The Bombay High Court on Monday permitted all flight operators to allow passengers to occupy middle seats in flights, but said they should strictly comply with guidelines of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A division bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and S P Tavade refused to accept the contentions raised in a petition filed by Air India pilot Deven Kanani, who said the middle seats of all international and domestic flights should be kept vacant to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
"We are of the prima facie view that the safety and health of passengers on board the aircraft qua (with regard to) 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, the court said.
The court permitted air carriers to allow passengers to occupy the middle seat in flights, but said they should strictly comply with DGCA's guidelines on measures to be taken to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
The DGCA in its May 31 circular said flight operators should try to keep the middle seat vacant but if it has been booked, then the passenger shall be provided with a wraparound gown in addition to the mask and face shield.
If possible, passengers from one family or those travelling in one group could be allotted seats along with the middle seat, it said in the circular.
The court in its order said it has not seen any material to show wrongdoing on part of the Air India and Air India Express or violating circulars issued by the DGCA on March 23 and endangering the lives of passengers travelling back to India from abroad in the Vande Bharat flights.
The bench noted that all precautionary measures, as stipulated with regard to passengers and the crew, are complied with by all flight operators.
Upon disembarkment, thermal screening of all passengers is again carried out and they are thereafter compulsorily placed under institutional quarantine for seven to 14 days. It is not established till date that any passenger, who tested positive, has been infected on board an aircraft, the court said.
It further said even if the middle seat is kept vacant, the person occupying the window seat, while getting out for going to the washroom and thereafter returning to the seat, is likely to touch the person sitting on the aisle seat.
The court noted that a high-level expert committee of the Ministry of Civil Aviation has specifically considered and rejected the suggestion that seats must be kept vacant between passengers.
Kanani claimed theAirIndiawas violating guidelines laid down in a circular dated March 23 by the Centre, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during air travel.
The AirIndia, however, had opposed the plea, and informed the court last month that it was following all safety precautions as prescribed by the DGCA.
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