Europe's two leading low-cost airlines are not only fierce competitors in business, they can't even seem to agree on anything, least of all, it turns out, on what the rules should be when they start flying again.
EasyJet's CEO Johan Lundgren told reporters that when the OK for flying is given, his company's planes will keep middle seats empty to allow some social distance during the start-up period: “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." He said it should be possible to do because “our assumption is that load factors will not get back to normal early on.”
That didn't sit well with Ryanair's controversial and often bombastic chief, Michael O'Leary, who called the idea "mad" and attacked those who have proposed it, including IATA. "We're in dialogue with regulators who are sitting in their bedrooms inventing restrictions such as taking out the middle seats, which is just nonsense," O'Leary told reporters. "It would have no beneficial effect whatsoever." He proposes instead to do pre-flight health checks and have passengers fly in face masks.
He also pointed out that there are many other social distance issues involved in resuming flying, including airport terminals, with their check-in lines, restaurants and shops.
Lest you think that EasyJet gets full 'good-guy' credentials for its crisis handling, keep in mind this sequence on refunds. Under EU rules, passengers whose flight is canceled are entitled to refunds within seven days. When all the flights stopped, EasyJet made it easy to claim a voucher online with almost no fuss. But passengers wanting an actual cash refund got a message that “Currently, it’s only possible to request a refund by contacting our Customer Service Team on 0330 365 5000. Unfortunately, they are very busy at the moment, so many customers are enduring long waits on hold."
By the time regulators forced them to put the refund form back on the website, many customers had chosen the easier route and taken vouchers. As a resul, EasyJet is now reporting stronger than usual sales for winter trips—likely fueled by thousands of passengers wanting to use their vouchers before they expire next spring.