The Bombay High Court on Friday, in an interim order, allowed airlines to keep middle seats on planes occupied, but in accordance to the safety guidelines issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation that mandate provision of extra protective equipment to the occupant, Live Law reported.
The court’s order came after an expert committee headed by the secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation told the bench that the coronavirus does not spread by merely touching an infected person, unless droplets from their mouth or nose reach another individual by way of coughing and sneezing. The committee added that protective wrap-around gowns worn by a person would insulate his co-passengers from infection.
The Bombay High Court was hearing a petition filed by Air India pilot Deven Y Kanani, who alleged that the national carrier had not been keeping middle seats vacant on special planes bringing Indian citizens back from foreign countries and risking the safety of the passengers.
During the hearing, budget carrier IndiGo’s lawyer told the court that the order to keep middle seats on planes vacant threatened the rights of airlines to conduct business. SpiceJet and GoAir, meanwhile, said that they agreed with the government’s safety guidelines.
The bench reserved its order on the matter and said airlines will be allowed to keep middle seats occupied in the meantime, but with strict adherence to government norms.
Last week, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had 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 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,” it said.
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.