Amid crowding, passenger complaints at airports, government pushes for DigiYatra
The growing crowds at major Indian airports and the launch of DigiYatra are two developments in the Indian civil aviation space that have made headlines in the past week
The growing crowds at major Indian airports and the launch of DigiYatra are two developments in the Indian civil aviation space that have made headlines in the past week. On Monday, December 12, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia descended to the Indira Gandhi International Airport so that he could get a real feel of the situation that has much-annoyed air travelers recently.
Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Sunday, December 11, spoken of how with the growth in airports and air connectivity, travel by air was becoming the go-to means of transportation. He was speaking in Goa after inaugurating a new greenfield airport. In the past week, while airfares have remained high, the number of passengers has also swelled. Since the onset of COVID, domestic air travel in India has reached an all-time high in the month of December. In the first nine days of this month, there have been seven days where domestic passenger numbers have surpassed the 4-lakh count.
After the Omicron variant outbreak impacted air travel, December 5, saw 4,13,716 domestic travelers use Delhi Airport. Previous record highs were reached on November 26 (4,05,963 passengers) and November 27 (4,09,831 passengers).
Passenger complaints have gone up in tandem with the growth in passenger volume. Passengers using Delhi and Mumbai airports have taken to social media to express their frustration with the lengthy wait times at every stage of the airport process. The complaints have been typically concerning aspects of the airport experience like entering the terminal, going through security, and waiting in immigration lines. Several references have also been made to the secondary checks of baggage being conducted that also contribute to slowing down at the security checkpoints.
“There is an increase in the number of people traveling either for tourism after two consecutive years of COVID or on business. Besides, there is a decrease in manned counters, and fewer available security personnel,” noted Reji Philip, a Mumbai-based travel agent.
December passenger data shows that the 4-lakh count (till December 10) is higher than the full month demand for about 900 days post-COVID reopening of flying. The first ten days of the month have seen about 75 per cent of the demand on January 2022. “We are just about to touch pre-COVID demand and things will fall in place sooner than later as corrective measures are taken. The takeaway from all this is that the aviation industry is healing,” a route planner with a leading Indian airline wrote.
DigiYatra: A solution?
While the government has held meetings and instructed preventive measures that include reducing flight departures to 33 from the airport terminals in Delhi during peak hours, the other long-term measure being touted is DigiYatra. The service is being promoted to facilitate paperless travel and avoid multiple identity checks at the airport enabling seamless and hassle-free travel. DigiYatra is presently available at the airports in both Varanasi and Bangalore, in addition to Delhi. By March of next year, it will have reached Hyderabad, Pune, Vijayawada, and Kolkata. It is currently available to Air India, Vistara, and IndiGo passengers.
Domestic air passengers currently have the option of opting into the Digi Yatra programme, but it is not required. For using the service, one must download the app, sign up by linking your Aadhar details, take a photo, and upload your boarding pass before flying. With DigiYatra, a passenger can avoid the wait and proceed to a specific e-gate, scan a bar-coded boarding pass and glance at the facial recognition system to enter the airport. A similar contactless procedure is carried out at the security check and the boarding gates.
However, DigiYatra has been criticised by privacy advocates and experts who worry that the project may lead to the improper use of airline passengers' personal information and unauthorised surveillance. The government on its part has claimed that passenger information provided to DigiYatra will be encrypted and stored in a decentralised fashion after these two factors were identified as potential vulnerabilities in the system.