New Delhi: A day ahead of the Bombay High Court hearing on middle seats in flights, the Director General of Civil Aviation, India's aviation regulator, on Monday ordered airlines to try and keep these seats vacant, or else provide the passengers on such seats with "wrap-around gowns" for social distancing, to protect them from the coronavirus. "
Attempts should be made to keep the middle seat empty to the extent possible... If the middle seat is occupied due to high load, the flyer should be provided with a ‘wrap-around gowns’,” the DGCA said in a directive which will apply to all domestic flights as also international rescue operations. Having kick started domestic flights after shutdown of two months, the government has capped air fares for three months (till August). Soon after, possibly in a trade-off, the DGCA withdrew its earlier circular on keeping the middle seat vacant on every flight. The latest move by the regulator is an attempt to balance the interests of the airlines and also to protect the flyers.
The Supreme Court had on May 27 allowed booking of the middle seat till June 6 on Air India's non-scheduled relief and rescue flights on international routes, suspending the Bombay High Court's interim order banning allocation of the middle seats and asking it to take a final decision in the next hearing slated on June 2. In case a flyer has to be allotted the middle seat due to a high passenger load, “then additional protective equipment like a wrap-around gown of the Ministry of Textile approved standards" should be provided to that passenger, the DGCA has said going into specifics.