Bombay High Court has allowed the airlines to fill up the middle seats by strictly complying with the DCGA guidelines issued on May 31 under which all airlines have to provide the wrap-up wear to the passengers and must follow the standard operating procedures (SOP). Further, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has also doubled the number of flights at Mumbai airport to 50 departures and 50 arrivals.
“We are of the prima facie view that the safety and health of the passengers onboard 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 the 50-page judgment passed by a division bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and S P Tavade.
The judgment further added, “However, the Respondent Air India and all other flight operators in the country shall during the air travel of passengers, strictly follow and implement the Order dated 31st May 2020 as well as the applicable SOPs.
The court has stated that an expert panel of the Ministry of Civil Aviation has rejected the suggestion to keep the middle seats vacant. “Upon disembarking, thermal screening of all passengers is again carried out and they are thereafter compulsorily placed under institutional quarantine for 7-14 days. It is not established till date that any passenger, who is tested positive, has been infected on board an aircraft” said Justice Kathwalla.
The judgment was passed while hearing the petition filed by Air India Pilot Deven Kanani. He had alleged that while evacuating the stranded Indians, national carrier Air India had violated the social distancing norms and has sought the directions to keep the middle seats of all domestic and international flights vacant to keep a check on the COVID-19 spread.
The court had reserved the matter for a final order on June 4. Till then the interim orders are needed to be followed by complying with DCGA guidelines.