Earlier this week, I traveled from Victoria to Mumbai via the Vande Bharat flight from Air India. Here is a short post on my experience, and what to expect during the trip. Hope it helps anyone who is planning a trip from Canada to India.
I booked my flight for October 21st, from the Air India website. The one-way ticket cost me $730 but looks like it’s reduced to $618 today. I was really surprised to find tickets so cheap, as I had heard about friends’ friends paying thousands of dollars for a one-way trip, just a few months ago.
Before the Trip
Before you book your ticket, you have to register at a few places.
Registration at the Consulate General of India, Toronto, Canada
The self-reporting form on the New Delhi Airport website
The Exemption form, if you want to apply for exemption from the mandatory institutional quarantine, but there are other ways to avoid it. Keep reading.
The first two forms are straight-forward. Take a printout of all three forms, or save them as a PDF on your phone or iPad. The authorities at the airport will ask you to show the second and third forms upon landing. I recommend the print-out so you can avoid handing your phone. Take multiple copies of each and hand them out as necessary.
Before filling the third form, decide whether you want to apply for an exemption from the mandatory quarantine upon your arrival. As per the government guidelines, all the passengers arriving on an international flight have to do mandatory 7-14 days institutional quarantine. If you don’t want to do that, get an RT-PCR test done in Canada, get the result (hopefully it’s negative), and then fill the exemption form, where you upload the results.
If you don’t want to do the test in Canada before your flight, there is another way to avoid exemption. Some airports in India do the RT-PCR test on your arrival, including New Delhi and Mumbai. So you can get your test done in India once you land. The catch here is that the results take up to 6-8 hours, so you have to wait at the airport till you get the results. The good news is that the airports provide a nice lounge where you can wait till the results are back. This is the process I went through, and overall I had a good experience. I did the test in Mumbai, had to pay 1600 rs., and wait for 6 hours. After that, I was allowed to leave the airport.
My original flight was scheduled on October 21st, from Vancouver to Mumbai via New Delhi. One big concern I had was where will they ask me to do the test, in Delhi, or in Mumbai? Because I had only one and half hours of layover at New Delhi, and the test results take around 6-8 hours. So if they ask me to do the test in Delhi, I was going to miss my connecting flight.
Two days before my flight, I received an email from Air India, that my flight was postponed to October 23rd. I had already booked an Airbnb for a night’s stay in Vancouver. I had to postpone. I was really impressed by how convenient Airbnb made it for me to postpone my booking. It was my first booking on Airbnb and I have to say, I am impressed and going to use it in the future.
During the Trip
Okay, fast forward two days. I left for Vancouver on the afternoon of the 22nd. My neighbor Raj offered to drop me at the ferry terminal, which was very nice of him. On reaching the Schwartz Bay terminal, I realized that my 4 pm ferry was canceled. So I had to wait for an hour to catch the 5 pm ferry. The terminal was not crowded at all. There were very few people around, everyone following social distancing. The ferry ride from Victoria to Vancouver was smooth, and I reached Vancouver at 6.30 in the evening.
My good friend Kunal came to pick me up all the way from downtown Victoria to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. We had dinner in an Indo-Chinese restaurant in Surrey, and then he dropped me at the Airbnb in Richmond. I booked a taxi to the YVR international airport for the next morning. My flight was supposed to fly at 10.15 in the morning.
After reaching the airport around 7.45, I realized that there was a huge line for the Vande Bharat flight. Apparently, they decided to put all the passengers from the postponed flight with the passengers on the 23rd flight. So I had to wait for at least two hours in line before I could get my boarding pass. So try to reach at least 3-4 hours before your flight, to avoid any surprises. The flight was delayed by a couple of hours because of the long lineup.
The flight was fully packed. People tried to maintain as much social distancing as they best could, in the flight. The crew tried to follow the protocols to the best of their abilities and ensured that we had a pleasant flight. I usually try to avoid the in-flight food because of past bad experiences with Air China, but the food was good this time. I also carried a sandwich from Subway.
The flight was long, about 14-15 hours. I tried my best to avoid having to go to the washroom unnecessarily; partly because of the social distancing, and mainly because I was on a window seat and didn’t want to bug the nice couple sitting next to me. I think I used the washroom only once during the entire flight.
After the Trip
Finally, I reached Delhi airport. I was pleasantly surprised when they asked me to get on my connecting flight to Mumbai and told me that I don’t have to do the test in Delhi. That was a relief. Though I was mentally prepared to do the test and possibly quarantine in Delhi, I was relieved to not have to. So I go the next flight to Mumbai. There weren’t many people on the next flight, and I had a very nice trip to Mumbai. It was a short flight, and I landed in Mumbai after two hours.
At Mumbai airport, after clearing the immigration, I was asked to do the test. The test itself took 5 seconds. However, I had to wait for 6 hours to get the results back, which came out negative. That was a relief. Then I had to upload a copy of the results on the New Delhi airport site to apply for the exemption form. After that, I was allowed to leave the airport. I took a cab home.