Aer Lingus to provide additional Belfast to London flights following social distancing criticism

5 May 2020, 21:26

Aer Lingus has been criticised over lack of social distancing on flights
Aer Lingus has been criticised over lack of social distancing on flights. Picture: Getty

By Maddie Goodfellow

Aer Lingus has announced it will put on an additional flight between Belfast and London Heathrow following criticism over a lack of social distancing on the service on Monday.

It comes after images emerged on Monday of an almost full flight with no apparent evidence of social distancing.

The airline said on Tuesday evening that it had conducted a review of its operation of the route between Belfast and London.

It has advised all customers due to travel on the route to give themselves additional time to check in, as changes to the boarding procedure will be introduced and more luggage will be checked into the hold.

“In order to reduce the operational pressure involved in implementing these measures, Aer Lingus is putting on an additional flight frequency on each day of operation of the service," said the airline.

"The two services will depart at 08.45 and 09.45 on each day of operation. It is expected that this additional frequency will result in reduced loads on each flight.”

"The Belfast - London Heathrow service is provided to maintain a vital air link between Belfast and London and to allow critical workers to travel where required.

"The safety and security of Aer Lingus' customers and crew is our number one priority, and these process changes are being implemented as a matter of urgency."

Robin Swann said he was "shocked" by the images
Robin Swann said he was "shocked" by the images. Picture: PA

Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann has spoken of his shock at the pictures which emerged on Monday of the almost full Aer Lingus flight from Belfast to London.

“I was shocked at the images of Aer Lingus,” Mr Swann said.

“It was as if they were living in a time before Covid-19, completely oblivious of the regulations and social distancing and guidance that have been enunciated and published by our executive here and the government in Westminster.

“How they could think that the practice that they were actually carrying out was in any way in keeping with the guidance that we’ve been issuing?

“I think it’s a short, sharp shock to them that they should actually be behaving still in that manner and I would ask them publicly to actually revise that very quickly.”

It comes as Virgin Atlantic announced it will stop flying services from London Gatwick and plans to cut over 3,000 jobs as part of a restructuring programme amid the coronavirus crisis.

The airline is expecting to axe over 3,000 jobs - a 30 per cent cut - after a 45-day consultation and will remove all Boeing 747s from its fleet.

But it said it hopes to return to Gatwick "in line with customer demand" once the pandemic is over and travel bans are lifted.

Pilots union BALPA said 426 pilots were at risk of losing their jobs in the restructuring.

CEO Shai Weiss said "will have to reduce the number of people we employ" but said he hoped many of those who lose their jobs could return to the airline at a later date.

Sir Richard Branson had previously claimed the airline would collapse unless it received Government support.

In a statement, Virgin Atlantic announced a "planned reduction of 3,150 jobs across all functions. Working closely with unions BALPA and Unite, a company-wide consultation period of 45 days begins today."

They said the plans will "reshape and resize its business to ensure that is it fit for the future, in response to the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global economy, our nation and the travel and aviation industry."