Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Monday asked airlines to keep middle seats vacant to the extent possible in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
However, if a flyer has been allotted the middle seat due to a high passenger load, 'then additional protective equipment like wrap-around gown of the Ministry of Textile approved standards' must be provided to him or her in addition to a three-layered face mask and face shield, a DGCA order, accessed by PTI, said.
While hearing a petition on whether to keep middle seats in flights vacant or not, the Supreme Court on May 25 had said that the DGCA was free to alter its norms in the interest of public health and safety of passengers 'rather than of commercial considerations'.
Citing the Supreme Court observation, the DGCA in its order on Monday said, 'The airlines shall allot the seats in such a manner that the middle seat/seat between two passengers is kept vacant if the passenger load and seat capacity permits the same.'
'However, members of the same family may be allowed to sit together,' it added.
India resumed its domestic passenger flights from May 25 after a gap of two months due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
As the passenger load in flights has been around 50 per cent since May 25, airlines are unlikely to face much problem in complying with the DGCA order.
For example, 44,593 passengers travelled in 501 domestic flights in India on Sunday, translating into an average of around 90 passengers in each plane.
Since an average narrow body plane in India has 180 seats in 3*3 configuration, it means it has 60 middle seats and as many window and aisle seats, indicating that up to 120 passengers can be seated while keeping middle seats vacant.
The DGCA order said airlines must provide a safety kit to each passenger. It shall include a three-layered surgical mask, a face shield and adequate amount of sanitiser in either a sachet or a bottle.
"The embarkation or disembarkation shall be sequential and passengers shall be advised by airlines to follow the instructions and not to rush to the entry or exit gate. The airline shall ensure orderly entry or exit of the passengers," the DGCA stated.
Indian carriers operated a total of 3,370 flights till May 31 -- 428 on May 25, 445 on May 26, 460 on May 27, 494 on May 28, 513 on May 29 and 529 on May 30.
International commercial passenger flights continue to remain suspended in the country.
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 1.9 lakh people and killed around 5,300 people in India till now.
When asked about the aforementioned DGCA order, Air India and IndiGo said they will adhere to all DGCA instructions and guidelines.
"We are complying with the DGCA order, by keeping the middle-seat free when load permits. We are also supplying appropriate personal protective equipment to our passengers and crew, to ensure a safe flying experience,” an IndiGo spokesperson said.
A Vistara spokesperson said it is reviewing the DGCA order and will incorporate amendments.
"We continue to make every effort to ensure the health and safety of our customers and staff," the spokesperson said.