The government has banned in-flight catering in domestic flights with less than two hours of flying time, in a bid to limit the risk of COVID-19 infection.”The airlines, operating flights on domestic sectors may provide meal services on board, where in the flight duration is two hours or more,” the Ministry of Civil Aviation said in a notification on April 12.The tweak in providing meal services come even as air passenger traffic has come down in the last two weeks because of the re-surge in COVID-19 cases, and fresh restrictions imposed by state governments.The government’s latest directive comes with a set of conditions for catering on the longer flights, of over two hours. These include, usage of only disposable cutlery and servicing of meals will be staggered ‘among the adjacent seats as far as possible.’Calling the government order a ‘good move,’ Sanjiv Kapoor, Senior Advisor, Alton Aviation; former COO SpiceJet and CSCO, Vistara, proposed that the ban be extended to flights of up to three to four hours. “The revenue loss will be a small sacrifice relative to the reduction of COVID risk. A huge loophole will finally be plugged. For longer flights, meals can be staggered so not all masks off at same time,” he said on Twitter.It is yet not clear though if the government order also prevents passengers bringing their own food and eating them in-flight. “I think unless medically required, this should not be permitted as it will negate the entire point, which is to not have masks off for meals,” Kapoor said.Masks, and putting on one properly, has again become a focal point as governments struggle to limit the second, and more virulent, wave of the pandemic. India has recorded about 1.6 lakh fresh cases in the last 24 hours, and the pace has once again put the feeble health infrastructure on test. Vaccination too had slowed down because of a shortage of doses.Executives at airlines and online travel agencies point to a drastic fall in bookings, especially between metro routes, and passenger loads going below 60 percent.This has scarred what was otherwise a slow and steady recovery in passenger traffic since domestic flights resumed in May 2020. Some of the airlines were even asking the government to take off the cap of 80 percent in capacity utilisation. But now, the murmur is for a further cap to prevent a supply glut.
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