The Directorate General of Civil Aviation on Monday asked airlines to try and leave the middle seats on planes vacant to ensure physical distancing. The order came a week after the Supreme Court pulled up the aviation regulator and Air India for putting passengers at risk by allowing booking for those seats as domestic flights resumed after two months.
“The airline shall allot the seats in such a manner that the middle seat is kept vacant if the passenger load and seat capacity permits the same,” DGCA said in its order. “However members of the same family may be allowed to sit together.”
The aviation regulator added that in case the middle seat cannot be kept vacant due to passenger load, the occupant must be provided extra protective equipment. “Additional protective equipment like ‘wrap around gown’ [Ministry of Textiles approved standards] shall be provided to the individual occupying the intervening seat in addition to three-layered mask and face shield.”
During a hearing in the matter last week, the Supreme Court had told the Centre that it should be more worried about citizens’ health than airlines. The court had, however, permitted Air India to accept bookings for middle seats on repatriation flights till June 6.
Domestic flights in India had resumed on May 25, with health and security checks in place at airports. The government has not made a decision on the resumption of international flights yet. The only flights operating internationally are the special ones meant to bring back stranded Indian citizens.
The fifth phase of the lockdown, with some relaxations, began on Monday. The Centre has extended the nationwide lockdown until June 30 only in the containment zones, but permitted restaurants, malls and religious places to reopen elsewhere from June 8. State governments, however, will make the final decision about what places will be allowed to open.
The number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 1,90,535 on Monday after a record daily jump of 8,392 new infections. The country also recorded 230 deaths in the 24 hours since Sunday morning, taking the overall casualties to 5,394. India has now become the seventh most-affected country in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.