New Delhi: The Delhi High Court has taken strong note of an ‘alarming situation’ of passengers not properly wearing masks in flights. The High Court issued guidelines to all domestic airlines and DGCA for strict compliance. It said penal action will be taken against the offenders.
Justice C Hari Shankar witnessed passengers not wearing masks properly during transportation from airport to the flight. They offered stubborn reluctance to wear mask properly. So he took suo motu cognisance of the situation and issued guidelines for immediate compliance.
The high court, in its order passed Monday, said it was constrained to pass the order. This happened because of an alarming situation which was witnessed by the judge himself during the Air India flight from Kolkata to New Delhi March 5. It was noticed that, though all the passengers had worn masks, many had worn it below their chin. They were exhibiting a stubborn reluctance to wear their masks properly.
“This behaviour was seen not only in the bus transporting the passengers from the airport to the flight but also within the flight itself. It was only on repeated entreaties made (by me) to the offending passengers that they condescended to wear their masks properly. On the cabin crew being questioned in this regard, they stated that they had directed all the passengers to wear masks. However, were helpless in case they did not comply,” the judge said.
The court said a situation when India is seeing a resurgence of COVID-2019 cases, after they had shown signs of ebbing, is completely unconscionable.
“Passengers in a flight are in a closed air-conditioned environment. Even if one of the passengers suffers from COVID-19, the effect on other passengers could be cataclysmic. It is a matter of common knowledge that being within arm’s length distance of a COVID-19 carrier, even if he is asymptomatic and is merely speaking, is more than sufficient to transmit the virus,” the court said.
The guidelines framed by the court for immediate and strict compliance include that the in-flight crew shall carry out periodical checks of the aircraft to ensure that passengers are complying with the protocol, especially regarding wearing masks.
It is made 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, the court said. The court said if any passenger is unwilling to follow this protocol prior to the flight taking off, he or she should be offloaded without delay.
If despite being reminded, he or she refuses to follow the protocol, action should be taken against the passenger in accordance with the guidelines issued by the DGCA or Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, including placing him or her on a ‘no-fly’ regimen, either permanently or for a stipulated, sufficiently long, period, the Delhi High Court bench said.
The high court also asked DGCA to forthwith and prominently reflect on its website the instructions containing the guidelines and protocols to be followed by passengers and in-flight crew in domestic flights.
It also directed the airlines to ensure that 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 it, are provided to the passengers along with the boarding pass.
“The in-flight announcements which, presently, merely require the passengers to wear masks at all times, should be modified to include a cautionary word regarding the penal action that could be taken against them in the event of default,” it said.
“In order to ensure compliance, DGCA may consider sending random observers on flights, without prior information, who would check to ensure that the COVID-19 protocols are followed in flight. Strict enforcement of all penal provisions, which could visit delinquent passengers who refuse to abide by the COVID protocols to be maintained in flight, should be ensured. There should be no relaxation whatsoever in that regard,” the order said.