Irish Examiner view: Consumers need better protection

Covid-19 has changed our world. The changes are dramatic, sobering, and humbling — they remind us emphatically of our vulnerability, of our dust-to-dust inevitability.
Irish Examiner view: Consumers need better protection
Aer Lingus, like all airlines and most businesses during this time of Covid-19, faces huge challenges. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie
Aer Lingus, like all airlines and most businesses during this time of Covid-19, faces huge challenges. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Covid-19 has changed our world. The changes are dramatic, sobering, and humbling — they remind us emphatically of our vulnerability, of our dust-to-dust inevitability.

They underline that despite our great, growing knowledge, some of nature’s challenges defy immediate resolution. They also remind even the most independently minded that we rely on the kindness and bravery of strangers at life-defining moments.

That remaking is likely to continue for some time, even years.

The hope that a vaccine, universally available to even the poorest nations, will bookend the pandemic becomes more pressing by the month.

The time gap between the discovery of a vaccine and its universal application is an increasingly critical issue too — especially as a new strain of flu with the potential to become a new pandemic has been identified in China.

That raises possibly the most unnerving question of all — is today’s pandemic a single event or just part of an evolving pattern?

The Covid-19 changes apply on many levels. Some are realistic, others less so. Some are expressions of idiocy bordering on the unhinged.

Monday’s huffing and puffing from UK health secretary Matt Hancock, that the Boris Johnson/Dominic Cummings administration will change the law to enforce a lockdown in Leicester, is in contrast to the “take-it-on-the-chin” Blitz-spirit bluff offered months ago.

That bombast has a positive side too. Along with US president Donald Trump’s nasty slapstick, it offers a context in which to consider our response, especially as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland long ago decided their best interests lay in ignoring Downing Street’s advice.

Dr Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer has, since the pandemic reached us, become one of the most trusted figures in public life. He has been calm and offered the steel in the velvet glove needed in a crisis.

On Monday he was plainspoken when he urged those who have booked overseas trips not to travel at present due to the risk to themselves, their families, and the wider society.

“Think about other people and the risk you might pose even if you recover [if infected] very well, for people who are more vulnerable.” Yet, less than 24 hours after Dr Holohan offered that public health advice, Aer Lingus, via email, promoted foreign holidays.

That airline may not be the only one selling sun flights today but its message just after noon on Tuesday — “Catch that summer sun from €39.99” — defies the chief medical officer’s advice. Is now really the time to “make your holiday dreams come true with a flight to one of Europe’s best sunspots”?

Aer Lingus, like all airlines and most businesses, faces huge challenges. Hundreds of jobs may be lost and wages cut, but last year the airline posted an operating profit of €276m.

The chief executive of its parent group, IAG’s Willie Walsh, announced an operating profit of €3,285m. Despite those spectacular figures, even if they are eaten bread, they choose to potentially jeopardise our health security.

They, like others, have performed very shoddily in another area too — an extremely slow, deflecting refund and voucher practice. Like many companies, particularly insurance businesses, they risk squandering hard-won credibility.

That will have an impact but maybe we should be more proactive, less forelock-tugging in protecting our best interests and our health.

Aer Lingus is using Government Covid-19 subsidies to pay wages. It is incongruous that any entity enjoying that State support should openly, for its own commercial interests, defy Dr Holohan’s advice and that of the Department for Foreign Affairs which still advises against any non-essential travel.

The Government may be reluctant to impose no-fly limits, meaning booked flights may go ahead, but those intending passengers who choose not to fly are left in a consumer rights limbo.

This seems a perfect opportunity for our new Government to show where its loyalties lie — to society or to shareholders.

Aer Lingus and other airlines can’t have it both ways. They should suspend non-essential flights or forget about wage subsidies.

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