Social distancing at airports is “physically impossible”, warned the Heathrow boss.
CEO John Holland-Kaye said maintaining a safe distance from other passengers “does not work on any form of public transportation, let alone aviation”, as he called for “Practical measures” to ensure the safety of air travel.
“The constraint does not concern the number of people you can accommodate on a plane, but the number of people you can safely cross at an airport,” he said.
“If you’ve ever been on vacation from Gatwick, you can’t imagine going there and socializing in the summer.
“It is physically impossible to distance yourself from any volume of passengers at an airport. “
Keeping people two meters apart would cut the capacity of planes by more than half and mean “prices would go up,” Holland-Kaye predicted.
EasyJet suggested leaving the middle seats of its plane empty when flights resume.
Holland-Kaye outlined several other “practical” measures that could be implemented to give passengers “the certainty that they can fly safely”.
He said, “I think it will be a package that includes some form of screening. It could be temperature control as you see at Asian airports.
“This will likely include people with less contact with each other, so probably wearing masks when traveling. Fewer contacts between passengers and airport employees.
“This will include fantastic airport hygiene with disinfectants and deep cleaning and things like that.
“I think this package – once we get the disease under control – will be enough to get the plane back on the ground.”
The number of passengers transiting through Heathrow last month has decreased by around 97% compared to April 2019.
West London Airport predicts that passenger demand will remain weak until governments around the world find it safe to lift travel restrictions.
It registered an 18.3% year-on-year drop in demand to 14.6 million passengers between January and March, while profit before tax and interest fell 22.4% to £ 315 million.
The airport insisted that its financial situation is “robust”, with £ 3.2 billion in cash, which is “enough to keep the business going for at least the next 12 months, even without passengers “
Holland-Kaye’s comments came as Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary offered his own analysis of the situation – describing the planes prosaically as “aluminum tubes”.
O’Leary told the BBC: “We should do without the notion of keeping empty average seats, it does not cause any social distancing.
“The aisle and the window seat are two and a half feet from each other – they are not two meters away.
“There is no way to distance yourself from an aluminum tube, whether it’s an airline, the London Underground or a train.
“So I think what we will have to do when we come back will be temperature checks on people entering terminal buildings and stations. Anyone with a temperature above 38 degrees will be refused entry.
“And on board, we will have masks or masks for the passengers, for the cabin crew.
“We disinfect each plane every night. So yes, I think we can keep people safe.
“But the challenge will be that returning to a certain level of normality, at normal tourist spots, will probably take us a year, two, maybe even three years at this point.”