Air India generic
Air India can resume flights by offering all seats to passengers Image Credit: AP

New Delhi : India's Supreme Court on Monday has allowed Air India to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle-seat bookings for the next 10 days. The top court was hearing an urgent plea against Bombay High Court's order to keep middle seats vacant on international flights in compliance with social distancing norms,

"Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air India are free to alter any norms it may consider appropriate during the pendency of the matter," a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde said.

The apex court, hearing the petition filed by the government and Air India, said that the state-run carrier shall be allowed to operate non-scheduled flights with centre seat booking for 10 days. The top court said that it will ask the Bombay High Court to decide on the matter again.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Indian government, said that the circular was only intended for domestic flight operations, adding that everyone who comes from abroad (with all three seats occupied) will be compulsorily quarantined as per the guidelines.

The bench asked whether there is no difference between international and domestic flights, to which Mehta responded by saying there is no difference.

Reality is different

Mehta said that it is the decision of experts not to keep seats vacant and added that there aren't that many aircraft to evacuate people from abroad.

"The transmission will be there if you are sitting next to each other. We are concerned about the health of the citizens. We will remand the matter and requested the Bombay High Court to pass an interim order after hearing from all the respective parties," CJI Bobde said.

The Bombay High Court, which had directed Air India to keep middle seats vacant on international flights, is likely to hear the matter on June 2.

This comes as flights are being operated to evacuate people stranded abroad amid the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Domestic flights have also been allowed to resume operations.