A major budget airline is looking at keeping its middle seats empty when flights resume so passengers can keep social distancing.
The UK’s easyJet has grounded its entire fleet due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief executive Johan Lundgren said the measure is aimed at encouraging passengers to fly after the coronavirus pandemic recedes, The Sun reported.
“I expect that to happen,” he said. “That is something that we will do because I think that is something that the customers would like to see.
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“Then we will work out with the authorities and listen to the customers’ views and points on what they believe is the right thing to do, particularly in the start-up period.”
The majority of easyJet aircraft are configured with mainly three seats in a row, either side of the aisle.
The change 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 load factors will not get back to normal early on”.
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“I’m talking about this as an initial phase. Nobody knows for how long that phase will be,” he said.
“We’re also looking at various disinfection programs 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’ wellbeing and our people’s wellbeing.
“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.”
Mr Lundgren did not speculate on the financial impact of the measure, but low-cost airlines often rely on filling planes to make flights profitable.
While planes have been grounded since March 30 group’s, the airline 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.
However, Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Irish low-budget carrier Ryanair, slammed suggestions of keeping middle seats empty, calling it “mad”.
“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. It would have no beneficial effect whatsoever,” he said.
EasyJet said it is set to report underlying pre-tax losses of between $363 million and $402 million for the six months to March 31, against losses of $540 million a year earlier.
Mr Lundgren described the airline’s first-half trading performance as “very strong prior to the impact of coronavirus”.
He said the firm’s cost-cutting initiative has “dramatically brought down our cash burn”, through measures such as the grounding its fleet and deferring the delivery of 24 new Airbus aircraft.
He also criticised recent demands by easyJet’s founder and largest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, for the carrier to cancel its entire $8.8 billion order with the plane-maker.
“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.”
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission