Airline dissent on Covid-19 safety rules risks confusion among passengers as the industry restarts after Ryanair dismissed part of UK government guidelines as “rubbish”.
The government signalled an important step towards restarting flights when it published Covid-19 safety guidance on June 11 which confirmed the need for passengers to wear face coverings on flights and to minimise hand baggage.
The guidance states: “Airlines should strongly promote the carriage of baggage in the aircraft hold and minimise any hand/cabin baggage”.
However, Ryanair, which restarted flying on June 21, dismissed the guidance as “rubbish” and recommended “passengers minimise checked-in luggage”. In a statement, Ryanair said: “This is more nonsensical advice. The UK should stop issuing rubbish advice to passengers.”
In fact, the government’s International Aviation Taskforce drew up the guidelines in collaboration with the industry and health experts and they follow the protocols already established by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Dale Keller, chief executive of the UK Board of Airline Representatives, noted: “The UK is one of the first to put ICAO and EASA guidelines into guidance. It’s important to bring some commonality.”
The EASA guidance states airlines “should minimise the amount of hand luggage taken into the cabin to expedite the boarding and disembarking procedure and to reduce movements and potential contamination in the cabin. Operators should promote the carriage of luggage in cargo compartments.”
Similarly, ICAO instructs airlines: “Encourage passengers to travel as lightly as possible with check-in of all luggage except small hand luggage.”
Keller said boarding with luggage “is seen as a bottleneck as people get on”. He added: “There is pretty broad agreement.”
But Ryanair insists otherwise despite its membership of Airlines UK which welcomed the guidelines, noting: “We worked in partnership with government on their development.”
It is also a member of Airlines for Europe (A4E) which wrote to EU transport and home affairs ministers on June 12 urging “coordinated implementation of the EASA Covid-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol” and “urged all EU and associated states” to follow the guidelines.
Europe’s airports association, ACI Europe, and the national airport associations of the UK, France, Germany and Italy – which cover much of Ryanair’s network – have pledged “to fully implement” EASA protocols.
The UK guidance makes clear the entire industry is responsible for ensuring the measures are adhered to, stating: “Airlines, travel agents, and tour operators should provide passengers with clear communications, guidance and information ahead of their flight.
“Passengers should be clear what to expect at the airport and on the flight, and what they need to do to prepare.” It tells passengers “you are strongly encouraged to check in baggage and minimise any hand baggage” and warns “aircraft operators may decline carriage for passengers that do not comply.”