EasyJet is to resume a small number of flights on 15 June, with increased safety measures on board including mandatory wearing of face masks, as it returns to the skies after grounding its entire fleet on 30 March.
The airline initially will restart domestic routes in the UK and France where it says there is sufficient customer demand to support profitable flying. Further routes will be added in the following weeks, as and when passenger demand rises and lockdown measures ease further across Europe.
The airline will resume flights from its main airports in the UK, including London Gatwick, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Belfast International. It will also begin flying again from cities in France, including Paris Charles de Gaulle, Nice, and Lyon, as well as Geneva in Switzerland, Lisbon and Porto in Portugal, and Barcelona in Spain.
The company will introduce enhanced cleaning and disinfection of its aircraft, make disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser available on board, and require all passengers and cabin crew, as well as ground crew, to wear masks. There will be no food service onboard, initially.
The move comes as European authorities have released new guidelines to ensure the safety of passengers as regular flight schedules resume in the region after the coronavirus crisis shut down the majority of air traffic.
The measures recommended by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control include the wearing of medical face masks, washing hands and observing physical distancing where possible.
The organisations say passengers do not need to worry about the air quality because “filtered air on airplanes is safer and cleaner than many of us breathe on the ground”.
EasyJet will, however, not block the middle seats in its planes despite saying last month it was considering such a move. It says the measures “have been implemented in consultation with aviation authorities” and in line with government and medical advice.
EasyJet calculated that blocking middle seats could have made flights unprofitable at a time when airlines were under financial pressure. The idea had previously been dismissed by Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of its main rival Ryanair, who said it would be a “hopelessly ineffective” way to keep passengers safe.
EasyJet’s rival Ryanair has also announced a resumption of flights. The Irish carrier intends to restart 40% of its flights in July, operating almost 1,000 a day, but with only half the number of passengers between July and September than previously forecast.
EasyJet’s chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said the airline was taking “small and carefully planned steps” to gradually resume operations.
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation across Europe so, when more restrictions are lifted, the schedule will continue to build over time to match demand, while also ensuring we are operating efficiently and on routes that our customers want,” he said.
EasyJet’s announcement comes just days after the airline revealed that the personal data of 9 million customers, including email addresses and travel details, was accessed in a cyber-attack. Of those people affected, 2,208 had their credit card information stolen, although no passport details were uncovered.
The company has contacted customers whose card details were taken, while everyone else affected will be contacted by 26 May. The breach is one of the largest to affect any company in the UK, and raises the possibility of easyJet paying a large fine at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has put severe pressure on its finances.
EasyJet also faces a crunch investor meeting on Friday when its 34% shareholder and founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, brings forward a vote to oust four of the airline’s directors including Lundgren, the chairman, John Barton, and the airline’s finance director, Andrew Findlay.
Haji-Ioannou has argued that an order for 107 airlines from Airbus is endangering the survival of the carrier he launched from Luton airport in 1995.