground staff handed over us 1 form (1 white paper and 1 yellow carbon copy paper attached together) and asked to fill out the form before reaching Kochi.
After boarding, I could see 2 neatly packed packets – A blue packet containing 2 boxes of food (1 sandwich, 1 muffin, 1 flavored yoghurt and 1 Mongo Juice small carton) and a transparent packet containing Face shield, 2 mask and 2-3 sanitizer sachets and 1 ltr water bottle.
The Air India crew announced that as per Covid-19 protocol, there would be minimal interaction with the crew restricted to security only. There were no additional food/ snacks (except the packed boxes which is what they meant by meal in the ticket), no TVs. Restricted movements.
I did carry some food to have in the flight for dinner and breakfast, which made my life much easy J (I do recommend that you also carry your own food, the security officers did see my food while searching for liquids in the bag but they did not say anything).
The flight almost took off at 7:20 PM from London and landed at 7:45 AM at Delhi.
After parking the flight, the flight attendants asked all the Kochi passengers to de-board and collect luggage and go to transfer desk. It was shock for almost all of the Kochi Passengers who were on-boarded. However, collecting luggage was just a miscommunication.
After alighting from the plane, we headed towards the transfer desk. At the transfer desk, they asked us to take a seat and we waited for the big queue to get finished. Later, we joined the queue and then they verified our boarding passes to Kochi.
Later, we also had to re-do security check again at Delhi Airport (same procedure as LHR). Afterwards, we walked towards the terminal. Since we were the last ones and most of the passengers had already crossed this point, as there were no signs.
Therefore, we were clueless where to progress. However, the airport security staff guided us to the right path and we reached the boarding gate A 20.
Next, we got fresh and bought a coffee. Unlike, LHR Delhi airport has few café and restaurant to get eat outs.
Note: Delhi Duty free shops are open. Though, I didn’t explore much but seems to have variety of options available.
Our Delhi-Kochi flight was right on time. Everything was same as LHR-DEL flight except there was no temperature screening.
Note: Fill in the 2 Page form (same form, fill in the white form and the same will be copied to yellow page as well. Make sure the yellow page is copy is clear and readable, else, they will ask to re fill the same.
We landed at Kochi dot on time. However, we had to wait almost 30-45 mins in-flight before alighting from the flight.
Once we got down and walked towards the immigration desk, they announced to fill-up the form who did not and who had duly filled the form progressed towards the temperature screening health desk. Post screening, at next desk we had to show both the forms – white and yellow.
Subsequently we progressed to the immigration desk. At immigration desk, we had to provide the White form and the passport. After stamping, we moved to the baggage collection conveyor belt.’
Note: The Cochin duty free shop was open.
While waiting for the baggage, I tried to register Aryoga Setu App and it was successfully registered. Unlike, Numerous failed attempts to register the same at UK. Nevertheless, no one asked me for the app through my exit.
Post collection of the baggage, I walked towards the exit. I could see the money exchange was open and few other essential counter were functional. There was many huge queues for booking prepaid taxi. Since, I my husband was waiting out to pick me up; I skipped this queue and progressed.
Next counter was the one for providing exit pass. They collected my yellow form. Enquired about how I am planning to Quarantine for which I confirmed that I plan to home quarantine. They enquired about persons at my home, which I told them.
Then was asked about the means of transport and I confirmed private vehicle – own car. Bingo, I got the exit pass.
With the exit pass, I walked out. At the last checkpoint, I showed the exit pass and after my husband arrived with the car, they let me go.
Hurray!!! Finally took a deep breath of peace!!!
Note: While entering the airport, my husband had to provide all his details and consent to home quarantine as well for 14 days.
Well before I had travelled, my husband had called Disha and local health center to inform about my date of arrival. On our way home from Airport, as informed by Disha we informed the local “Asha worker” about my arrival and approximate time of reaching home.
We reached home at around 10 PM due to heavy rain; also, we had stop almost for an hour near Airport to have our packed lunch and for my husband to attend his office call.
Next morning, I woke up with the call from Asha worker confirming my safe arrival, Later I got a call from the health inspector who mentioned he would come home to verify. The health inspector waited outside the gate only.
He verified that we were alone and gave details of Doctor to reach-out in case of stress or emotional support, Disha toll free number and Covid-19 toll free number.
I also got call from Peroorkada health center and shared the same details.
Plans for Quarantine Days:
The past ten months were the most difficult time of my life. I had to take a decision that I will regret forever; that was to travel to London alone leaving behind my 20-month-old little angel. Our plan was to bring my baby and husband to join me in a months’ time but that did not work out.
Now Though I have reached Kerala, I still have not met my little one. The next 13 days are going to be more heartbreaking than the past 10 months. Though she is just an hour’s drive away, I still cannot see or hug her.
My 2.6 years old little doll is still living with my parents at Kollam, believing I am still at London and waiting eagerly for her Amma to come sooner with lots of toys and goodies; and will take her home.
I do not want to betray her trust by informing her about my arrival home and have not went to meet her or pick her up yet. Therefore, I am pretending that I am at still at UK, by making video calls with her while hiding behind white wall so that I accidentally do not reveal any details of our home.
As soon as I finish my home quarantine of 14 days, I intend to visit her at my parents’ home as if I am directly coming from Airport, pick her up from there, and bring her to our Home Sweet Home.
Enjoy your Flights and have a safe trip home!!!
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