20 May 2020

Covid-19: Qantas boss defends lack of distancing on flights

2:34 pm on 20 May 2020

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has defended his company's decision to not abide by social-distancing restrictions on flights.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce speaks during a press conference in Sydney on August 25, 2017.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce speaks during a press conference in Sydney on August 25, 2017. Photo: William West / AFP

He told RN Breakfast it would be "uneconomical" to leave the middle seat in every row unfilled and would lead to skyrocketing airfares.

"It's not social distancing, it's a 60-centimetre difference between two people," Joyce said.

"To get the four metres squared, you'll end up with 22 people on an aircraft of 180 seats … and the airfares are nine to 10 times as much."

Joyce also said that based on expert medical advice his airline's other precautions were enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus on flights.

On Tuesday, Qantas released its new measures to safeguard against the pandemic while flying.

It said air conditioning on its planes was fitted with hospital-grade HEPA filters, which removed 99.9 percent of all particles, including viruses.

The airline also said cabin air was refreshed every five minutes, and it would provide passengers with wipes, sanitiser and masks.

Wearing a mask was not "mandatory" on board, but was recommended for "everyone's peace of mind".

Some pilots in New Zealand have called for face masks to be mandatory for travellers.

Despite Qantas claiming the risk of catching coronavirus on board was "extremely low", not every medical expert was convinced.

"Being in an aircraft is a high risk ... it's an enclosed space where lots of people congregate for long periods of time," Professor Raina MacIntyre, a virologist at the University of New South Wales, told the ABC on Tuesday.

Prof MacIntyre said the use of HEPA filters on Qantas' flights would help to limit the risk of catching the virus through its air conditioning.

But she said the risk of infection also depended on whether Qantas was using "outside" air or "recycled" air, and that refreshing the cabin air every five minutes might not be enough.

"We've carried a lot of people around the globe since Covid-19 has come out," Joyce said.

"And we know hundreds of thousands of people have travelled in aircraft, and there's no person-to-person known transmission on an aircraft."


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