Supreme Court allows Air India to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle seats booking for 10 days

25 May, 2020 | Priyanka Sharma

Air India National

The Bombay High Court had earlier directed Air India to keep middle seats vacant on international flights. It is likely to hear the matter on June 2.

The Supreme Court on Monday, while hearing an urgent plea against Bombay High Court’s order to keep middle seats vacant in international flights in compliance with social distancing norms, allowed Air India to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle seats booking for the next 10 days.“Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air India are free to alter any norms it may consider appropriate during the pendency of the matter,” a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde said.

The apex court, while hearing the petition filed by the Central government and Air India, said that the state-run carrier shall be allowed to operate the non-scheduled flights with the centre sets booking for 10 days. The top court said that it will ask the Bombay High Court to decide on the matter again. We will ask the Bombay High court to decide the matter, we think, we will keep pending the matter, CJI Bobde said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that the circular was only intended for domestic flight operations, adding that everyone who comes from abroad (with all three seats occupied) will be compulsorily quarantined as per the government guidelines. The bench asked whether there is no difference between international and domestic flights, to which Mehta responded by saying there is no difference.

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“Its common sense that maintaining social distancing is important. The fact of the matter is they have only said to keep the central seat vacant. No one is stopping you from bringing them back,” CJI Bobde said. Mehta said that it is the decision of experts not to keep seats vacant and added that there aren’t that many aircraft to evacuate people from abroad.

“The transmission will be there if you are sitting next to each other. We are concerned about the health of the citizens. We will remand the matter and requested the Bombay High Court to pass an interim order after hearing from all the respective parties,” CJI Bobde said.

The Bombay High Court, which had directed Air India to keep middle seats vacant on international flights, is likely to hear the matter on June 2. This comes as flights are being operated to evacuate people stranded in countries abroad amid the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Meanwhile, domestic flights have also been allowed to resume operations from today. 

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