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Ryanair Boss Describes In-Flight Social Distancing Rules as “Idiotic”

Ryanair Boss Describes In-Flight Social Distancing Rules as “Idiotic”

The often outspoken and frequently controversial boss of Ryanair has described the idea of in-flight social distancing by blocking the middle seat between passengers as “idiotic”, saying the practice would ruin the low-cost carrier’s business model and effectively ground the airline for the foreseeable future. Michael O’Leary told reporters he has already lobbied one national government to prevent the rules being imposed on the airline industry.

Several airlines, including Air New Zealand, Qantas and German flag carrier Lufthansa have started to block the middle seat on short-haul flights to comply with social distancing guidelines. Other carriers, such as United Airlines say they will try to keep the middle seat unoccupied if flight loads permit but would be willing to sell every available seat if demand picked up.

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Meanwhile, easyJet which is Ryanair’s largest low-cost rival in Europe, says it anticipates a need to keep the middle seat blocked even after the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic passes and national lockdowns are lifted. The Luton-based airline says this should be relatively easy to begin with because of a slump in demand but this might need to continue for some time.

O’Leary, though, claims blocking the middle seat is “idiotic” and has previously said such a measure would have little effect. “Either the government pays for the middle seat or we won’t fly,” O’Leary warned, going on to say that he had already lobbied the Irish government, where the airline is based, to prevent in-flight social distancing rules being made into law.

Low-cost airlines typically need to sell between 75 to 80 per cent of available seats to break even on a flight but blocking the middle seat will mean a maximum load factor of around 66 per cent. “We can’t make money on 66% load factors,” O’Leary claims as analysts warn that in-flight social distancing could see airfares rise by as much as 50 per cent.

O’Leary previously predicted a quick recovery for the airline industry, driven in part by a “price war” between airlines. The Irish businessman, however, believes Ryanair will still be able to make money on low airfares because of the massive drop in fuel prices.

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