Willie Walsh, the chief executive of Aer Lingus owner IAG, says it’s not possible to enforce social distancing on flights and that any Covid-19 transmission prevention measures will have to involve facemasks and aircraft disinfection.
He also that that IAG, which also owns British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Level, won’t operate flights with an empty middle seat.
“Social distancing – I don’t believe it’s possible to do that on an aircraft,” said Mr Walsh this morning as IAG released first quarter results.
“The average width of an economy seat on a narrowbody aircraft [such as an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737] is about 18 inches, so when people talk about social distancing, it’s not really something that is appropriate,” he added.
“We believe that the appropriate mitigating action is for mandating masks or face covering on board the aircraft, associated with all the additional work that will be done to disinfect aircraft,” said Mr Walsh, who has postponed his planned retirement until September to help handle the coronavirus crisis.
“But we don’t expect to see a situation whereby people try and impose social distancing that is relevant to outdoor and large public areas that clearly doesn’t apply on board an aircraft in the same way as it can’t apply on board a train or a Tube or a taxi or a bus,” the airline boss said.
He added: “We don’t see a situation where we would be leaving the middle seat empty,”
“We would be expecting to see a return to normal service where all seats are available for sale,” said Mr Walsh.
Aer Lingus was criticised this week for operating a packed flight from Belfast City to London Heathrow on Monday with no apparent social distancing. As a result, the airline said it’s introducing additional flights on the route.