The combative CEO of Ryanair has mocked onboard social distancing and warned that if the Irish government forces it on commercial flights, Ryanair will not fly. But is his ultimatum credible?
“Either the government pays for the middle seat or we won’t fly.”
-Michael O’Leary, Ryanair Chief
Asked about how he would respond to a potential Irish governmental restriction on middle seats, O’Leary made the claim above, arguing such a rule would destroy the Ryanair business model.
“We can’t make money on 66% load factors,” said O’Leary to the Financial Times. The no-frills budget carrier relies upon high load factors and quick turns (i.e. less onboard cleaning) to be profitable and fears over COVID-19 place a particular burden on airlines like Ryanair.
“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.”
That’s not an absurd point, but as one tool to combat spread, two feet is better than nothing. O’Leary believes masks and temperature checks are a more effective tool than “social distancing” onboard.
For Ryanair, this might not even be an issue. With historically low loads and all models pointing toward a slow return to travel, Ryanair likely won’t be filling up planes even if it tired. At least for now…
But onboard social distancing rules, if enacted, would force Ryanair to raise prices or go bust, hence the strong ultimatum from O’Leary above.
Other than his rejection of onboard social distancing, O’Leary is fairly optimistic about the future. While other airlines face collapse, Ryanair will weather the storm. In fact, O’Leary expects capacity in August 2020 to be down only 20% versus August 2019.
The Ryanair chief is known for making brash statements and this is no different. What catches my attention is more than the ultimatum to Ireland, but his rather optimistic forecast of a travel rebound as early as this summer. That’s one thing I hope he is not just dreaming about…