The Directorate General of Civil Aviation on Sunday issued an order which among other things, mandates trying to keep the seat between two passengers vacant.
The order, a fallout of judicial observations, is binding on all airlines, charter and private jet operators, whether Indian or foreign, operating domestic or international flights. It also says “no meals or drinking water shall be served on board except in extreme circumstances arising due to health reasons”. This will be implemented on domestic and international flights of 2-3 hour duration. On longer flights, packed meals can be served to minimise crew-passenger contact, said an official.
While the DGCA had on March 23, directed airlines to keep the seat between two flyers vacant on domestic flights, the aviation ministry later said this would render airlines financially unviable and that the practice was not being adopted elsewhere.
An Air India pilot moved Bombay HC on the issue as the Vande Bharat repatriation flights were coming almost full. The HC questioned the practice. AI moved an urgent plea in the Supreme Court on the issue. The SC on May 25 observed that “DGCA is free to alter any norms he may consider necessary during the pendency of the matter in the interest of public health and safety of the passengers rather than of commercial considerations.” Following the SC observations, the aviation ministry constituted an expert committee of three eminent doctors on May 26 “to review and further strengthen the public health related protocols of air travel.”
The panel gave its report to the ministry. After considering it, the DGCA last Sunday issued the following directions. Apart from previously issued protocols, the new things in the order are: “Airlines shall allot seats in such a manner that the middle seat between two passengers is kept vacant if the passenger load and seat capacity permits the same. However, members of same family may be allowed to sit together. If middle seat/seat between two passengers is occupied due to passenger load, then additional protective equipment like ‘wrap around gown’ shall be provided to the individual on the middle seat in addition to the three layer face mask and face shield.”