Monday, May 24, 2021

SpiceJet ‘wedding’ flight: The rules that were flouted and potential punishment for passengers

A marriage on a SpiceJet flight with over 160 passengers could invite penal action. The incident is being seen by some as a violation of a ruling by Justice C. Hari Shankar of the Delhi High Court in a case that it took up on its own on March 8 this year. The court thereafter issued guidelines for immediate compliance by all airlines as well as by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The judge directed all airlines to ensure that, along with the boarding passes, written instructions regarding the protocol to be followed by passengers in flight, including the measures that could be taken against them on failure to follow the protocols, are provided to the passengers.

The court’s order came after flyers on an Air India Kolkata-Delhi flight were spotted flouted COVID protocols. “The passengers were wearing their masks below their chins and were exhibiting a strong reluctance to wear their masks properly,” the court noted. The court also said that its order was meant to provide teeth to the instructions that were already in place in the larger public interest.

A former Director-General of Civil Aviation official said a wedding onboard a flight was a COVID protocol violation, adding that neither chartered nor regular flights can be used for holding marriage ceremonies.

“It is an aircraft and not a vivah mandap. Airlines and crews owe the responsibility,” the former official said.

Another former DGCA official said that both the airline and the regulator, DGCA, failed to comply with the High Court order on COVID protocol, which is contempt of court. The official is of the view that since the High Court order is addressed at all passengers travelling by air it includes charter by airlines as also regular commercial flights.

In its March 8 order, the court said passengers should also be duly sensitised regarding their responsibilities to abide by the said protocol, both before as well as after boarding the flight. 

According to the guidelines, the in-flight crew must carry out periodical checks of the aircraft to ensure that all passengers are complying with the protocol to be followed during the flight, especially regarding the wearing of masks. The guidelines also 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.

Passengers flouting these rules should be offloaded immediately, according to the rules laid down by the court. “If a passenger, despite being reminded more than once in flight, refuses to follow this protocol, action should be taken against the passenger in accordance with the guidelines issued by the DGCA or Ministry of Health and Family Welfare …,” the Court guidelines said.

This includes placing the passenger on a ‘no-fly’ regimen, either permanently or for a stipulated, sufficiently long, period.

Following the court’s guidelines,  the DGCA, on March 13, 2021, issued an order saying passengers shall wear masks and maintain social distancing norms at all times during air travel. The mask shall not be moved below the nose except under exceptional circumstances, the DGCA order said.

The DGCA added said that the Airport Director/Terminal Manager,  must ensure that passengers are wearing masks properly and maintain social distance at all times within the airport premises. In case, any passenger is not following the "COVID-19 Protocol", they should be handed over to security agencies after proper warnings. If required, they may be dealt with as per law, the DGCA order says.

24/05/21 Ashwini Phadnis/Moneycontrol

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