EasyJet will not fly to Italy with distancing on planes: report

FILE PHOTO: An Easyjet plane takes off from Manchester Airport in Manchester, Britain January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble

MILAN (Reuters) - EasyJet EZJ.L will not fly to Italy if Rome prolongs social distancing rules on planes beyond June 15, the budget airline's chief executive said in a newspaper interview.

“It would be impossible for companies to operate with only a third of the seats sold,” Lundgren was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera on Thursday.

Lundgren said that if Italy were to extend the measure then easyJet would not fly there, adding “it would be harmful to the recovery: the country risks falling behind.”

The easyJet CEO also questioned the 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) Rome will invest in relaunching struggling Italian airline Alitalia, saying any support should be offered to all and at market conditions and should not favour one.

“I don’t question the nationalisation. But the support needs to be available to all, otherwise one creates distortion. Aid allocated in Europe risks going to inefficient carriers.”

Rome is preparing to re-take control of Alitalia after 11 years of private management and three failed restructuring attempts, with its problems exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis that has devastated the airline industry.

“Italy is one of the main markets for easyJet: we have employees here, we carry almost the same number of passengers as Alitalia, we make our contribution to the country. I find it unacceptable that one helps only one airline.

Lundgren also asked for more transparency in the mechanisms for accessing subsidies and for other measures to help the sector, including a reduction in airport taxes.

EasyJet said on Thursday it planned to cut up to 30% of its staff, or 4,500 jobs, and shrink its fleet, to fit the market that will emerge from the coronavirus crisis.

Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Alexander Smith