Michael O’Leary’s initiative to get Ryanair’s airborne again from July by using Covid-19 screening at airports and mandatory air masks for passengers and cabin crew have had a mixed reception - with trade unions broadly in favour and the tourism industry expressing more scepticism.
The boss of the industry group which oversees Ireland’s travel agents said the Ryanair plan was a case of too much too soon.
“July is too quick; it’s only six weeks away. I would prefer the airlines to wait and do a very gradual return from the end of July onwards,” said Irish Travel Agents Association CEO Pat Dawson.
Mr Dawson said he understood why airlines were looking to get flights restarted, saying that as much as 60% of the proposed flights were already booked and paid for. “If the planes fly and passengers don’t want to go they won’t be refunded,” Mr Dawson said.
He said customers will not be clambering to get back onboard planes in the next few months, saying travellers will want to be totally confident about their departure and destination airports.
There was a “big problem” for large airports where passengers will not be able to avoid queuing, he said, and smaller regional airports might benefit, he said.
However, the unions representing Ryanair’s pilots and cabin crew have tentatively welcomed the plan.
Evan Cullen, president of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association – or IALPA – said that as long as safety precautions are in line with EU regulations, and that it “very much” supported the initiative.
The Fórsa trade union – which represents both pilots and cabin crew at Ryanair - said it was still in talks with Ryanair over jobs and pay, and that those negotiations were its priority. However, restarting flights were part of the talks.
“While the outlook remains very uncertain, we recognise that all airlines must plan ahead and be ready to mobilise services when there is demand,” said Fórsa spokesman Niall Shanahan.
“With the employer we share the objective of wanting to ensure the industry survives the current crisis. Our priority, right now, is the jobs and incomes of our members in Ryanair and throughout the Irish aviation industry," he said.
Mr Shanahan said Fórsa was developing a response to Ryanair’s proposals on cuts.
“In doing so, the union is mindful of the sustainability of Ireland’s aviation industry in the short term, and the need to ensure there is a functioning aviation industry on this island in the longer term,” he said.
Chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation, or Itic, Eoghan O'Mara Walsh said the industry "would love" to see international travel starting up again shortly.
But the 14-day quarantine periods that the Irish and British governments and other European countries have imposed on international travellers could at this stage be an insurmountable problem, he said
“But ultimately it is a public health issue,” he said.
Mr O’Mara Walsh also said tourist and hospitality firms will need specific help and would need the Government’s support measures to last for “a long, long time”.