‘Idiotic idea!’ EU condemned over bizarre plan to keep seats on planes empty

Influential lobby group Airlines for Europe said leaving seats empty would not be “viable” prospect for many of the continent’s air-travel providers. The warning comes as the European Commission and EU tourism ministers mull over plans to restart the tourism industry in time for the summer holiday season. Plans discussed include special “COVID-19 passports” to open up travel between countries which have coronavirus under control and a series of restrictions on airlines to limit the spread of the disease.

Under the measures, airlines could be made to keep a number of seats empty to ensure social distancing on their flights, as well as disinfecting planes and handing out sanitising wipes on board their planes.

In a letter to EU tourism ministers, Airlines for Europe said: “Social distancing is neither necessary nor viable on board an aircraft.”

The group also warned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach being imposed on airlines as part of the strategy.

“Measures should be risk-based and proportionate to the individual mode of transport, and these measures should be financed by the States,” the airline bosses added.

Both Lufthansa and easyJet have vowed to keep seats free on their planes while the industry gets back up and running.

But Dublin-based budget carrier Ryanair has said its planes will not fly if “idiotic’ in-flight social distancing measures are introduced.

CEO Michael O’Leary said: “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.”

Ursula von der Leyen’s EU Commission is expected to decide on a series of measures at a meeting today.

But the recommendations might not be published until May 13, it has emerged.

Adina Valean, the transport commissioner, said plans will be made available “as soon as possible”.

She told MEPs the strategy will come with “particularities for each mode for transport connectivity and travel to ensure the highest level protection for travellers and transport workers.”

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“This will include to keep a safe distance, cleaning of hubs, and aircraft, buses and means of transport, wearing protective equipment for both workers and passengers, and more specific rules for airports, airlines, trains and buses,” she added.

“We have the paper, we will discuss it, and present it as soon as possible, after I am also picking the minds of transport ministers to see what is the thinking in member states is.”

Mrs von der Leyen has vowed to deliver “smart solutions” to allow Europeans to go on summer holidays.

The Continent’s tourism industry has taken a massive hit during the coronavirus pandemic, and failing to reopen could spell the end for many businesses and resorts.

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If travellers are stopped from taking holidays during the busy summer months it will likely trigger repercussions across the EU economy.

In 2019, tourism-related spending across the bloc reached around £373 billion, and the industry is responsible for around 27 million jobs.

The European Travel Commission and the World Travel and Tourism Council has said around 13 million jobs have been put at risk by the pandemic.

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