Supreme Court Allows Air India Flights To Fly For 10 Days With Middle Seats Filled
An Air India Ltd. aircraft stand on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

Supreme Court Allows Air India Flights To Fly For 10 Days With Middle Seats Filled

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The Supreme Court has allowed the government and its airline Air India Ltd. to keep operating its scheduled flights with the middle seats filled for the next 10 days while observing that the government should be more worried about the health of citizens rather than the health of commercial airlines.

The top court asked the Bombay High Court to decide the plea against circulars issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation expeditiously, and said Air India and other airlines will have to follow the order given by the high court with regard to safety measures including maintaining of social distancing inside aircraft by keeping middle seats vacant between two passengers in a row.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde conducted an urgent hearing on the Eid holiday through video conferencing to hear the appeals of the central government and Air India against a Bombay High Court order that had prohibited the use of the middle seat on health grounds.

You should be worried about the health of citizens, not about the health of commercial airlines, the bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and Hirshikesh Roy, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the centre.

Passengers of an Air India Ltd. repatriation flight from Singapore are escorted to buses, destined for quarantine centers, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)
Passengers of an Air India Ltd. repatriation flight from Singapore are escorted to buses, destined for quarantine centers, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

The high court had on May 22 sought response from Air India and the DGCA on a petition of an Air India pilot claiming that the airline was not following safety measures for Covid-19 while bringing back Indians stranded abroad.

The high court had directed Air India and DGCA to file affidavits clarifying their stand and posted the petition for further hearing on June 2.

The pilot, Deven Kanani, in his plea claimed that a circular issued by the government of India on March 23, 2020 laid down conditions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 while bringing back Indians stranded abroad due to the pandemic.

However, the condition pertaining to keeping the middle seat between two passengers empty was not being followed by Air India, he said in the plea.

Kanani submitted photographs of an Air India flight operated between San Francisco and Mumbai where all seats were occupied.

Air India, however, opposed the plea of the pilot and told the high court that the circular of March 23 has been now superseded with a new circular issued by the government on May 22, 2020 that permitted domestic flights to operate from May 25.

The new circular does not say that the middle seat needs to be kept empty, Air India told the court.

The high court had directed Air India and DGCA to file affidavits clarifying their stand and posted the petition for further hearing on June 2. The court had also allowed Kanani to amend his petition to challenge the circular of May 22.

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