The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Monday directed airlines to allot seats so that middle seats are kept vacant to the extent possible.
In a notification, the aviation regulator said that airlines should allot seats in a manner that the middle seat is kept vacant if passenger load and seat capacity permits.
However, if passenger load does not permit this kind of an arrangement, then the middle seat passenger has to be provided with protective equipment like a wrap around gown in addition to the three-layer mask and face shield.
The DGCA directions will come into effect from June 3.
As per the order, all passengers are to be provided with safety kits, which include three-layered surgical mask, face shield and sanitiser.
No meal or drinking water will be served on board except for health-related reasons.
The embarkation and disembarkation will be sequential and no passenger will be allowed to rush to the entry/exit gates. The DGCA has directed the airlines to ensure orderly entry and exit of passengers.
Flights have been asked to set the air-conditioning system in such a way that the air gets replaced at the shortest possible intervals.
The flights have to be regularly sanitised, but when there is no passenger on board.
Airlines have been directed to carry out health check-up of all crew regularly and all flying as well as cabin crew will have to be in full protective suits.
The directions come nearly a week after the Supreme Court pulled up Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air India while hearing urgent petition filed by Centre and the national carrier against the Bombay High Court order to keep middle seats vacant in international flights carrying back stranded Indians.
“You should be worried about health of citizens more than health of airlines,” the court said and asked “Why social distancing norms wasn’t necessary in flights? Why centre seats should be booked for air travels?”
Meanwhile, the top court has allowed Air India to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle seats booking till June 6 after which those seats can’t be sold.
The Bombay High Court, as directed by the apex court, will hear the matter tomorrow.
The court, in its hearing on the matter, commented that it was “common sense” that social distancing is important.
“It is common sense that maintaining social distancing is important. Outside, there should be a social distancing of at least six feet, what about inside aircraft,” the CJI rapped Air India, which has been operating special flights under the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the Coronavirus lockdown.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the national carrier and the Centre, said that the “best practice is testing and quarantine and not seat difference”.
He further told the court that the decision not to have vacant middle seats was taken following a meeting held with experts.
CJI SA Bobde, however, quipped: “How can you say it will not affect passengers? Will the virus know it’s in the aircraft and it’s not supposed to infect?”
“The transmission will be there if you are sitting next to each other,” he added.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had in May, while announcing the recommencement of domestic flights, made it clear that it would not be possible to keep the middle seat vacant.