Seeking to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols by air travellers, aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Saturday asked airlines to de-board passengers who do not wear their mask 'properly' despite repeated warnings.
Also, the watchdog has directed airlines to treat a passenger as 'unruly' in case the person violates the protocols.
The latest directives from the regulator come against the backdrop of rising number of coronavirus cases in certain parts of the country even as domestic air traffic is improving.
It also comes days after the Delhi high court took strong note of a situation of passengers not properly wearing masks in flights.
The court also issued guidelines to all domestic airlines and DGCA for strict compliance, including penal action for offenders and periodical checks of the aircraft.
In a circular issued on Saturday, the DGCA, has also directed the airport operators to ensure that the passengers wear their mask and maintain social distancing norms at all times during the air travel.
The DGCA said it has been noticed that some travellers undertaking air journey do not adhere to 'COVID-19 protocols', which essentially involve wearing of masks properly -- not below the nose, right from entering the departing airport to exiting from the arriving airport.
Observing that some passengers after entering the airport do not wear their mask properly and maintain social distance while being in the airport, the regulator said that some passengers have been noticed not wearing their mask properly while on board the aircraft.
'On board the aircraft, in case any passenger does not adhere to wearing a mask properly even after repeated warnings, he/she should be de-boarded, if need be, before departure,' the circular said.
In case any passenger on board an aircraft refusing to wear a mask or violates the 'COVID-19 Protocol for passengers' even after repeated warnings, during the course of the flight, such passengers may be treated as 'unruly' passengers, as per the DGCA.
The procedure in respect of handling such unruly passengers will be followed by the airline concerned as per the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR), it added.
The circular said that the passengers will wear their mask and maintain social distancing norms at all times during air travel, adding the mask shall not be moved below the nose except under exceptional circumstances.
Directing the CISF/ police personnel deployed at the entrance of the airport to ensure that no one is allowed to enter the airport without wearing a mask, it said that chief airport security officer and other supervising officers must ensure this personally.
In case any passenger found violating COVID-19 protocols at the airport, they should be handed over to security agencies after proper warnings, the directive said.
'If required, they may be dealt as per law,' the circular added.
Earlier this month, Justice C Hari Shankar, who witnessed passengers not wearing masks properly during transportation from airport to the flight and their stubborn reluctance to wear mask properly, took suo motu cognisance of the situation and issued guidelines for immediate compliance.
The court had said it was constrained to pass the order because of an alarming situation which was witnessed by the judge himself during the Air India flight from Kolkata to New Delhi on March 5.
It was noticed that, though all the passengers had worn masks, many had worn it below their chin and were exhibiting a stubborn reluctance to wear their mask properly.
The court had made it clear that masks should be worn as directed by governmental instructions, covering the nose and mouth, and not worn merely covering the mouth or below the chin.
The court had said if any passenger is unwilling to follow this protocol prior to the flight taking off, he or she should be offloaded without delay.
If despite being reminded, he or she refuses to follow the protocol, action should be taken against the passenger in accordance with the guidelines issued by the DGCA or Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, including placing him or her on a 'no-fly' regimen, either permanently or for a stipulated, sufficiently long, period, it said.