Covid-19: SC asks Air India to keep middle seats vacant post June 6

By: |
Published: May 26, 2020 3:10 AM

Allowing national carrier Air India to operate scheduled international flight services with the middle seats filled only for the next 10 days till June 6, the Supreme Court on Monday said it was “common sense” that the government should have adopted social distancing as a precaution against coronavirus.

Air India has been operating the ‘Vande Bharat’ flights since May 7 to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the coronavirus-related shutdownsAir India has been operating the ‘Vande Bharat’ flights since May 7 to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the coronavirus-related shutdownsThursday. The service will start from May 28.

Allowing national carrier Air India to operate scheduled international flight services with the middle seats filled only for the next 10 days till June 6, the Supreme Court on Monday said it was “common sense” that the government should have adopted social distancing as a precaution against coronavirus.

Air India has been operating the ‘Vande Bharat’ flights since May 7 to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the coronavirus-related shutdowns.

Observing that the government should be more worried about the health of citizens rather than the health of commercial airlines, a Bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde said special international flights to repatriate Indians must have middle seats vacant. “AI shall be allowed to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle seats booking for next 10 days,” the CJI said.

“It is common sense that maintaining social distancing is important. Outside, there should be a social distancing of at least six feet but what about inside aircraft,” he added.

“There shouldn’t be a difference (between international and domestic flights). It is common sense that maintaining social distancing is important. Shoulder to shoulder sitting is dangerous… How can you say it will not affect? Will the virus know it is in an aircraft and that it is not supposed to infect passengers?… The transmission will be there if you are sitting next to each other,” the Bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who had argued that the best practice is testing and quarantine and “not seat difference”.

The judges also gave liberty to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to alter any norms during the pendency of the matter in the interest of public health and safety of the passengers rather than commercial considerations.

Without interfering with the Bombay High Court’s interim order that asked the airline to keep the middle seats vacant in international flights, the top court asked the Bombay High Court to decide the petition by Air India pilot Deven Yogesh Kanani, who had alleged that the DGCA’s circular of March 23 for keeping middle seats vacant was not being followed by Air India for its special flights meant to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the pandemic.

Besides, the top court directed that Air India and other airlines will have to follow the interim order given by the HC with regard to safety measures. The HC will now consider the plea on June 2. Both the Centre and Air India had moved against the SC against the HC order.

The Solicitor General told the apex court that the DGCA circular of March 23 applied only to scheduled domestic flights and not non-scheduled international. Air India also argued that the March 23 circular has been superseded by a new circular of May 22, 2020 that permitted domestic flights to operate from May 25 and there was no express mandate to keep the middle seats vacant.

He further contended that the decision to fill middle seats was taken after a meeting with experts.

Mehta apprised the Bench about the difficulties which passengers may face if the middle seat bookings are cancelled. He told the court that one-third of the passengers who are expected to be brought in by the non-scheduled flights would be left stranded in foreign airports if the HC order was not stayed.

The SG also contended that the HC order had “resulted in a lot of anxiety and difficulties arising from want of proper shelter, money, etc, at the foreign airports. Moreover, in some cases, the travel plan of families who were travelling together has been disrupted because those in the families who had middle seats have to be offloaded.”

Get live Stock Prices from BSE, NSE, US Market and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Financial Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest Biz news and updates.

Next Stories
1COVID-19: Taj Mahal, other Agra monuments reopening cancelled! Here’s all you need to know
2Sawan Somvar: Get Shiva ‘prasad’ by post from Kashi Vishwanath temple during holy month of Shraavana
3New DGCA circular: Your wait for international travel gets longer. Check details