Ryanair CEO’s Controversial Take On Social Distancing

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary is one of the most controversial guys in the airline industry, as he’s the opposite of politically correct. This is the guy who talked about how Ryanair would offer “beds and bl*wjobs” in business class, when discussing the possibility of transatlantic service.

With a lot of airlines having taken measures to encourage social distancing, O’Leary has a different take — he thinks that’s “mad” and “hopelessly ineffective.”

Airline social distancing measures

We’ve seen a variety of airlines introduce social distancing measures in the short term, clearly with the goal of making people feel more comfortable flying.

Initiatives range from adjusting boarding processes to allow for more social distancing, to blocking middle seats on flights, to reducing inflight service.

While most of the solutions aren’t perfect, the intent is right, in my opinion, and most of these measures seem better than nothing.

Some airlines are blocking middle seats on flights

Ryanair doesn’t plan on social distancing

While Ryanair isn’t flying right now, when they’re back in the sky we shouldn’t expect to see any social distancing on Ryanair flights.

How does O’Leary feel about some of the measures taken by airlines and regulators? As reported by Reuters:

“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.

People come to the airport in trains without social distancing. You can’t do social distancing in the airport either at check-in, at security, at restaurants or shops – even the airports admit that.”

He’s certainly not wrong, in the sense that none of these current solutions are perfect. With blocked middle seats you’re maybe 18″ from someone else, which is only a quarter of the recommended six feet of distance.

And when travel does recover, there’s no way there’s actually going to be sufficient social distancing at security or at the gates. Sometimes there’s barely enough space to queue at security when everyone is inches apart, let alone six feet apart.

But that doesn’t mean that something isn’t better than nothing right now, especially with few people flying.

Ryanair 737

Ryanair wants face masks & temperature checks

What does O’Leary think should be done? After all, he’s not calling COVID-19 fake news, or anything, but rather just thinks the current solutions aren’t any good.

He’d like to see mandatory face masks and temperature checks at airports for now, and also once Ryanair resumes flying.

As he describes it, “that seems to me to be the best that we would be able to manage.”

While neither of those are perfect solutions either, they are better than nothing. I do imagine that temperature checks will become more common around the globe, as in the past they’ve been most common at Asian airports.

We’re already seeing airlines trialing even more advanced concepts, like Etihad’s check-in kiosks that can tell if you’re sick, or Emirates giving rapid COVID-19 tests, where they draw some blood and have results within 10 minutes.

Emirates doing COVID-19 tests in Dubai

Bottom line

As much as O’Leary always makes statements that are intended to make headlines, he’s not completely wrong, in the sense that current measures aren’t fool-proof. However, arguably some distancing is better than no distancing.

The big question continues to be what the future of the passenger experience will be like when flying. I imagine the real solution will have to involve some sort of vaccine, so we’ll see how soon that can be available on a widespread basis.

  1. Aren’t flights only viable with 70-90% load factors? I have a hard time seeing how any social distancing will be possible with more passenger volume.

  2. O’Leary, the Trump of the airline world. Both irrational, opinionated, ignorant of facts and self-obsessed.

  3. @John Proof that yet again all of you “experts” have no knowledge of calling out an “expert”

  4. It’s great to see public figures finally take a stand against this idiocy.

    The world needs leaders who can stand up to the angry mob bleating about ‘safety’ at every turn.

    Go MOL!!

  5. There will always be a significant vocal minority of nut jobs. I mean really, “the resistance?” Incredible that the nations of the world managed to join together and keep secret this conspiracy to shut down the global economy, and to what end? You’ll have to post under new names when this is all over, people won’t forget your dangerous idiocy.

  6. O’Leary is correct in that blocking middle seats will do nearly nothing for health, and will also increase CASM by 33%, which, all else being equal, will raise fares significantly. It certainly changes when a flight will become viable and will take a lot of capacity out of the system, so we’d be looking at significantly higher fares as soon as demand comes back.

  7. For a change, I actually think MOL is being fairly sensible here.

    There is no magic “2 meter radius” beyond which you are safe and within which you are not. It is an approximation and it can be mitigated with other precautions. A reasonable level of social distancing for coronaviruses can be achieved by proper universal use of face masks, combined with a process of reducing cross-contamination via contaminated surfaces.

    There are health risks associated with travel and those will never go away entirely. Whether it is Malaria, DVT or whatever else, these risks need to be evaluated, mitigated and then deemed acceptable by a customer prior to them making a decision to proceed with the travel. Assuming no regulatory violation, if society in general finds Ryanair’s processes to be insufficient, they will vote with their wallets and Ryanair will modify their processes accordingly.

  8. He simply wants all costs of prevention covered by airports and local governments instead of his airline

  9. It’s really sad that there are still so many people that think like John and James. I tested positive and went through hell for 3 weeks. The incredible part is that I thought I was doing what the authorities asked yet I became infected. I still don’t know where I got it because I was social distancing etc. This thing is real and very dangerous. Anybody that thinks this is a hoax needs to have their heads checked and do their homework. And that means not listening to conspiracy theorists who have been around forever. Even if we start opening up the country most people will not go out in public like before without protection. We will go into a deep recession and maybe even a depression. The economy will get much worse unless people that think this is a hoax come to their senses. I know from experience how dangerous this virus is.

  10. James- You use the word “the resistance”. That term is used by people that are not in power. I assume that you are a trump supporter, so if you are, you are not the resistance. The resistance are the people that go against who is in power

  11. @Fernsie glad you are feeling better. Assuming you are an American..,,What government advised us vs what we really should do is two very different things. It’s not until very recent that government is now advising everyone to wear a mask. But in reality is that we should have been wearing a mask back in early March like everyone in hk and Taiwan (who started to wear masks back in late January). Are you wiping down your grocery with hand sanitary wipes? As you know this virus can stay on surfaces minimally for three hours or longer. This is not just for grocery, same for packages/ mail you get from amazon/ usps/ ups. Make sure you wipe down that box/ mail as you never know if the delivery person has covid 19. When you go pick up your take out from your fav restaurant, are you wiping down the containers? When you go to a grocery store and opening frig door to get that frozen chicken nuggets. Are you using a hand sanitizer gel after you touch that handle? I can go on but you get the point. Just because government doesn’t tell you how to protect yourself, use common sense and that should tell you how to protect yourself. Unless you were ultra careful, there are tons of ways to get infected even with social distancing. That’s just the bare minimum guideline. Now that you have antibody, you are most likely ok for awhile… For the rest of us, not so much….. sigh.

  12. James- Yes I’m a proud American. In my position, I am in charge of selling outside the USA which helps our economy a lot. The rest of my family is OK but I was lucky enough to have a separate section of the house where I could self isolate.

    I never really had gone out much before I got sick. I did practically everything you state. That’s why this was so strange. Obviously I must have let my guard down at some point but I can’t really remember when or where. But that is the point here as well. This thing is so contagious that you can’t even let your guard down for 1 second. Let’s all hope that we get a vaccine sooner rather than later and that people take every precaution possible. Unfortunately, people that think this is a hoax will only learn the hard way.

  13. @Fernsie: I echo others’ wishes to you for a speedy and full recovery.

    I believe that many non-Americans like myself just watch in utter disbelief when listening to various hoax theories, or when watching protests to open up markets too soon (ie: Lansing, MI yesterday). Signs saying “lock her up”- referring to the governor and “liberty lost is gone forever”. One fellow said on camera he’d rather die of the Corona virus than lose his job.

    We were in Asia when the crap hit the proverbial fan in mid-March. Flying home, everyone in SIN, TPE and on-board EVA Airways wore masks and followed directions. Everyone. (Singapore led the way in perfecting contact tracing and flattening the curve).

    If protests grow and the USA population doesn’t get fully behind social distancing , I really despair for them.

  14. He’s not wrong. We have political figures holed up in their offices/homes/etc. who are making some policies that have no effect or can actually be worse.

    Take airport eateries for instance. The policies forced all these places to close off their seating areas in an effort to minimize spread. However, people still need to sit somewhere to eat and there is abundant seating in airports. So now people are going around and sitting in random spaces ALL OVER the airport to eat. Do you think all the airport custodians know which random seats have been used to eat? Do you think they are even cleaned regularly? That gate area across from McDonalds….yeah, it’s now an impromptu dining room except there’s no telling where people spread out.

    In this scenario, there would be much more success in letting seating areas continue to operate because then there are LIMITED locations that need to be cleaned frequently. There also isn’t some guessing game as to where people have chosen to eat.

  15. Perhaps middle seat customers can get a “dead body 100% guarantee” so if they catch it on a Ryanair flight and croak the airline will cover their funeral expenses
    All deceased customers will get a full refund of their baggage fees as well within 1 year by simply calling their outstanding customer first consumer relations line 800 number
    Credit voucher will be mailed to any family member beneficiary

  16. Blocking the middle seat is an idiotic, reactionary concept conceived by useless bureaucrats. And using the “something is better than nothing” argument is comical when you consider the cost/benefit (with benefit being nearly zero).

  17. I am from Michigan (don’t live there now – but all relatives are there), and I can tell you that that Governor is over-reaching her authority and making snap decisions which are not based on sound principal nor common sense. To be frank – if the Michigan DNR can level hunting/fishing regulations that differ based on zones, county lines, U.P. vs Lower Pen., etc, then why in this world can our Governors not do the same? Is it just they are too lazy to put some thought into the design of the restrictions? Put the most strict regulations on the counties that the outbreaks are prevalent – don’t blanket an entire state/population (this is what is angering the people of Michigan the most).

    I think that what we are looking for is merely a different approach to this with some forethought and common sense in hopes of not bringing our wonderful country into a Depression. Lets not just accept this, rather lets be smart and create a sustaining model that works better!

  18. Michael O’Leary is a man who has built an airline and a business on packing as many people as possible into a Boeing 737. The fact that he’s not going to introduce social distancing measures should come as a surprise to nobody

  19. Ryan could make passengers buy a bag containing a facemask and hand sanitizer before each flight for no more than 2 euros for those who do not already have one at check in and mandate that they are used. (Giving them away for free might upset the narrow profit margin too much) Could work and boost confidence.
    Another more radical option would be to replace the cabin lights with UV-C tubes and mandate solarium goggles to be worn on he flights as not to damage the eyes. But I cant see the EASA approving that easily. So most likely masks and hand sanitizer then.
    Interesting times ahead.

  20. Plenty of RWNJ comments here today.

    Comorbidity is a thing, and complaining that someone was likely to die in the future, so why not today, truly a capitalist/Republican response.

    @Mr Obvi – Thank you for your support. Which ones were your family members protesting Gov Whitmer? The swastika flag carrying jerk? The Proud Boys bandana inbred? FTR, it snowed in lower LP yesterday, today, and will again tomorrow. The governors overreach is a bunch of petty RWNJ whining about restrictions on boating, golfing, purchasing gardening supplies at big box stores. Please. Stay out of MI. We have enough of your type here already.

  21. Larry B must buy into the scaremongering or like the statist policies that politicians enact to quell the public’s fears. Government must be seen to do something, after all. It is this sort of thinking (or lack thereof) that gave us glorious institutions like the TSA (there for our safety; it’s in the name). If we can save just one life, let us spend trillions of dollars! Only a heartless capitalist could think otherwise. Never mind all the suffering and suicides that will follow in the future. Thinking beyond the present is a luxury for kings. Obviously a 30-year old who is unlikely to die from the virus should be treated exactly like an 80-year old who was already quite ill. We are all the same, comrades, all in it together! And no one should wear a mask until we are all of a sudden all ordered to wear masks! What is “a thing?”

  22. You can be very proud in resisting this, James and John.
    “People” like you are a main reason this virus keeps going around.
    Let me guess, you also believe this has something to do with 5G?
    They should lock people like you up for endangering public health, wackadoodles.

  23. America’s own Dr. Fauci said that this virus’ “clinical effects” will ultimately be no worse than a bad seasonal influenza year. Look it up for yourself, New England Journal of Medicine, March 20th. This was weeks after he was saying hundreds of thousands would be killed by it. Mid-March, UK officials theorized that 50% of the UK population had already been infected by that point.

    CDC’s own statistics (look it up in the MMWR) are showing that overall deaths have been declining for the past 3 weeks, even with COVID raging. NYC’s (and N. Italy’s) problem has been the over-aggressive treatment by doctors there, unintentionally causing patient deaths. I see this week the Drs in NYC finally realized that there’s no reason to put someone on a ventilator (which are known to damage lungs even in non-COVID cases) when putting the patient on oxygen will do. Prior to this week they were putting COVID patients straight onto ventilators at the first sign of breathing trouble.

    Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been getting bad info, as the US public health sector is inept at best (corrupt at worst). Supplies are hard to come by in every county, not just the USA. But a lot of that’s not making it to the TV screens. The media’s had a field day. This is the most number of eyeballs CNN and Fox have had in years, possibly decades.
    To quote an old college prof, “There’s no money in telling people that everything is fine. BUT there’s a fortune to be made in scaring the hell out of them.”

    The politicians overreacted due to what they were getting from officials, the media, and panic through social media. Now…how do they save face? None of them have the guts to say they overreacted, destroying lives, and yes, causing unnecessary deaths, in the process. No one, including the public health folks, had a viable end-game. There’s still no cure for the common cold, no vaccine for SARS, and the seasonal flu vaccine fails more often than not. The real problem is now that they’ve all called Wolf!, what happens when a truly nasty bug starts to spread. They’re going to be even more reluctant to do something about it.

    I’m glad to see O’Leary willing to be forward about this. We need to move on and need to be able to discuss it openly without fear of being chastised.

    But what do I know about this stuff… I only went to medical school.

  24. Why do some of these posts end up moving completely away from the original topic and resort to political BS and name-calling insults? Aren’t there other forums for that?
    And Ben – shouldn’t there be some sort of moderating here? It does seem like you sometimes start a topic, then just abandon it when it gets out of hand…
    Spoils it for the majority of readers, IMHO.

  25. @red_robbo: Trolls are as trolls be. I would rather Ben not moderate (assuming comments remain at least clean, etc). Moderation can result in bias which would then detract from the content – IMO. I come to this site for the content and honestly enjoy reading the reviews. At a time when content is pretty light (understandably) – I am enjoying some of the banter found in these posts. I think these comments at times (though political) are related to the content.

    Unfortunately its people like Larry B that can’t handle constructive dialogue with others who may not be on his side of an issue without using derogatory language and coming unglued.

  26. Ok Mr Obvious, you like a bit of dialogue. Let us take a look at your original posting above and consider for a minute what might be a flaw!
    You think the governors should issue rulings based on population and the outbreak count in those areas. The problem with that, is simple and has been demonstrated in far too many states! People who have property in more than one location in the same state. They pack up the family and proceed “to the shore”, travel”up north”etc! The problem there? They take the virus with them! Far too often these locations are remote or rural locations with minimal healthcare resources! Now what? Where do the locals go for care? Why should they need to care for you just because you want to quarantine in comfort?
    So, I for one, am not going to get on the band wagon with you!
    Count me as one of the stay at home group, sorry!

  27. Thanks, Anne K

    The mayor of Elk Rapids, MI said as much…we can’t support an outbreak here, STAY HOME.
    But what do I know. I was out planting a garden in the snow today. Looking for more snowflakes, such as several posters in this thread…

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