By Alex Trelinski • 16 April 2020 • 11:09
BUDGET carrier easyJet has said that they are expecting to keep middle seats empty on their planes when their services eventually resume.
Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said the social distancing move is aimed at encouraging passengers to fly after the pandemic recedes.
He was unable to suggest any likely return date for services, but his comments offer a glimmer of hope over the fact that they are looking ahead.
Lundgren said: “I that that customers would like to see this social distancing move, and we will work out with the authorities what we will do, especially, especially in the start-up period.”
The vast majority of easyJet’s fleet of planes is configured with three seats in a row, either side of the aisle.
The idea would involve passengers in window and aisle seats having an empty seat next to them.
Mr Lundgren said it will be possible to keep middle seats empty as “our assumption is that the number of people wanting to flying will not return to normal levels straight away.”
He went on: “I’m talking about this as an initial phase, but nobody knows for how long that phase will be.
“We’re also looking at various disinfection programmes on the aircraft, we’re in discussions with Easa (the European aviation safety regulator) if there are other additional measures we should take.
“I think it’s important that customers understand that we are taking this very seriously and first and foremost our concern is about the customers’ well-being and our people’s well-being.
“That is what’s going to take priority in this whole thing, because that is the way you get the confidence back with people taking flights again.”
easyJet said it is set to report underlying pre-tax losses of between £185 million and £205 million for the six months to March 31, against losses of £275 million a year earlier.
But the airline added said statutory pre-tax losses of up to £380 million are expected due to a hit of as much as £185 million for fuel and foreign exchange hedging costs.
The group’s planes were fully grounded on March 30, but it said more than half of disrupted passengers had chosen vouchers or alternative flights, meaning that bookings for winter are “well ahead” of the previous year.
Mr Lundgren described the airline’s first-half trading performance as “very strong prior to the impact of coronavirus.”
He also took aim at demands from easyJet’s founder and largest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, for the carrier to cancel its entire £4.5 billion order with the plane-maker, Airbus.
“Clearly it’s not helpful,” Mr Lundgren said. “It’s a distraction on what we’re doing. But myself, the team and the board, we’re absolutely focused on managing through this time.
“This is one of the worst crises that aviation has ever seen.”
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