Ryanair warns it won’t fly with empty center seats

O’Leary expects 80% of flights to resume in September if activity begins to pick up in July

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has warned that the Irish low-cost airline is unwilling to fly if governments impose that planes leave their center seats empty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with the Financial Times, O’Leary stated that if «some totally ineffective distancing measures were imposed,» under these conditions «we would not fly again.»

The executive confessed that Ryanair had already informed the Irish Government that if it planned to impose such regulations, «the State will have to bear the cost of leaving those ranks empty, otherwise we will not fly.»

«We cannot make money with 66% occupancy. Even if we do that, the idea of ​​the empty seat does not offer any guarantee of social distancing, so the proposal seems totally absurd to us,» he added.

These statements occur despite the fact that other companies such as Emirates, easyJet and Delta in the United States have already said that they plan to keep the intermediate seats empty as a formula to return to operation and even some governments have announced that they could make it an obligation.

The executive showed an optimistic perspective for the recovery of the sector, ensuring that the airline could resume 80% of flights in September, provided that activity in Europe begins to recover from the beginning of July.

O’Leary estimates that the airline could make 40% of its flights if travel resumes in July, with aircraft capacity of 50 to 60%. Subsequently, it would gradually increase the quantity, up to 60% in August and 80% in September, before reducing it 60% in autumn, the season with the least occupation.

His outlook stands in stark contrast to the rest of the aviation industry whose top experts have predicted that the recovery could take as long as three years or more.


O’Leary believes that Europe should follow the example of Asia and introduce more «sensible and easy to apply» measures, such as the mandatory use of face masks in transport and temperature controls at train stations and airports.

The executive hopes that with an effective coronavirus vaccine, in the summer of 2021, the most normal traffic levels will recover.

However, he warned that the airline was likely to have to cut jobs this winter and that it would maintain the 50% pay cut beyond May if confinement continues longer.