Mandatory RT-PCR on flights leaves passengers vexed

COVID test rules vary from state to state, which makes it all the more irksome for flyers

Air passengers find it an expensive process, as the COVID test cost comes on top of the airfare.

Most state governments have made it compulsory for airlines to scrutinise RT-PCR test reports before onboarding passengers. The rule is routinely creating a ruckus at airports.

First, passengers find it an expensive process, as the COVID test cost comes on top of the airfare. Second, there is a strict time-bound validity for the reports, which varies from state to state. This means a delayed or rescheduled flight can leave the negative test reports useless — the passengers will have to take fresh ones to board the flight later.

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Times of India reported that a recent Chennai-Mumbai flight scheduled to depart on Sunday was rescheduled for Monday. The passengers had to spend ₹1,500 each all over again as the earlier report became invalid.

Varied sets of norms

The report said that Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh, Goa and Andaman and Nicobar Islands are among the states and Union Territories that require air passengers to arrive with a negative RT-PCR test report. Some do not allow flyers to board the aircraft without a report, while the others test them on arrival.

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While the norms are stringent enough to inconvenience passengers, the non-standardisation make them all the more confusing and irksome.

For instance, said ToI, Maharashtra has directed airlines to board only passengers who have a RT-PCR negative report issued not more than 48 hours before the time of arrival into Mumbai. Chandigarh insists the swabs should be taken 72 hours before arrival. Other states have some other rules.

This has led to loud arguments and scenes at airports, as overworked airline staff try to calm down disgruntled passengers.

The ToI report quoted Gurmukh Singh Bawa of the Air Travellers Association as saying passengers are hugely inconvenienced by the rules.

What can be done?

“I have seen this happen on international flights, too, where airline staff will say that your certification is 10 minutes late, etc,” Bawa told the daily. “There should be standardised rules. We have written to the government to make the rules standard and that there should be a common platform online where domestic passengers will be able to see all the information on travel rules.”

Airline industry experts have also said that vaccination certificates should carry greater weight. For instance, those who are fully vaccinated may be exempted from producing RT-PCR test reports, they suggest.

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