NEW DELHI: Come Wednesday and airlines will have to try and keep the middle seat vacant. If that cannot happen with the flight full, passenger on the middle seat will have to be given wrap around gown. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Sunday issued an order “directions for protecting health of persons involved in air travel” that among other thing, mandates trying to keep seat between two passengers vacant. Following this order is mandatory for all airlines, charter and private jet operators, whether Indian or foreign, operating to, from and within India.
While the DGCA had on March 23, 2020, directed airlines to keep seat vacant between two flyers, the aviation ministry later said this would render airlines financially unviable and that this practice was not being adopted elsewhere. An Air India pilot moved Bombay High Court on the issue as the Vande Bharat repatriation flights were coming almost full. The high court questioned this practice and then AI moved an urgent plea in the Supreme Court on the issue.
The Supreme Court on May 25 observed (in a special leave petition filed by the Union of India versus Deven Yogesh Kanani), that the “Director General of Civil Aviation 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 the SC observations, the aviation ministry constituted an expert committee of three eminent doctors — AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, Indian Council of Medical research DG Balram Bhargava and heart surgeon Dr Naresh Trehan — on May 26 “to review and further strengthen the public health related protocols of air travel.” This panel gave its report to the ministry. After considering it, the DGCA on Sunday (May 31) issued the following directions:
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) 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. Airlines shall ensure orderly entry/exit of the passengers.
6) Airlines shall set the air-conditioning system in such a way that the air gets replaced at the shortest possible intervals.
7) Aircraft shall be sanitised after the doing each sector when there is no passenger on board. However, on transit flights, when passengers are on board, the seats (including its contacts) which have been vacated by the passenger shall be sanitised. At the end of the day, each aircraft shall be deep cleaned. Special attention shall be paid to sanitise the seat belt and all other contact points.
8) Airplane lavatories shall be cleaned / sanitised frequently during flight.
9) Airlines shall carry out health check-up of all crew regularly. All flying crew/ cabin crew shall be given full protective suits.
10) In case of COVID-19 related medical emergency on board, aircraft disinfection shall be carried with special attention to all the affected and adjoining seats.
11) Airlines/ Airports shall explore the possibility of having a disinfection tunnel to ensure safety of passengers after fully evaluating its health implications on human beings.
“The aforesaid directions are in addition to those already prescribed aviation ministry/DGCA. The above directions are for strict compliance by all stakeholders and shall come into force with effect from June 3,” says the order issued by DGCA deputy DG Sunil Kumar to all foreign and domestic scheduled airlines/non-scheduled and private operators.