Plans to introduce post-lockdown social distancing at airports ‘won’t work’ and will lead to queues snaking for up to half a mile to board each large plane, Heathrow’s boss warned today.
Heathrow’s Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye has warned that there simply isn’t enough space in airports to keep each passenger two metres apart.
Mr Holland-Kaye instead has called on the Prime Minister to agree an ‘international standard’ with other world leaders which would include passenger health checks on departure.
Mandatory health checks for passengers including taking temperatures, increased levels of hygiene and compulsory facemasks are among the options floated by Mr Holland-Kaye in order to open the nation’s airports as soon as possible and avoid ‘massive job losses in our sector… (and) many other sectors that depend on us’.
‘The Prime Minister has talked about restarting the engines of the British economy. We are ready to play our part, but first we need his help to restart the engines of the British aviation fleet,’ he wrote.
It came as air passengers slammed airlines for lack of social distancing after they were crammed in ‘like sardines’ on to rescue flights back to UK
MailOnline has calculated what the queue for one jumbo jet could look like at Heathrow as the airport’s boss warned that social distancing would be impossible if Britain wants a healthy aviation industry
Heathrow’s Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye has warned that there simply isn’t enough space in airports to keep each passenger two metres apart
Mr Holland-Kaye instead has called on the Prime Minister to agree an ‘international standard’ with other world leaders which would include passenger health checks on departure
Aircrafts have been full – including this British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Barcelona this week – despite the growing uncertainty over the short-term future of air travel
How coronavirus has affected airlines in the UK over the past month
Flybe: Europe’s largest regional airline collapsed on March 5 after months on the brink, triggering 2,400 job losses and left around 15,000 passengers stranded across the UK and Europe. Flybe’s owners, a consortium including Virgin Atlantic, the Stobart Group and hedge fund firm Cyrus Capital, blamed coronavirus for hastening the ailing airline’s collapse. Flybe operated up to 50 UK routes, accounting for 40 per cent of all domestic flights, and was used by 9.5million passengers a year.
British Airways: The International Airlines Group, which also includes Iberia and Aer Lingus, said on March 16 that there would be a 75 per cent reduction in passenger capacity for two months, with boss Willie Walsh admitting there was ‘no guarantee that many European airlines would survive’. The company has since said it wants to reduce the number of staff by 12,000.
easyJet: The airline with 9,000 UK-based staff including 4,000 cabin crew grounded its entire fleet of 344 planes on March 30. The Luton-based carrier said parking all of its planes ‘removes significant cost’ as the aviation industry struggles to cope with a collapse in demand.
Loganair: The Scottish regional airline said on March 30 that it expects to ask the Government for a bailout to cope with the impact of the pandemic. Loganair will go to the government despite being told by Finance Minister Rishi Sunak last week that airlines should exhaust all other options for funding, before asking for help.
Jet2: The budget holiday airline has suspended all of its flights departing from Britain until April 30. A number of Jet2 flights turned around mid-air last month while travelling to Spain when a lockdown was announced in the country.
Virgin Atlantic: The airline said on March 16 that it would have reduced its lights by 80 per cent by March 26, and this will go up to 85 per cent by April. It has also urged the Government to offer carriers emergency credit facilities worth up to £7.5billion.
Ryanair: More than 90 per cent of the Irish-based airline’s planes are now grounded, with the rest of the aircraft providing repatriation and rescue flights. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said his airline would be forced to shed 3,000 jobs while seeking pay reductions of up to 20 per cent by those who remain.
It came days after Mr Holland-Kaye told the PA news agency that it is ‘just physically impossible to socially distance with any volume of passengers in an airport’.
He added that social distancing on planes would reduce capacities by more than 50 per cent and mean ‘prices would shoot up’.
Severity of the crisis facing the aviation industry was laid bare last night as British Airways announced plans to lay off a quarter of its pilots.
The nation’s flag carrier told staff it planned to axe 1,130 captain and co-pilot jobs and may even abandon operations at Gatwick, Britain’s second biggest airport.
It came as the boss of Heathrow Airport revealed it could be the case that only young, fit and healthy people will be able to fly in the immediate future, and all passengers might have to wear face masks as part of a strategy to restore confidence in mass air travel.
The dramatic developments underline the severity of the catastrophe facing Britain’s aviation industry.
Passenger numbers have flatlined in recent weeks due to global travel restrictions and industry leaders now accept it could take several years for passenger numbers to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Earlier this week, BA boss Alex Cruz announced that up to a quarter of the airline’s 42,000 staff would be laid off as the airline fights for survival.
He had previously warned staff that coronavirus marks the biggest threat in the airline’s history, worse than 9/11 or the SARS outbreak
The airline has informed the pilots’ union Balpa that the cuts could include a quarter of the airline’s plots.
The letter, written on April 28, reads: ‘In a short space of time the situation has significantly deteriorated.’
In a separate announcement, the head of BA’s Gatwick operations yesterday [THU] told staff it is possible that BA could suspend operations from the West Sussex hub, where it has had a presence since 1950.
In normal times, around six million BA passengers a year fly to and from Gatwick to more than 60 destinations. The airport relies heavily on seasonal holiday traffic.
Insiders say that BA is preparing to dramatically downsize as part of an extreme cost-cutting strategy. This could soon include the total suspension of the few BA flights that are continuing to run. It is also likely BA will pull operations from Terminal 3 at Heathrow. It is currently based at Terminal 5.
The intervention follows mounting criticism over the Government’s inaction on airport screening.
Airplane passengers says they are being crammed upon aircraft ‘like sardines’ and say this makes a mockery of the current social distancing guidelines
Critics say the total lack of checks on passengers entering the UK makes a mockery of the lockdown and threatens the health of the nation.
Ministers estimate around 15,000 people are arriving into the UK every day – including many from virus-ravaged countries such as Italy, Iran and China.
There are no proper checks but passengers are handed leaflets about symptoms.
Airport bosses are concerned the lack of screening measures makes our airports appear more dangerous than others, and could lead to plummeting passenger numbers when flying does resume.
Last week, Mr Holland-Kaye revealed to the Mail that Heathrow has requested Public Health England (PHE) release scientific evidence proving their claims that temperature screening is ‘ineffective’.
PHE have long insisted that such measures are futile against a virus that has an incubation period of 14 days.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the airport screening policy is ‘under review’, and could change in the future.
The point was reiterated in a letter to all MPs from aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst earlier this week.
Passenger travelling to Britain could face mandatory quarantining to control the spread of coronavirus, the Transport Secretary has said.
Grant Shapps revealed he is ‘actively looking at’ beefed up border controls following weeks of criticism over a lack of screening at UK airports.
It came as shocking pictures emerged showing packed flights, including a BA service from Heathrow to Barcelona and a Government-organised rescue flight from Turkey to Stansted.
Travellers in facemasks described being crammed ‘like sardines’ on Wednesday’s BA flight, and said the lack of distancing measures ‘makes a complete mockery of the lockdown rules’.
A passenger on the flight said: ‘There was no requirement to wear masks but some did choose to do so. The cabin crew are not required to wear masks but some chose to do so. You will see there is no attempt at any kind of social distancing – everyone is sitting within inches of their fellow passengers.’
EasyJet is considering stripping out middle seats to enable social distancing, although industry leaders fear this could make flights unprofitable and lead to higher air fares.
British Airways has reportedly asked staff to sign the contracts as it operates less than five per cent of its normal schedule. BA planes are pictured parked in Bournemouth, Dorset
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Mr Shapps said he is ‘actively looking at’ quarantine requirements for foreign visitors, mirroring similar schemes that have been in place for weeks in dozens of other countries.
He said: ‘I think it is important that as we are seeing the numbers decrease and the R rate we hope decrease… that we do ensure that the sacrifices in a sense – social distancing – that we are asking the British people to make are matched by anybody who comes to this country.
‘I am actively looking at these issues right now so that when we have infection rates within the country under control we are not importing.’
The uncertainty over the future of air travel is one of the main reasons why BA are warning of drastic cuts in the months to come.
Bosses are planning to lay off a quarter of the airline’s staff – up to 12,000 workers, including one in four pilots – and the airline may even suspend operations at Gatwick.
Senior BA managers were due to be questioned on the crisis in a hearing before the Commons transport committee on Wednesday.
MPs had hoped to grill Willie Walsh, the boss of BA’s parent company IAG, on issues relating to redundancies and delays in issuing customer refunds.
However, it emerged last night that Walsh has refused to attend and no other BA senior manager will take his place. Committee chair Huw Merriman MP accused the airline of ‘seeking to avoid scrutiny’.
IAG declined to comment.
On the issue of crowded flights a spokesman for BA said: ‘Like other forms of transport we are keeping vital links open – repatriating customers and ensuring key supplies like medicines and food are flown in.
‘We continue to follow all the guidance from the UK Government and global health authorities, including Public Health England and the World Health Organisation. We have taken several steps to reduce contact between customers and crew, and personal protective equipment is available to them.’
Airlines UK, the trade body representing airlines,warned a 14-day quarantine requirement ‘would effectively kill air travel’.
Chief executive Tim Alderslade said it would ‘completely shut off the UK from the rest of the world when other countries are opening up their economies’.