Airlines don’t have to keep the middle seat empty as long as they follow the health and safety guidelines for coronavirus issued by the aviation regulator, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday, giving struggling airlines a measure of relief.
“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 ruling applies to both domestic and international flights, although the only international ones operating now are evacuation flights.
The Supreme Court ruling upheld a 15 June Bombay high court order allowing flights to operate without having to leave the middle seat vacant. 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. The Bombay high court had permitted all flight operators to sell the middle seats, but said they should strictly comply with guidelines of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Kanani argued that middle seats of all international and domestic flights should be kept vacant to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The 31 May circular by the DGCA stated that middle seat passengers should be given a ‘wraparound gown’, in addition to the mask and face shield that airlines already have to provide everyone on board. Additionally, airlines should ensure that families and those travelling together are seated together.
On Friday, a senior executive with a no-frill airline welcomed the apex court’s decision saying air travel is currently the safest mode of transport . “DGCA has already directed airlines to provide PPE gowns to passengers seated on middle seats if such seats can’t be kept empty. Airlines are currently following the DGCA mandate,” he said requesting anonymity.
Neetu Chandra Sharma contributed to the story.