The chief executive of the budget Irish airline Ryanair said its planes won’t start flying if the government requires airlines to keep the middle seat open as a social distancing measure.
“We can’t make money on 66 percent 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 CEO Michael O’Leary said in an interview with the Financial Times published Wednesday.
O’Leary said if the middle seats have to be empty, “we’re not returning to flying at all.”
“Either the government pays for the middle seat or we won’t fly,” he added.
He said that Ryanair was expected to run about 40 percent of its flights if travel resumed in July, with planes to fly at around 50 percent capacity and increase to 60 percent in August and 80 percent the next month, according to the Financial Times.
Ryanair’s budget airline rival EasyJet said last week it may keep middle seats empty on a short-term basis to follow social distancing rules once coronavirus travel restrictions are lifted, The Guardian reported.
O’Leary told the Financial Times he thinks Europe should follow Asia’s lead and introduce measures such as mandatory masks and temperature checks at train stations and airports.
He also said he thinks there will be a return to more normal air traffic levels next summer, subject to an effective coronavirus vaccine.
“I think Ryanair in summer 2021 will be carrying our 2019 traffic plus growth, but the airports will still have less traffic than they had before,” he told the Times.