NEW DELHI: “Try to keep the middle seat vacant and if that is not possible due to high aircraft occupancy, provide passengers on the middle seat with a wrap around gown.” The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has asked airlines to this, among other steps, to prevent the spread of coronavirus on flights.
While the DGCA had in March said middle seats should be kept vacant, subsequent orders and statements by the aviation ministry did not keep this requirement. The aviation ministry said doing so will render airlines financially unviable. The issue later reached law courts, with both the Supreme Court and Bombay high court hearing pleas in this regard.
The Supreme Court had on May 25 observed that the “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 Supreme Court observations, the aviation ministry constituted an expert committee on May 26 “to review and further strengthen public health related protocols of air travel.” Based on this panel report, the DGCA has decided that:
“(1)All passengers shall be provided with safety kits by airlines, which shall include three layered surgical mask, face shield and adequate sanitiser (sachets/ bottle).
(2) Airlines shall allot seats in such a manner that the middle seat / 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.
(3) If middle seat/seat between two passengers is occupied due to passenger load, then additional protective equipment like wrap around gown (ministry of textiles approved standards) shall be provided to the individual occupying the intervening seat in addition to the three layer face mask and face shield.
(4) No meals or drinking water shall be served on board except in extreme circumstances arising due to health reasons.
(5) The embarkation/ disembarkation shall be sequential and passengers shall be advised by airlines to follow the instructions and not to rush to the entry/ exit gate. The airline shall ensure orderly entry/exit of the passengers.
(6) Airlines shall set the air-conditioning system in such a way that the air replaced at the shortest possible intervals.”