EasyJet expects to keep its middle seats empty when it resumes flying to enable social distancing.
Chief executive Johan Lundgren said the measure is aimed at encouraging passengers to fly after the coronavirus pandemic recedes.
He told reporters: “I expect that to happen. That is something that we will do because I think that is something that the customers would like to see.
“Then we will work out with the authorities and listen to the customers’ views and points on what they believe is the right thing to do, particularly in the start-up period.”
“Load factors will not get back to normal early on”
The majority of easyJet aircraft are configured with mainly three seats in a row, either side of the aisle.
The change would involve passengers in window and aisle seats having an empty seat next to them.
Mr Lundgren said it will be possible to keep middle seats empty as “our assumption is that load factors will not get back to normal early on”.
He went on: “I’m talking about this as an initial phase. Nobody knows for how long that phase will be.
“We’re also looking at various disinfection programmes on the aircraft, we’re in discussions with Easa (the European aviation safety regulator) if there are other additional measures we should take.
“I think it’s important that customers understand that we are taking this very seriously and first and foremost our concern is about the customers’ well-being and our people’s well-being.
“That is what’s going to take priority in this whole thing, because that is the way you get the confidence back with people taking flights again.”
Mr Lundgren did not speculate on the financial impact of the measure, but low-cost airlines often rely on filling planes to make flights profitable.
EasyJet said it is set to report underlying pre-tax losses of between £185 million and £205 million for the six months to March 31, against losses of £275 million a year earlier.
But the airline added said statutory pre-tax losses of up to £380 million are expected due to a hit of as much as £185 million for fuel and foreign exchange hedging costs.
The group’s planes were fully grounded on March 30, but it said more than half of disrupted passengers had chosen vouchers or alternative flights, meaning that bookings for winter are “well ahead” of the previous year.
EasyJet shares jumped as much as 13 per cent in early trade as the update showed a strong performance before the crisis and as it reassured over the group’s financial strength to weather the lockdown.
Mr Lundgren described the airline’s first-half trading performance as “very strong prior to the impact of coronavirus”.
He said the firm’s cost-cutting initiative has “dramatically brought down our cash burn”, through measures such as the grounding its fleet and deferring the delivery of 24 new Airbus aircraft.
He also criticised recent demands by easyJet’s founder and largest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, for the carrier to cancel its entire £4.5 billion order with the plane-maker.
“Clearly it’s not helpful,” Mr Lundgren said. “It’s a distraction on what we’re doing. But myself, the team and the board, we’re absolutely focused on managing through this time.
“This is one of the worst crises that aviation has ever seen.”
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