Bombay High Court: Air India should Comply by Civil Aviation Ministry’s Guidelines for International Flights

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A pilot of Air India filed a writ petition in the Bombay HC. A Division Bench of Justice RD Dhanuka and Justice Abhay Ahuja heard the case. It states that the airline disobeyed air travel guidelines issued by the Government.

It released these guidelines in the wake of COVID-19. He specified the rule of allotment of middle seats. The seat allocation must ensure that the seat between two passengers is empty. The Court held that the international flights must follow guidelines issued by the Government of India. The Court further stated that these guidelines did not apply to domestic flights.

Issues before the Court

The suitor, Cdr. Deven Y Kanani is a pilot working with Air India. He states that Air India disregarded the guidelines issued by the Government. It was issued on 23rd March 2020. The issue was Air India had not left the middle seats empty during the evacuation of stranded Indians. His petition describes the flight from the USA. It has been operated as a part of the Vande Bharat Mission.

Respondent’s Submissions

Dr Abhinav Chandrachud appeared for Air India. He put forth that the order applied only to scheduled domestic flights. The defendant claimed that it did not apply to non-scheduled commercial flights. He added that Air India had taken necessary steps for precautions. These steps ensured the health and safety of passengers during the flight. Chandrachud argued that there is no order to keep a seat vacant between two passengers. He claims that they would still not achieve the advised norms for social-distancing.

Petitioner’s Submissions

Adv. Abhilash Panicker was the counsel for the suppliant. He argued that Air India had not taken any safety precautions. Besides this, the counsel submitted a photograph of passengers in Executive Class and Y class. This image was from the flight operated between San Francisco and Mumbai.

Government Order

The Government-issued guidelines aim to protect the health of the citizens. They ensure the safety of citizens during air travel. Hence, their meaning cannot apply differently to international and domestic flights. The main concern of these guidelines is the health of the passengers. It is regardless of whether they are infected or not. However, Air India believed that passengers from the US and the UK might have been COVID-19 infected. Thus, they have violated the government orders.

Turn of Events

The Government issued a new circular on 22nd May 2020. But, the scope of the new circular deals only with domestic flights. As a result, Air India has decided to begin its domestic flights from 25th May. The Court allowed the petitioners to amend their writ petition. As a result, they may challenge the new circular, along with the guidelines issued by it.

Court’s Decision

The Court held that the circular released on 23rd March would overrule that released on 22nd May. For the case in hand, the order issued on 23rd March would be valid. Hence, the same will apply to domestic flights.

The case has been posted for further hearings on 2nd June.


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