Passengers used to flying on crowded and cramped low-cost airlines could face a surprise when EasyJet’s flights return after its fleet was grounded because of the coronavirus pandemic. CEO Johan Lundgren has proposed that middle seats could be kept empty to keep passengers safe.
- Lundgren said that low demand for air travel after lockdown measures and travel restrictions are lifted could mean that leaving the middle seat empty on flights could be an option.
- Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary branded plans to remove middle seats as “mad” and “ineffective” and warned that plan would be uneconomical for most airlines.
- “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 Reuters.
- EasyJet forecast that it would take a $231 million to $256 million (£185 million to £205 million) loss in the first half to March 31, 2020. The airline pared back losses from $344 million (£275 million) in the same period from last year.
- The airline also announced it had raised $1.2 billion (£1 billion) from loans and its credit lines, and planned to raise a further $685 million (£550 million) from the sale and leaseback of some of its aircraft.
- The move comes as the airline industry faces a major cash crunch, with many carriers turning to governments around the world for financial support to weather the sudden drop in travel demand, or enforced flight suspensions.
Crucial quote: “Our assumption is that load factors will not be back to normal early on, which means that we will have the opportunity for a middle-seat option, but I’m talking about this as an initial phase and nobody knows for how long that phase will be,” said Lundgren.
Big number: $1.5 billion is EasyJet’s estimate of how much cash it would burn over a three-month grounding of its fleet. The airline has also calculated that a nine-month shutdown would cost $3.74 billion but it had the cash reserves, and finances, to weather even an extended suspension of flights.
Key background: EasyJet grounded its fleet of around 320 planes for at least two months on March 30, 2020. The move from Europe’s fifth-largest airline came as demand for travel plunged and countries across Europe closed their borders because of the coronavirus pandemic. The airline industry has been one of the sectors worst impacted by the pandemic, while rival airlines have had to call on government bailouts.