Airlines can fill middle seats on flights: Bombay High Court

DGCA has ordered airlines to try to keep middle seats vacant in flights but if booked, the carriers should provide the passenger in the middle seats a ‘wrap-around gown’ apart from the other protective gears including a three-layered mask and shield to the passenger occupying the middle seat
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The Bombay High Court on Monday permitted flight operators to allow passengers to occupy all middle seats in flights but said they should strictly adhere with the guidelines of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

DGCA has ordered airlines to try to keep middle seats vacant in flights but if booked, the carriers should provide the passenger in the middle seats a ‘wrap-around gown’ apart from the other protective gears including a three-layered mask and shield to the passenger occupying the middle seat. These directions came into force from June 3.

“We are of the prima facie view that the safety and health of the passengers on board the aircraft qua Covid-19 virus is adequately taken care of even if the middle seat of the aircraft is not kept vacant on account of passenger load and seat capacity,” said a division bench of Justice SJ Kathawala and Justice Surendra Tavade on Monday.

The court heard an application from Air India pilot Deven Kanani, who requested the court’s intervention to instruct the state carrier and the DGCA to formulate mid-seat guidelines.

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All India Cabin Crew Association had also appeared before the court and said they support the DGCA regulation of May 31 based on the recommendations of the Expert Committee, and they do not support the petitioner’s claim that the aircraft’s center seats should be kept empty.

Last month, the Bombay High Court petitioned Air India to keep the middle seat clear while the aircraft was operating. However, the public airline and the government had challenged the order before the Supreme Court.

The Apex Court had ruled on May 27 that Air India can fill up the middle seats up to June 6 and then it will have to comply with any ruling passed by the High Court.

“It may not be possible for this court to take a view different from the views and decisions arrived at collectively by technically qualified persons after detailed deliberations and keeping in mind the health and safety of passengers, especially when the said decisions are not so manifestly arbitrary or irrational, that no prudent man would take it,” said the court in its 50-page order.

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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also notified guidelines on May 21 for management of air passengers. These do not mandate keeping the seat between two passengers empty.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh appeared for the government and Air India respectively, while advocates Kavita Anchan and Arsh Misra appeared for Air India in this case.

(Source – Economic Times)

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