Airlines should try to keep middle seats on flights vacant and provide "wrap-around gowns" for those who do end up with these seats, the country's aviation regulator DGCA said today. The government had earlier said it would not be viable to keep middle seats vacant as fares would shoot up.
Passengers who are assigned middle seats on a flight should be provided a "additional protective equipment like a wraparound gown of the Textile Ministry approved standards" in addition to a face mask and shield, a DGCA or Director General of Civil Aviation order said on Monday.
"The airlines shall allot seats in a manner that the middle seat is kept vacant if the passenger load and seat capacity permits. However, members of the same family may be allowed to sit together," said the regulator.
The order reiterated rules like frequent sanitization, replacing of cabin air and a ban on meals or drinking water on flights except for health reasons.
Domestic passenger flights restarted on May 25 after a gap of two months due to the coronavirus lockdown. International commercial passenger flights remain suspended in the country.
The Supreme Court had recently said that keeping middle seats on flights vacant was essential for physical distancing needed to check the spread of coronavirus.
In a hearing on May 25, the Supreme Court had said it is "common sense" that social distancing is important as a precaution against coronavirus and the government should be more worried about the health of citizens rather than the health of commercial airlines.
"It is common sense that maintaining social distancing is important. Outside, there should be a social distancing of at least six feet, what about inside aircrafts," Chief Justice SA Bobde had said to national carrier Air India, which has been operating the "Vande Bharat" flights since May 7 to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to virus shutdowns.
The court also ruled that middle seat bookings on Air India's repatriation flights would be allowed only till June 6, and said the Bombay High Court would take a decision on a petition that called for middle seats to be kept vacant. The High Court will hear the petition tomorrow.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had earlier ruled out keeping middle seats vacant for domestic flights, pointing out that air fares would shoot up.