Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Airlines, passengers, crew face the heat for COVID-19 cases, legal eagles divided on blame/liability

From Hong Kong to Rome, Indian carriers and passengers have felt the heat when local authorities detected COVID-19 cases among those who deplaned, leaving legal eagles divided about who should be blamed or penalised, and who should foot the quarantine bill.

Authorities in Rome detained an Air India flight from Amritsar along with the crew and passengers as there were reports of COVID-19 cases on board. Similarly, Hong Kong banned Vistara for two weeks after passengers on a chartered flight from India in its aircraft tested positive on arrival.

Petrushka Dasgupta, Partner, IndusLaw, says the airport is obliged to ensure that all passengers have negative RT-PCR report at least 48 hours before the flight; so, ideally, the responsibility should be with the airport. “Airlines are only obliged to follow the SOP’s put forth by each airport in the respective state/country/port of exit or entry. It would be very difficult to ascertain where the passenger contracted the virus, so thereby making it difficult to assign liability” she argues.

Anubha Singh, Advocate, Innovatus Law, agrees, saying each passenger on the aircraft is well aware of his/her health and the risks involved in air travel during a pandemic. “If a passenger, being sick still choses to travel and decides to conceal his/her status to the airlines, the airlines should have all the rights to deboard the passenger and/or penalise him/her. The airlines have to insist of a COVID–19 negative report before boarding, and non-production of the same ought to make the passenger liable for penal consequences,” she argues.

19/05/21 Ashwini Phadnis/Moneycontrol

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