The Center and Air India have challenged the order passed by Bombay High Court to stick with the order of March 23rd circular. In the circular, it was written that the allocation of the seats should be done in a way that a seat between the passengers should be kept empty. After the order passed by the High Court on 22nd May, the AI moved to Supreme Court.
On Monday, the apex court of India has ordered Air India that they can take off the non-scheduled in national flights without keeping the middle seat vacant till 6 June.
The center and the national airways argued that the flights have been already booked by the passengers and ceasing the middle seat booking suddenly will certainly lead to a logistical glitch as one-third of the total seats needed to be canceled and this will result in more problems to the stranded passengers.
The bench was hearing a petition by the Center and Air India asking to nullify the interim order by Bombay High Court to adhere to the guidelines as per 23rd March.
“We are of the considered view that – Air India should be enabled to operate the non-scheduled flights with the middle seats booking up to 6enthused020. However, after that, the Air India will operate non-scheduled flights in accordance with the temporary order to be passed by the Bombay High Court thereafter, ” ordered by the bench of Justice, including CJ SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy.
The court did not enthuse about Air India’s plea not to leave the middle seat empty in the COVID 19 pandemic. At one point, it told advocate General Tushar Mehta, “You should be concerned about the health of dwellers, not the health of commercial airlines…” Appearing for the petitioners, Mehta pointed to the difficulties in implementing the Bombay HC direction. “There was a flight from here to the US, the people came because they had pre-bookings. Keeping empty seats comes with procedural difficulties … the family sits together… airports are different,” the SG said.
“There are multiple flights everyday carrying thousands of passengers and dropping of such flyers would create massive logistical, international, and visa-related problems,” he said pointing out the Bombay HC the order would require AI to cancel one-third of the bookings. The HC order avoiding the further strategy of the Executive is facing with the issue at a particular moment, he said.
The Supreme Court remanded, on Monday, to Bombay High Court and ordered it “ to pass a suitable interim order after listening all concerned on the date fixed i.e. 2nd June 2020…or soon thereafter”.
“At this point, we would consider it is important that the High Court arrive at a prima facie finding concerning the safety and health of the passengers qua the Covid-19 pandemic, whether the flight is scheduled flying or a non-scheduled flight,” the Supreme Court said.
It said, “the Civil Aviation Director-General is absolutely free to change the rules if it feels necessary to him, concerning the safety of people rather than any commercial inclination”.