Aer Lingus chief executive Sean Doyle has called on the Government to remove the quarantine restrictions on people travelling into the country by the end of June so that the airline can restore some of its short-haul services in July and August to help “reboot” Irish tourism.
“There is a decent degree of demand that we would see coming through if there was clarity around quarantine and travel policies,” Mr Doyle told The Irish Times.
“We need to reboot the economy, tourism is very important, connectivity is very important . . . we see other countries doing it effectively like Spain and Portugal and we see no reason why Ireland shouldn’t become part of that framework and process.”
Mr Doyle said Aer Lingus would initially look to provide services to cities in Germany and the Netherlands and to sun spots in Portugal and Spain, if Irish quarantine rules are removed and if the advisory on non-essential travel was lifted.
“We have a number of European services that we would look to operate in July and August,” he said. “The policies around travel advisories and quarantine are pretty important to us finalising what the travel programme might look like. It won’t be as big obviously as in previous seasons but there is a pathway to having a summer season for economies where tourism is critical, and I would argue that Ireland is one of those economies.”
Aer Lingus is flying just 5 per cent of its normal schedule, with “skeleton” services to the UK, and transatlantic flights to New York, Boston and Chicago. It is operating out of Dublin, Cork and Belfast but has ceased operations in Shannon.
He said demand for air travel would be “challenged for a number of years to come” and that it could be 2022 or 2023 before it returns to the level of last year.
Aer Lingus is in talks with its unions about redundancies, a process that Mr Doyle hopes will conclude in the “coming weeks”. Staff have taken pay cuts of 50 per cent, with the airline also accessing the State’s wage-subsidy scheme to minimise its cash-burn.
Automated bag drops
Mr Doyle said Aer Lingus has processed about 200,000 refunds or vouchers for customers who had their travel plans disrupted by Covid-19 – about two-thirds of the applications it has received to date.
Looking to the future, Mr Doyle outlined the steps passengers will face when they take a flight with the airline.
“The first thing we would encourage everyone to do is use automated check-in and automated bag drops. You will be required to check in more luggage and that will mitigate the interaction of people putting bags in the overhead lockers.
“Number two, come to the airport prepared, allow a bit more time because there will be social distancing practised at the airport so it may take longer to get through.
“Bring your face covering because that is mandated now on Aer Lingus. We’ll also be boarding with new processes, by seat-row number, to minimise the level of interaction as people are boarding. When we are onboard, our crew will be wearing masks and we will be offering a reduced level of inflight service.
“We will be disembarking by seat-row number as well, in a very controlled manner. We will deep clean our aircraft every evening, and we will disinfect all surfaces and all areas of the cabin using hospital grade disinfectant.”
Some 15 staff hours will be spent cleaning its long-haul aircraft before each flight. For short-haul, a team of cleaners will clean aircraft each evening, with additional time spent cleaning them before every flight out of Dublin.