Ryanair is talking rubbish again – but then so is Boris Johnson’s government

The UK’s policies on air travel seems to have been put together less with the aim of controlling the spread of Covid-19 and more because someone in government thought they would be popular with the little people

Ryanair: 'No social distancing on flights'

There’s an inviolable law of the universe that states that whenever there’s a row between Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary and X, then X will be in the right.

It has held true when X has been the Civil Aviation Authority, Ryanair’s employees and their unions, even Ryanair’s investors.

But I’ve got bad news for the scientists: it seems that a new paradigm may be necessary. Right now, X is Boris Johnson’s government and so that inviolable law of the universe is crashing into another one – it holds that statements by that government tend towards bollocks.

Let me explain. The Department of Transport has decided, with passenger flights set to resume, to “strongly advise” travellers to check in all their baggage and forget about hand luggage. “This will speed up boarding and disembarking and minimise the risk of [coronavirus] transmission,” it declared.

Mr O’Leary was singularly unimpressed. “More rubbish from the government that brought you the world’s least effective quarantine,” is how he described the guidelines.

Ryanair is telling its passengers to do the exact opposite. O’Leary’s reasoning is that checked-in bags go through eight pairs of hands, from check-in desk to boarding gate, all the way through to airport arrival. A carry-on bag, by contrast, stays with the passenger.

“Our passengers are well drilled,” he said, referring to boarding and disembarkation procedures. He also noted that Ryanair charges for checked-in luggage. It’s £12 for a 10kg bag, £20 for a 20kg case on a £30 flight from Edinburgh to Dublin. In theory, it would therefore be in the airline’s interest to force everyone to comply with the advice.

That looks like the killer point, although you have to remember that discouraging checked-in baggage is part of Ryanair’s business model, which is why the charges exist in the first place.

The whole thing is a bit of a joke when you consider that flying involves sitting in a metal tube and breathing in the air of other people sitting in close proximity for at least half an hour, and often much longer.

It gets better. Consider the argument between O’Leary and the government when it comes to those quarantine rules, the new ones requiring that most inbound travellers self-isolate for 14 days.

They are also only coming into force this week, as opposed to when they might have done some good, such as when the virus was leaping from country to country and the government sat back and allowed Champions League football matches and the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead. Both of those attracted travellers from all over the place and resulted in the spread of the virus around Britain.

They are more stringent than those affecting people who suspect they may have the virus. They have to self-isolate for seven days. They are also inconsistent. There are more than 40 categories of incomers, workers in certain occupations for example, who are exempt.

Airlines, including Ryanair, argue, among other things, that there was no consultation, no scientific evidence to support the policy, and that the rules apply to countries with lower rates of infection than the UK.

Well they might. The policy seems to have been put together less with the aim of controlling the spread of the virus and more because someone in government – and I think we can all make a pretty good guess at who – thought they would be popular with the little people.

While the courts will have to make a decision based on law, I can rely on common sense. So these are my rulings. When it comes to quarantine, O’Leary is correct. The policy is an absolute nonsense in the way it’s been constructed.

As for the bags? Quite how restricting hand luggage is going to reduce the risks you face through flying is beyond me. I’d be inclined to side with O’Leary here too because, well, we all know what he is: a businessman focused on his bottom line who isn’t going to be winning any of the awards they hand out to cuddly salt-of-the-earth types anytime soon, but who knows a thing or two about running an airline.

This compares to a government that prioritises statues and keeping Johnson’s svengali Dominic Cummings in his job over people’s lives. That has overseen the worst Covid-19 death toll in Europe and one of the worst per capita death tolls in the world. Whose own advisers have stated that 20,000 people would have been saved had lockdown been imposed a week or so earlier.

Who do you trust to keep you safer on a flight, if you’re willing to run the risk of travelling at all... Michael O’Leary or that lot?

That inviolable law of the universe? Well, it mostly still holds true. It just needs updating a bit: when there’s a row between Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary and X, then X will be in the right unless X is Boris Johnson’s government, whose statements tend towards bollocks.

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