Stocktake: Is O’Leary right about ‘idiotic’ seat rules?

Keeping middle seats empty may be medically ineffective, but it makes for good PR

  Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has a point. Photograph:  Getty Images

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has a point. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Various airlines – including EasyJet, Delta and Emirates – have said they will keep middle seats empty to allow for social distancing once Covid-19 restrictions ease.

It was unsurprising, then, that Michael O’Leary came in for heavy criticism on social media last week after he branded the idea “idiotic” and said Ryanair would not return to flying if governments insisted on empty middle seats. In truth, O’Leary has a point. Social distancing guidelines recommend staying two metres away from others, but seats are only about 45cm wide.

Salvage summer

What might work? Greece’s tourism minister is hoping European travel resumes in July, with visitors obtaining a health passport to confirm they are not positive for coronavirus. If adopted Europe-wide, airlines could yet salvage their summer.

The problem is consumers might still be nervous of flying, which brings us back to the idea of empty middle seats – it may be medically ineffective, but it makes for good PR.

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