Supreme Court: Air India can Operate Flights Occupying the Middle Seats Till June 6

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A three-judge bench of Chief Justice S.A Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hrishikesh Roy heard the petition. The bench granted the Special Leave Petition (SLP). The Court heard the matter on the occasion of Eid Holiday because of the urgency expressed via video Conferencing.

Facts of the Case

The respondents stated that the petitioner is operating flights without keeping middle seats vacant. He said that this violates the circular issued by the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on March 23, 2020. The Court ordered Air India to keep middle seats vacant while flying home Indians stranded abroad. Hence, Air India and the Central Government filed this SLP after the order passed by the Bombay High Court on May 22.

Arguments of the Petitioner

Advocate Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General appearing for the petitioners, has pointed out the difficulties faced. He said, that even after the issuance of tickets, the passengers are at the airports abroad, stranded. There is a want of proper shelter, money, etc., at foreign airports. Travel plan of many families are disrupted. This is because those who received middle seats were left behind. The Government also stated the problem in convincing the authorities of foreign countries in offloading passengers.

Observation of the Court

The Court said Air India can operate the non-scheduled flights with the middle seats. However, this was only for booking up to only 06.06.2020. Moreover, the Court directed Air India to operate non-scheduled flights in accordance with the interim order. The Bombay High Court will pass this interim order after 06.06.2020. International and domestic flights should not have any difference while adhering to the social distancing norms. The bench said it is necessary for the High Court to arrive at prima facie finding regarding the safety and health of the passengers.

Court’s Decision

The Court also requested the Bombay High Court to pass an effective interim order on 02.06.2020. The bench directed the DGCA to alter any norms he may consider necessary. The alteration should be in the interest of public health and safety of the passengers rather than of commercial considerations. The bench disposed of the matter stating that the respondents can approach this Court if aggrieved by this order.


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