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'An idiotic idea': Michael O'Leary says Ryanair won't return to flying if middle seats must be left empty

The Ryanair Executive laid out plans for the airline’s recovery including plans to run 40% of flights in July.

Micahel O'Leary pictured in 2016.
Micahel O'Leary pictured in 2016.
Image: Federico Ferramola/PA Images

RYANAIR BOSS MICHAEL O’Leary has said the airline would not recommence flying if middle seats on planes are left empty when travel restrictions are lifted following Covid-19. 

Speaking to the Financial Times, O’Leary warned recovery plans could be thwarted if seats are left empty for social distancing saying “either the Government pays for the middle seat or we won’t fly.”

The Ryanair Executive laid out plans for the airline’s recovery including plans to run 40% of flights in July, with planes 50% to 60% full. 

O’Leary said the airline would increase capacity to 60% in August and 80% in September before reducing flights for the quieter winter period. 

However, the Ryanair boss said plans would be affected if there were “some entirely ineffective social distancing measures like having middle seats empty because if middle seats are empty we’re not returning to flying at all,” he told the Financial Times. 

“We can’t make money on 66% 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,” he said. 

O’Leary’s comments come amid customer complaints that the no-frills airline had joined  a number of other airlines, including Aer Lingus, in primarily offering vouchers to passengers whose flights have been cancelled due to Covid-19. 

The Irish Times reported earlier this week that the move has “infuriated many customers who had previously been told that their refunds for cancelled flights were being processed.”

Passengers were told they would have to wait until the Covid-19 pandemic had passed before applications for refunds would be considered. 

Meanwhile, airlines around the world, including Delta and Emirates, have said this week they would be blocking out middle seats on airplanes. 

EasyJet also said it is to keep its middle seats empty when it resumes flying to enable social distancing.

Chief executive Johan Lundgren said the measure is aimed at encouraging passengers to fly after the coronavirus pandemic recedes.

He told reporters: “I expect that to happen. That is something that we will do because I think that is something that the customers would like to see.

“Then we will work out with the authorities and listen to the customers’ views and points on what they believe is the right thing to do, particularly in the start-up period.”

With reporting from Press Association 

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