Mumbai, June 15: The Bombay High Court on Monday permitted flight operators to allow passengers to occupy all middle seats in flights but said they should strictly adhere with the guidelines of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

DGCA has ordered airlines to try to keep middle seats vacant in flights but if booked, the carriers should provide the passenger in the middle seats a ‘wrap-around gown’ apart from the other protective gears including a three-layered mask and shield to the passenger occupying the middle seat. These directions came into force from June 3, The Economic Times reported. 

“We are of the prima facie view that the safety and health of the passengers on board 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 a division bench of Justice SJ Kathawala and Justice Surendra Tavade on Monday. 

The court was hearing a plea filed by the Air India pilot Deven Kanani, who sought the court’s intervention to direct the state-owned carrier as well as DGCA to formulate guidelines with regard to the middle seat in the aircraft. 

All India Cabin Crew Association had also appeared before the court and informed that they support the DGCA order of May 31, which is based on the recommendations of the expert committee and they do not support the petitioner’s contention that the middle seat of the aircraft ought to be kept vacant. 

Last month, the Bombay High Court had directed the Air India in its interim order to keep the middle seat vacant while operating the aircraft, in a petition filed by Kanani. However, the public carrier and the government had challenged the order in the Supreme Court. 

The Apex Court had ruled on May 27 that Air India can fill up the middle seats up to June 6 and then it will have to comply with any ruling passed by the High Court. 

“It may not be possible for this court to take a view different from the views and decisions arrived at collectively by technically qualified persons after detailed deliberations and keeping in mind the health and safety of passengers, especially when the said decisions are not so manifestly arbitrary or irrational, that no prudent man would take it,” said the court in its 50-page order. 

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also notified guidelines on May 21 for management of air passengers. These do not mandate keeping the seat between two passengers empty. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh appeared for the government and Air India respectively, while advocates Kavita Anchan and Arsh Misra appeared for Air India in this case. 

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