Air Passengers

Varsha Visal

CHICAGO, IL: The world’s sixth busiest airport O’Hare International airport at Chicago may not have seen such a crowd for a single flight ever since COVID-19 pandemic gripping.  But on May 11, 2020, around p.m. there were almost 300 passengers waiting calmly & quietly obeying social distancing and wearing masks and gloves in a line all across terminal 5.

 As the world has been facing an unprecedented challenge due to the Coronavirus pandemic, these were the people of Indian origin stranded in the USA. Corona has also led to the suspension of international as well as domestic travel in India. These include, Indians who had traveled to different countries for several purposes, such as employment, education, internship, tourism, business, etc. Many of them are desirous of returning to India quickly. The Government of India has launched a massive repatriation operation to bring Indian nationals back from different parts of the world.

This is the largest and most complex exercise coordinated by the Ministry of External Affairs; Indian Foreign Ministry The operation is in association with other Ministries. Under the able guidance of the Prime Minister Narendra Modiji and the External Affairs Minister, the COVID cell in Foreign Ministry is proactively managing these two operations. There is a large team at headquarters that is coordinating with all Indian Embassies/Missions abroad – on the international front and various concerned agencies – on the domestic front.

Under the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’, in phase one, Air India is operating 64 flights to and from 12 countries over nine days to evacuate Indian citizens between May 7 to May 15.  As a part of the Vande Bharat Mission involving air travel, Air India will be operating non-scheduled commercial seven flights from the United States to India.  These include two flights each from San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, and one from Washington.

The first fight from Chicago on 11th May 2020 left for Mumbai and Chennai, whereas the second flight on 15 May planned for Delhi and Hyderabad. The total number of seats available on these seven flights is limited compared to the total number of requests that Indian embassies in the USA have received on the Embassy portal.   The Indian Consulate in, Chicago has urged passengers and Indian nationals   to be patient and understanding to Indians stranded here in the USA

Air India Crew
Air India Crew

 This appeal seems to be well received for the first flight on May 11, 2020 from O’Hare international airport. The Indian government is planning a second phase of flights to accommodate the ones who could not be included in the first phase and would be able to cover more people. The selection of passengers for flights has been done through a process of electronic random selection, taking into account the compelling cases facing medical emergencies or need to return due to bereavement in the family, students, pregnant women, elderly or those facing expiry of visas, students, etc.

The Chicago as well as all Indian Consulates in the USA are working hard to take care of each and every request they have received. Selected passengers have been contacted via e-mail and phone and getting briefed about the formalities and modalities of processing tickets, health protocol at the time of arrival and departure.

Per official advisory by Government, all passengers will be required to undergo medical screening before boarding the flight and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel.

All passengers on arrival in India will be medically screened and would have to download and register on the Arogya Setu app. Also they will need to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine on arrival in India in institutional quarantine facilities on payment basis as per the protocols framed by the Government of India. COVID test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to applicable health protocols.

For the first flight from O’Hare Chicago, Indian Consul General Amit Kumar, Consul Ranjit Singh, and their team, Malini Vaidyanathan, Manager Midwest, Air India Ltd., and Air India’s dedicated team, all looked after the arrangements for passengers traveling to India. Community leader, MPA (Midwest Punjabi Association, Chicago) Gurmeet Singh Dhawan and FIA team members were among the few to witness this historical activity. Adbhhut Media was there to cover this mission by special invitation from the Consulate General of India Chicago.