Covid and Air Travel: It is mandatory to wear face mask

Be careful. You may be deboarded or fined heavily if you do not wear a face mask while travelling by air in India.

Though there have been relaxations all over in following the Covid-19 mandates, Delhi High Court has come out strongly against those who violate these Covid-19 safety protocols. The Court has directed the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to ensure that the Covid-19 mandate was strictly followed.

Before the Delhi High Court came out heavily against those who refuse to follow the Covid-19 mandate, many international air carriers had been strictly enforcing the protocol necessitating all air passengers to keep the face mask on throughout the flight.

At many places, including Toronto, wearing of face mask is compulsory for travel in TTC. Even travel by buses or taxis also needs wearing of face masks throughout the journey.

Following the June 3  order of the High Court, the DGCA issued a circular today. The circular said that Airlines must de-board any passenger before departure if he or she refuses to wear face mask inside an aircraft even after being warned.

Interestingly, the circular did not say anything on maintaining safe distance of two metres or regular sensitising of hands.

It is now mandatory to wear a facemask to enter any airport in India. Further, the airlines have also been directed to keep sufficient stocks of face masks so that on demand from passengers new or additional mask can be provided to them. After boarding, face mask could be taken off only when food or refreshments are served. Rest of the time it has to be worn.

As a sequel to the latest directions of the Delhi High Court, the aviation regulator DGCA has issued strict guidelines to all airlines operating out of Indian airports to follow the face mask mandate strictly and religiously.

The DGCA letter makes it very clear that for implementing the mandate, airport operators can take help of the local police and security agencies and levy fines on people not wearing face masks. 

The DGCA letter followed a Delhi High Court order of June 3 which said the “DGCA should issue separate binding directions to all staff persons deployed at the airports and in the aircraft, including flight attendants, air hostesses, captains/pilots and others, to take strict action against passengers and others who violate the masking and hygiene norms”.

All such persons as are found violating the norms must be fined and persistent defaulters must be placed on the no-fly list, the court had said.

The DGCA’s Wednesday circular said airlines must ensure the passengers wear masks properly on flights and they are removed from faces only “under exceptional circumstances and for permitted reasons”.

If a passenger needs an extra face mask, the airline must provide it, it noted.

“The airline shall ensure that in case any passenger does not adhere to above instructions even after repeated warnings, he or she should be de-boarded, if need be, before departure,” it said.

In case any passenger refuses to wear mask or violates the COVID-19 protocol even after repeated warnings in flight mid-air, he must be treated as “unruly passenger” as defined in the DGCA regulations, the circular said.

The DGCA regulations give powers to airlines to ban passengers for a certain period of time after they have been declared “unruly”.

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and other police personnel deployed at the entrance of the airport must ensure that no one is allowed to enter the premises without wearing a mask, it said.

All airport operators must increase announcements and surveillance to ensure that passengers at terminal are wearing face masks properly and following COVID-appropriate behaviour at all times within the airport premises, it noted.

“In case any passenger does not wear mask or refuses to wear mask and follow COVID-19 protocol, he should be fined as per the respective state law where the airport is located and he may even be handed over to security agencies,” it said.

Airport operators must take sanitisation measures at airports and provide hand sanitisers or dispensers at prominent places in the terminal, it noted.

“Also, airport operators shall levy fines on those violating COVID-19 protocols in accordance with state regulations with the help of local police and security agencies for violation of COVID-19 protocols,” it added.