Turbulence ahead: Middle seat muddle gets a new wrap

NEW DELHI: Welcome aboard on Flight XYZ of ABC Air… those on window and aisle seats please proceed, those on middle seats please wait for the in-flight crew to check your wraparound gowns. Strange? Yes. But may soon be true.

The muddle over the middle seat got more complicated as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) ordered airlines to either try and keep middle seats vacant or, insist that middle seat passengers wear ‘wraparound gowns’ apart from other protective gear. Making the exercise even more muddled is the requirement that those gowns meet textile ministry standards.

“If middle seat/seat between two passengers is occupied due to passenger load, then additional protective equipment like ‘wraparound gown’ (ministry of textiles-approved standards) shall be provided to the individual… in addition to… three-layer face mask and face shield,” the order read.

Facing Headwinds


Airlines are not pleased, to say the least. Speaking off record, executives said these orders are designed more to make the DGCA look good than passengers safer. “It is a completely illogical diktat for optics. Nowhere else in the world do they require such a thing. Do they have any data that suggests middle seat passengers are more exposed or getting infected?” said an airline insider, who did not want to be identified.

“It is pretty sloppy thinking,” said another executive of an airline on the condition of anonymity.

These orders came in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that ordered airlines to keep middle seats vacant on the next lot of flights that are bringing back Indians stranded abroad, starting June 6.

The aviation regulator, which had asked airlines in March to keep middle seats vacant in flights, allowed middle seat occupancy when flights resumed in May.

Social Distancing on Plane Difficult

Airlines were allowed to allot middle seats after authorities concluded that it is difficult to maintain social distancing (of at least six feet) between passengers inside the aircraft. Another argument was that in-flight air-conditioning cleans interior air every two to three minutes, making the spread of virus difficult. However, there may be hope down the line. Senior officials said the court order on keeping middle seats empty was on the basis of facts presented by the petitioner. “The government will contest the order and present before court accurate facts in the next hearing,” said an official, off record. Till that happens, get ready to don the gown.


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