Irish airline Aer Lingus has come under criticism after photos appeared online showing a disregard for social distancing on a domestic flight between Belfast and London. Criticism of Aer Lingus comes as governments around the world are telling people to stay six feet away from each other to help stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
The packed Aer Lingus Airbus A320 was operating as flight number EI930 between George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD) and London Heathrow (LHR) on Monday morning and had, according to Aer Lingus, an “unexpectedly high load factor.”
Flights within Europe are at a virtual standstill
Responding to the outcry, the IAG-owned airline says it is now reviewing its procedures as regards to social distancing during the coronavirus crisis. Citing the demand for the intercity flight, Aer Lingus announced that it would be reviewing the situation.
Unlike some parts of the world where domestic flights are continuing, European flights have all but come to a complete standstill with just a few passenger flights still operating. With only government guidelines to go by, there is as of yet no firm directive telling airlines what to do with regards to social distancing.
Passenger Sean Mallon, who was traveling on the 52-minute flight to London Heathrow for work, told the BBC that around 95% of the seats were occupied.
“There was no social distancing whatsoever,” he said.
“Once we got to the other side, I just wanted to get off the plane. Everyone just jumped up and started opening overhead compartments as normal, grabbing their bags, queuing to get off as normal. No change whatsoever.”
This was the @AerLingus flight from @BELFASTCITY_AIR to @londonheathrow this morning at 8:45. No social distancing taking place – one passenger told me they weren’t given any advice on how to keep themselves safe. More on @BBCevex next @taramillstv @NewsDeclan pic.twitter.com/eeAfcGf23O
— Kelly Bonner (@KellyBonner) May 4, 2020
Dr. Ultan Power, a Professor of Molecular Virology at Queens University, said he found the images a “major concern,” but there was a more troublesome issue.
“I would be even more concerned for the plane coming back in the opposite direction from a Covid-19 hotspot with potentially a lot of people who had been exposed to the virus,” he said.
“By not ensuring quarantine, we’re almost guaranteeing we will have a reintroduction after the huge efforts of lockdown.”
In reply to the outcry the Dublin based carrier issued the following statement:
“In light of the unexpectedly high loads on the Belfast-London Heathrow service this morning and the level of demand for the route, Aer Lingus is reviewing its processes and procedures applicable to the operation of this service,” the airline said.
“The safety and security of Aer Lingus’ customers and crew is our top priority, and any process changes that are identified as being required will be implemented as a matter of urgency.”
Airlines should not be exempt from social distancing
Meanwhile, aviation analyst Alex Macheras was keen to point out that social distancing should be adhered to on aircraft and that airlines were not exempt from following the guidelines.
“This is a disappointing revelation from Aer Lingus, who have decided to not social distance onboard, which many other airlines have decided to do. We are still in the middle of this pandemic, and there is a lack of any clear direction for rules from regulators,” he said.
“We know that social distancing is going to be part of life, and ultimately aviation should not be an exception.
“At 90% of airports, you will find extra police, temperature checks, and quarantine regulations on those coming into the country. The UK is not part of that 90%.”
Social distancing on planes will never happen
How airlines will be able to operate if they have to social distance passengers is a big question that no one seems to know the answer. Following easyJet’s idea of leaving the middle seat, empty Ryanair boss told the Financial Times that it was a non-starter saying,
“Either the government pays for the middle seat, or we won’t fly, we can’t make money on 66 percent 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.”
Regardless of how people will have to be spaced out, many airlines like Lufthansa and Hungary’s Wizz Air have now made it compulsory that passengers must wear protective face masks on flights.
This whole social distancing thing is never going to work on airlines, so don’t be surprised if, to get around it, airlines stat testing passengers for the coronavirus before allowing them on the plane. We have seen this with Emirates, and others will surely follow the lead.
What do you think about social distancing on planes? Please let us know what you think in the comments.