People ‘flight shamed’ over air travel during pandemic - Aer Lingus chief

Flying not the ‘ogre’ responsible for spreading coronavirus as portrayed

Policymakers had relied on ‘anecdote’ when it came to the risk of Covid-19 from flights, Donal Moriarty said.   Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Policymakers had relied on ‘anecdote’ when it came to the risk of Covid-19 from flights, Donal Moriarty said. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Air travel has not been the “ogre” responsible for spreading coronavirus it has been portrayed as by policymakers, the chief executive of Aer Lingus has said.

Donal Moriarty, Aer Lingus interim chief executive, said there had been an unfair “degree of toxicity and flight shaming” around international travel.

The airline boss maintained that the rates of infection linked to flights and overseas travel was low. “The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control came out earlier this week and showed that international travel was the cause of less than one per cent of infections,” he said.

While not outright criticising the Government, or the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Mr Moriarty said policymakers had relied on “anecdote” when it came to the risk of Covid-19 from flights.

“There was certainly a very negative narrative towards travel and it really wasn’t merited by the facts,” he told Brenan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio One .

“Travel hasn’t been the ogre it’s portrayed as … There was a degree of toxicity and flight shaming and really we have to move on from that,” he said.

“In the summer when rates of transmission and infection in Ireland were very low, travel was portrayed as this very significant risk, that wasn’t true factually based upon the data at that point, and it remains untrue,” Mr Moriarty said.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said of 73,045 confirmed Covid-19 cases analysed up to 1 December, 663 were imported from abroad.

Public health officials, such as chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, have consistently appealed for people to avoid travel abroad this year, due to Covid-19 risks. Mr Moriarty said the narrative from policymakers “has caused people to feel unsafe” about flying.

The impact of the pandemic had been “catastrophic” for the aviation industry, and Aer Lingus had faced a “very challenging” year, he said.

“We were probably one of the industries that was first to feel the effects of Covid-19 and we’ll probably be one of the last industries to fully emerge from it,” he told the Brendan O’Connor show.

Commenting on reports that an estimated 50,000 people would be travelling home from abroad this Christmas, Mr Moriarty said that would be a “fraction” of the traffic over the holiday period from previous years.

Aer Lingus was still continuing to process requests for refunds from customers who had booked flights but had been unable to travel due to the pandemic, he said.

“We’ve had in excess of 2 million individual requests for vouchers and refunds, a combination of the two, at this point we’ve processed over 90 per cent of them, in excess of 1.8 million, each of those have to be manually processed,” he said.

The airline chief executive said additional resources had been put in place to clear the remaining backlog of refund requests “as quickly as possible.”