Supreme Court allows airlines to fill middle seats

The high court order, holding that adequate health and safety measures had been deployed by airlines, was challenged by an Air India pilot, Devan Kanani.
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In a big relief for the airlines, the Supreme Court on Friday confirmed the Bombay Supreme Court order that the airlines can operate without leaving the middle seat vacant.

Since the airlines have only been allowed to operate with a third of their capacity by the government since May 25, even with limited tariffs, any step not to allow the sale of the middle seats would have adversely affected the airlines.

  • Asking the airlines to strictly comply with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection, the HC on June 15 had noted that adequate safety measures had been deployed for safety and health of passengers.

On Friday, the division bench of the Supreme Court had dismissed the plea filed by the Air India pilot with the observation that they are not finding any merit.

“We are not inclined to interfere with the impugned order,” said a division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice BR Gavai. “The special leave petition is, accordingly, dismissed.”

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Earlier, on June 15, the High Court had permitted all flight operators to allow passengers to occupy all middle seats in flights, albeit with certain conditions. 

  • Before that, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had 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.

The court was hearing a plea filed by the Air India pilot Deven Kanani, who sought the court’s intervention to direct the state-owned carrier as well as DGCA to formulate guidelines with regard to the middle seat in the aircraft.

Kanani had approached the High Court and subsequently at the Supreme Court, but both the courts have upheld the stance taken by the DGCA about the middle seat.

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

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Read also – UK to ease quarantine rules for ‘low risk’ countries

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