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Ryanair’s Take on Social Distancing With the Middle Seat

Ryanair’s Take on Social Distancing With the Middle Seat
Taylor Rains

As the coronavirus crisis continues, airlines are adopting new social distancing practices. One practice, in particular, has become a subject of debate for Ryanair – leaving the middle seat open.

Keeping the middle seat vacant is a new practice that has been widely adopted by carriers across the globe, but, according to Ryanair CEO’s, the idea is “idiotic.” In an interview, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary explained that the idea of leaving the middle seat open is not possible for the airline’s business model because to be profitable, it requires a high load factor. He explained, “We can’t make money on 66 percent load factors. Even if you do that, the middle seat doesn’t deliver any social distancing, so it’s kind of an idiotic idea that doesn’t achieve anything anyway.” O’Leary believes that once Ryanair starts flying again, it will see load factors of 40% in July, 50% to 60% in August and September, and up to 80% by October (assuming flying resumes by July). Hence the CEO’s refusal to fly without the option to fill the middle seat. Because according to him, he’ll have the demand to fill them by fall.

O’Leary went on to say that Ryanair would not continue flying if it has to keep the middle seat open and that the Irish government would need to pay for those seats if they make it a rule. He suggested that instead, Europe should do what Asia has been doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as checking temperatures at the airport or forcing people to wear masks.

Other Airlines Will Leave it Vacant

Meanwhile, easyJet said that it would leave the middle seat open once it returns to flying. The airline explained their reasoning, “Our assumption is that load factors will not be back to normal early on, which means that we will have the opportunity for a middle-seat option, but I’m talking about this as an initial phase and nobody knows for how long that phase will be.” Other airlines, such as Emirates, American, and Delta have also announced they will be keeping the middle seat vacant to practice social distancing.

Do you agree with Ryanair’s CEO? Let us know in the comments!

View Comments (13)


  1. rylan

    April 23, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Ryanair is a garbage airline and their leadership has a long standing record of disdain for their customers. This just further proves it.

  2. stablemate77

    April 23, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    maybe one passenger per row would be great can maker sleeper seats

  3. curunir

    April 23, 2020 at 9:57 pm

    Put a sign there “Reserved for Families”.

  4. livefromtuscany

    April 24, 2020 at 2:01 am

    Again it’s MOL being the loudmouth that he is. Truth is, Ryanair’s business model of cramming as many people as possible into an airplane has just evaporated. Social distancing is here to stay, even after Covid-19. Mass tourism is dead in the water until we come up with a vaccine or effective treatment options. Bad for competition, but I won’t miss them.

  5. alphaod

    April 24, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Well people will occupy that middle seat with their feet or what not defeating the point anyways.

  6. rujamajoco

    April 24, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Yesterday I collected a friend from LHR after they were on a government chartered repatriation flight from India, provided by BA. There were zero empty seats on a 777ER aircraft. They were asked to stay 2M part on disembarking, but that apparently was not heeded in the scramble to get off. I cannot see the point of keeping empty seats for the sake of it when the cabin air is circulating and you are going to be several hours in close proximity. Even one space empty only creates a 0.75M separation. It is just a gesture. Let the airlines do their best to survive and rebuild. If you are worried then don’t fly at all. Going through the airport will be just as hazardous. (BTW really strange to see T5 at LHR with 15 people total waiting for arrivals, and just three vehicles parked on the Level 1 car pickup- zone instead of 200. Like a war zone atmosphere)

  7. kabroui

    April 24, 2020 at 11:24 am

    It’s one thing to have your business model go obsolete overnight.
    It’s something else to double down on it (and with an entitled sense of arrogance).
    Airlines that will survive are the ones that will help nervous flyers feel comfortable about getting on planes again. Not thinking Ryanair will be one of those. Here’s hoping Captain O’Leary goes down with his ship.

  8. bryanb

    April 24, 2020 at 11:53 am

    Agree that families should be able to use the middle seat. I would rather have three people from the same household (parent with two kids, kid with two parents) sitting in one group, with separation from strangers, than to have them spread out.

  9. jayer

    April 24, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    Sometimes truth is not what we want it to be. Empty middle seats help passenger comfort immensely by getting back to a comfortable density. (Still does not help legroom, but I digress). But only small improvement for infection control, and it takes close to full loads to make any money. Unless we all are willing to pay more or go back to a regulated pricing model. Or just fly less.

  10. resolute

    April 24, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    F Ryanair…. that simple!

  11. largeeyes

    April 27, 2020 at 5:54 am

    It will be a long time before they reach 60% load factor, so what’s the point in making a scene about it?

  12. kkua

    April 27, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Ryanair should get out of commercial flying business. Instead, they should focus on delivering humans like cargo, as they have always in the past. Those who fly on their planes should shut up and accept their mistreatment.

  13. AX9465

    April 29, 2020 at 5:35 am

    Fully agree – keeping middle seat free is an idiotic decision as it will not go anywhere near creating safe distance. if all aisle seats are occupied and you walk the length of the plane, you will be in close contact with 50% of passengers.
    So if we assume there is a possibility of an infected passenger to be on the plane, the only degree of safety will be afforded by same protocol doctors do: gown, gloves and full-face respirator.

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