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Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary says his planes will NOT fly with empty middle seat in line with 'idiotic' in-flight social distancing rules (unless government pays for missing fares)

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary says his planes will NOT fly with empty middle seat in line with 'idiotic' in-flight social distancing rules (unless government pays for missing fares)
  • Ryanair's Michael O'Leary blasts 'idiotic' in-flight social distancing measures
  • He claimed proposals to force planes to fly under capacity were unaffordable 
  • Airline instead wants temperature checks and masks for passengers and crew
  • Industry body estimates coronavirus pandemic could cost airlines £254billion
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary has insisted his planes will not fly with an empty middle seat as he blasted 'idiotic' in-flight social distancing measures.
He claimed proposals to force planes to fly under capacity when the coronavirus travel restrictions end were 'mad,' unaffordable and 'hopelessly ineffective'.
The Dublin-based low cost airline has instead backed the introduction of mandatory temperature checks and masks for passengers and crew when flights resume.  
Parked and temporarily out of service Ryanair aircraft at London Stansted Airport on April 15
Parked and temporarily out of service Ryanair aircraft at London Stansted Airport on April 15
Mr O'Leary also said Ryanair has already told the Irish government that if it imposes the measures, then 'either the government pays for the middle seat or we won't fly'.
Ryanair is among a host of airlines raising concerns that measures to slow the spread of the pandemic could blight profitability long after the travel restrictions end.
The airline operates on a business model of frequent flights, low costs and a very high 'load factor', which is the industry word for a plane's proportion of taken seats.
And Mr O'Leary, 59, told the Financial Times: 'We can't make money on 66 per cent load factors. Even if you do that, the middle seat doesn't deliver any social distancing, so it's kind of an idiotic idea that doesn't achieve anything anyway.'
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary (pictured in Brussels on March 3) has insisted his planes will not fly with an empty middle seat
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary (pictured in Brussels on March 3) has insisted his planes will not fly with an empty middle seat
The International Air Transport Association, which represents 290 airlines, has estimated that the pandemic could cost carriers a combined total of £254billion. 
Ryanair is among those facing a damaging financial year after flying 152million people last year - a 9 per cent rise on 2018 which made it Europe's biggest airline. 
However Mr O'Leary has estimated that normal passenger levels will have returned by summer next year, as long as a vaccine for Covid-19 can be developed.
He also hopes that Ryanair will pick up business from rivals that could collapse during the crisis, which has already claimed the likes of Flybe and Virgin Australia.
Flying with an empty middle seat has been proposed for in-flight social distancing (file picture)
Flying with an empty middle seat has been proposed for in-flight social distancing (file picture)
Last week easyJet said it expects to keep middle seats empty once travel restrictions are lifted in a move which could mean higher ticket prices for passengers.

How coronavirus has affected airlines in the UK over the past month

Flybe: Europe's largest regional airline collapsed on March 5 after months on the brink, triggering 2,400 job losses and left around 15,000 passengers stranded across the UK and Europe. Flybe's owners, a consortium including Virgin Atlantic, the Stobart Group and hedge fund firm Cyrus Capital, blamed coronavirus for hastening the ailing airline's collapse. Flybe operated up to 50 UK routes, accounting for 40 per cent of all domestic flights, and was used by 9.5million passengers a year.
British Airways: The International Airlines Group, which also includes Iberia and Aer Lingus, said on March 16 that there would be a 75 per cent reduction in passenger capacity for two months, with boss Willie Walsh admitting there was 'no guarantee that many European airlines would survive'.
easyJet: The airline with 9,000 UK-based staff including 4,000 cabin crew grounded its entire fleet of 344 planes on March 30. The Luton-based carrier said parking all of its planes 'removes significant cost' as the aviation industry struggles to cope with a collapse in demand.
Loganair: The Scottish regional airline said on March 30 that it expects to ask the Government for a bailout to cope with the impact of the pandemic. Loganair will go to the government despite being told by Finance Minister Rishi Sunak last week that airlines should exhaust all other options for funding, before asking for help.
Jet2: The budget holiday airline has suspended all of its flights departing from Britain until April 30. A number of Jet2 flights turned around mid-air last month while travelling to Spain when a lockdown was announced in the country.
Virgin Atlantic: The airline said on March 16 that it would have reduced its lights by 80 per cent by March 26, and this will go up to 85 per cent by April. It has also urged the Government to offer carriers emergency credit facilities worth up to £7.5billion.
Ryanair: More than 90 per cent of the Irish-based airline's planes are now grounded, with the rest of the aircraft providing repatriation and rescue flightsChief executive Johan Lundgren said the social distancing measures would encourage passengers to fly in the months after the pandemic recedes.
The move would see its single-aisle jets cut from around 180 seats to 120. This could lead to higher ticket prices as budget airlines rely on filling planes to make short-haul flights profitable.
Meanwhile Ryanair has been accused of trying to avoid paying refunds for flights cancelled because of the coronavirus.
Under European Union rules, airlines must offer passengers their cash back if flights are cancelled, but Ryanair is offering passengers vouchers for flights when the lockdown ends.
Irish travel industry expert Eoghan Corry said every airline is currently offering a voucher, rather than a refund. But he said EU law is clear that passengers are entitled to refunds, but they will probably not be payable in the short term.
A Ryanair spokesman said: 'For any cancelled flight, Ryanair is giving customers all of the options set out under EU regulations, including refunds.'
Ryanair told some passengers that claims would be processed after the Covid-19 pandemic had cleared.
In its latest email to passengers, the airline says: 'Over the past months the spread of the Covid-19 virus has caused many EU governments to impose flight and/or travel bans which grounded over 99 per cent of Ryanair's flights.'
It included vouchers and warned anyone looking for a refund it would not be processed until have the Covid-19 crisis lifts before applications will even be considered.
The European Commission will present rules next month for the safe reopening of air travel when lockdowns end, such as social distancing in airports and planes.
EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean said that measures under consideration would include the wearing of masks and disinfection of planes and airports.
She tweeted yesterday: 'All this should be part of those guidelines and probably by mid-May we can put forward this strategy we are working on.'
Mr Valean said she expected social distancing requirements to remain in place for as long as there is no treatment or vaccine for the infection.
It comes as debate heats up in the United States, the world's busiest domestic market, on how to apply rules on social distancing or protective gear to air travel.
It is unclear if the Washington-based Federal Aviation Administration has the authority to compel passengers or flight crews to wear face coverings on airplanes.
Last week, FAA administrator Steve Dickson said the agency and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to update guidance for flight crews amid concerns from pilots, but regulators are not mandating new safety requirements.
Some US airlines have implemented their own measures including blocking middle seats, pausing automatic upgrades and changing the boarding process.
Delta Air Lines said this week it would like to see consistency among government requirements to help streamline processes for passengers and employees.
In Canada, regulators started requiring passengers on Monday to wear a non-medical mask or face covering during the boarding process and flights.

Is THIS what flying economy class will look like after the coronavirus crisis? Designs emerge of cabins where passengers are shielded by screens to help prevent further outbreaks

  • Italian-based design firm Aviointeriors has come up with two cabin concepts 
  • The 'Janus' layout would see the middle seat on a row placed in a reverse position
  • Transparent 'hoods' are placed over each seat in the firm's 'Glassafe' cabin
By JENNIFER NEWTON FOR MAILONLINE
Welcome onboard the economy cabins of the near-future - where plane passengers are shielded from each other by plastic screens.
Designs have emerged for two post-coronavirus economy cabin concepts aimed at helping to prevent future pandemics.
The 'Janus' takes its inspiration from the ancient two-faced Roman god and has a reversed centre seat, while the 'Glassafe' concept sees each seat fitted with a 'hood'.
The Janus seat concept that has been designed by aircraft interior design firm Aviointeriors

he Janus seat concept that has been designed by aircraft interior design firm Aviointeriors
The Janus concept would see the middle seat of a row placed in a reverse position, which Aviointeriors says will 'ensure maximum isolation between passengers'

The Janus concept would see the middle seat of a row placed in a reverse position, which Aviointeriors says will 'ensure maximum isolation between passengers'
The Janus takes its inspiration from the ancient two-faced Roman god

The Janus takes its inspiration from the ancient two-faced Roman god 
The designs are by Italian firm Aviointeriors, which has released renderings of both concepts. 
Aviointeriors says the Janus seat will 'ensure the maximum isolation between passengers seated next to each other'.
While passengers seated on the side seats, aisle and fuselage, continue to face in the direction of travel, the passenger sitting in the centre is facing backwards. 
Aviointeriors explained: 'Each passenger has their own space isolated from others, even from people who walk through the aisle.
'Each Janus seat is surrounded on three sides by a high shield that prevents the breath propagation to occupants of adjacent seats.
'It is made of easy cleaning and safe hygienic materials. The option is available with the shield in opaque material or with different degrees of transparency.'
Breathe easy: The Glassafe concept, which Aviointeriors describes as a 'kit-level solution'

Beathe easy: The Glassafe concept, which Aviointeriors describes as a 'kit-level solution'
Glassafe, meanwhile, is described as a 'kit-level solution' that can be installed on existing aircraft seats.
It would see screens installed around the top of the seats, which Aviointeriors says would make sitting in 'close proximity safer'.
It added: 'Glassafe is made of transparent material to make the entire cabin harmonious and aesthetically light, but perfectly fulfilling the objective of creating an isolated volume around the passenger. 
'This is in order to avoid or minimize contacts and interactions via air between passenger and passenger, so as to reduce the probability of contamination by viruses or other.
Aviointeriors says: 'Glassafe is made of transparent material to make the entire cabin harmonious and aesthetically light'

Aviointeriors says: 'Glassafe is made of transparent material to make the entire cabin harmonious and aesthetically light'
An aerial view of the Glassafe concept. Aviointeriors says: 'We have worked and we will continue to develop products specifically designed to make the travels of the near-future post-virus ever safer'

An aerial view of the Glassafe concept. Aviointeriors says: 'We have worked and we will continue to develop products specifically designed to make the travels of the near-future post-virus ever safer'
'Glassafe is supplied in various executions with fixing systems to the seat that allow easy installation and removal.'
A spokesman for Aviointeriors says: 'All national authorities worldwide are trying to block this pandemic through a series of actions and recommendations and we want to contribute with our ideas and proposals in the interests of the whole community.
'With this objective in mind, we have studied new solutions that take into account social distancing among passengers sitting in economy class, where there is a condition of higher density, but with characteristics that remain applicable even in the lower density classes such as premium economy or business class.
'We have worked and we will continue to develop products specifically designed to make the travels of the near-future post-virus ever safer and in accordance with the new requirements for passengers who will have to share the spaces available for the duration of the transport.' 

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