Airlines must provide middle-seat flyers a gown, face shield and mask

MUMBAI: While passengers largely keep their masks on through most flights, a different scenario plays out on 14-to 16-hour ultra-long-haul, non-stop flights between India and the US. In the past few weeks, Air India cabin crew operating on these flights have found that the duration of a flight influences passenger compliance with Covid safety norms. Longer the flight, lower the probability of masks and gowns staying on.
“In spite of repeated announcements and reminders, passengers were not wearing masks,” states a remark posted by an Air India cabin crew member in a post-flight form filled up after a recent Mumbai-Newark flight. Another crew member marked “unruly passenger behaviour” on a NewYork-Delhi flight. The DGCA had recently expanded its definition of unruly passenger behaviour to include those who don’t keep their face mask on at all times. Apply that criterion to ultra-longhaul flights and what you have is over a dozen passengers turning “unruly” in the later hours of the journey.
Air India denied that flight duration had an impact on passenger behaviour.
Norm to wear a PPE gown on long flights is ‘impractical’, say staffers
Passengers are sensitised about the safety and health protocols to be adhered to during the flight duration. Generally, passengers are aware and in their own interest conform to the norms,” said an Air India spokesperson.
A flight attendant said: “Walk along the aisle before the flight is about to land and you will see middle-seat passengers without gowns, others with masks removed and kept aside.” A senior airline official, requesting anonymity, said, “Ultralong-haul flight operations during Covid pandemic bring along distinctive, intersectional problems. Passenger behaviour on these flights is markedly different from those on domestic flights. Regulators worldwide need to address the role played by flight time in deciding passenger attitudes towards Covid safety guidelines.”
Take the middle-seat passenger behaviour, for instance. On May 31, DGCA issued a circular stating that airlines should provide middle-seat passengers with a wraparound gown apart from a face shield and mask. An Air India flight attendant said: “One gown is given for each middle seat passenger. If they have to use the lavatory, they would need to change into another gown.”
The senior airline official said: “Guidelines for PPE use say that the gown should not be reused once it’s removed. On a 2-hour Mumbai-Delhi flight a passenger can keep the gown on throughout the flight. But can that be expected from passengers on 14-15-hour long Mumbai-Newark flights? The passenger should not use the lavatory onboard the aircraft, unless there is another fresh gown to change into,’’ he said.

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