Air India can assign middle seats on rescue flights for now: Supreme Court

A file photo used for representational purpose only.  

The Supreme Court convened urgently on a public holiday to allow Air India to assign middle seats to passengers on non-scheduled flights to rescue citizens stranded abroad amid COVID-19 pandemic.

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, on Monday, said the public carrier can fill up its middle seats up to June 6. After that Air India (AI) would operate in compliance with any interim orders passed by the High Court, which has already scheduled a hearing on June 2.

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“In these circumstances, we propose to remand the matter to the Bombay High Court with a request to the High Court to pass an effective interim order after hearing all concerned on the date fixed, June 2,” the Supreme Court directed in its six-page order.

The court also made it clear that the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was free to alter any norms considered necessary during the pendency of the matter in the interest of public health and safety of the passengers rather than commercial considerations.

AI and the government had appealed to the apex court against an interim order on May 22 of the Bombay High Court, which asked the national carrier to operate the flights keeping the middle seats vacant. The High Court order was based on a petition filed by an AI pilot, Deven Yogesh Kanani, who showed photographs of a full capacity flight between San Francisco and Mumbai. Mr. Kanani pointed out that AI was flouting a condition imposed in a government circular to keep the middle seats vacant. The High Court had sought a response from AI and the DGCA on this petition by June 2.

In a virtual court hearing through videoconferencing, the Supreme Court Bench made its displeasure clear about AI’s full capacity flights without following social distancing norms. “You should be worried about the health of citizens, not about the health of the airline,” Chief Justice Bobde addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

Mr. Mehta said the flights were booked till June 16. Consultations with medical experts had revealed that a total 14 days of compulsory institutional and home quarantines would suffice. He said the best methods to prevent infection was testing and quarantine.

“So, will the virus know it is in an aircraft and it is not supposed to infect?” the court asked. The Bench pointed out that there was a high chance of infection if people were made to sit close to each other.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 8:40:23 AM |

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