Transcribe your podcast

Good morning. You're very welcome to the show. Isn't this whole conversation around restaurants and gastropods the most Irish thing ever? So on one hand, like we're obsessing over every detail and lapping it up on the news and the radio and everything. Huge excitement. Yeah, we're out. And then the next thing they need is someone to say, of course, this will all end in tears. I'm not going to get covered and et cetera, et cetera.


And the latest installment of it is on the front of the examiner. The pubs are too close for St. Stephen's Day. And of course, St. Stephen's Day is a very big day for the pubs because they've been closed for practically like 36 hours at that point. And people people need to get out and that is their race. They need to get out and away from the family. So so that'll affect a lot of pub goers who like their Stephen's laid out the examiners leading with that.


There's no like music or dancing a low level three options. And a lot of people are upset by that. Now, another interesting story on the front of the examiner, covid test for other students going home for Christmas. Right. So they're going to be offered free covid-19 tests on campus before they travel home for Christmas. There's there seems to have been community and household transmission linked to you. But listen, doesn't that make complete sense? Because we do know that the movement of students does seem to be a problem.


It's been a problem in the UK, problem in America, and it's been a problem here as well.


So if you think about it, there have been weeks where we've done a hundred and forty thousand tests, I think. And at the moment we seem to be doing 70 or 80. And I know they probably need those resources for other things in a way. But if we have excess testing capacity, it would make a lot of sense. If there are if there are mass movements like that to pick some groups maybe and and test them a kind of miniature version of mass testing.


The Irish Examiner talks between UK and EU style as pressure for no contingency plan intensifies and not looking good there. But you would hope as well. Look, we always knew it was going to get kicked up to the politicians at a certain point, and that's what's happening now. And that they would be the ones who would kind of do the final the final 100 yards, if you will, of that crunching of the details. So, look, maybe this is part of the choreography the Irish Times also has that Brian Stanley is to step away from politics for for a week.


That's Sinn Fein TDS in trouble over his social media. Mary Lou McDonald literally told him to go and spend some time with his family. And when you hear of a politician, go and spend some time with his family, that's never good, is it? But it certainly opened a few cans of worms for Sinn Fein and for for all of us. I think in terms of there's a lot of discussion around around those issues in the papers today, The Daily Mail, Mark.


And I'll take the vaccine in public. That's the OK. And you can join the queue there. I think we have three people in on the panel last week, and the three of them and myself would all join the queue to get it in public. I think people would put their privacy aside in order to get it ASAP. The chairman of the Iraq Deskovic committee, Michael McNamara, will not say if he will take it. Matty McGrath says that he wants to see Tony Holden giving it to Myanmar and Leo Varadkar and a big syringe.


Watch them for three months to see how they react. And a shop for Stephen Donnelly as well. You see, some people will see that as quite irresponsible. The weekend early. This is one of these stories that that gives parents freak attack, thousands of images of Irish kids being secretly harvested and uploaded to sex websites around the globe. And this is off from Tech Talk and Snapchat. And there's they're talking about that Cretz of Dublin school. Our schools are visible in some of those pictures and they're being swapped around in Russia and on the Internet and not the Daily Star seven last forever.


That's those two very sad in crashed into the two car crashes up in Donegal. The Jan Olafsson Lockton presenter was treated for anxiety. That's Jennifer Zamperini, who turned 40 in lockdown. And and you had some had some issues around it. And the Irish Independent, 50000 people to fly home for Christmas were not encouraging. Travel Minister warns, I think I read somewhere in the last week or two that normally about a million people come home for Christmas or 50000 suggests about one in 20 of those who would normally come.


And in fact, I'm joined now by Donald Moriarity, who is interim CEO of Sri Lanka's. Good morning, Donya. Morning, Brendan. Do you think we should have allowed people to come home for Christmas? Sir, do you think it was right that we just encourage them, but there's a traffic light system in place, Brendan, as you know, that sort of facilitates travel that's been adopted since the 8th of November and it was extended on the 29th of November.


So it's fairly strict. So obviously, Air Lingus would have a different view as to as to the level of travel that there should be. But Christmas will be what it is at the moment. As you said, 50000 people. Normally, there are 32 million passengers coming through Dublin Airport annually. About a million of those would come back and forth over over the Christmas week, essentially. So 50000 passengers, as reported in the independent this morning, is really a fraction of what would normally happen.


So are you saying to me that your view as the CEO of Eleni's is that we should not of discourage people from coming home, that the traffic light system is adequate to ensure it's safe? I think there have been mixed messages. The traffic light system allows travel to and from Ireland, from different countries based upon their their rating, either red, amber or green. And that is sufficient to deal with with travel and people's propensity to travel. I don't think it needed an extra layer of of of a restriction of advice not to travel.


I think people should have had the confidence to allow the traffic light system to do its job.


OK, and what do you think is going on in this country then? Because we are technically signed up to the traffic light system. So what what have we added in around that as you see it?


I think there's been a difference in Ireland as to how it's been been applied. If you look at traffic, air traffic throughout Europe, it's been down much less than it's been down by Ireland throughout the pandemic. So I think we've, you know, historically over that, over the period of the of covid, we've applied a stricter set of restrictions. And that has resulted in people's attitude to travel in Ireland being somewhat different from what it is, what it is elsewhere.


And do you think that was wrong? On balance, you can understand why it happened at the outset. I don't think people understood the virus, understood the risks associated with it. But since then, a lot has been done in terms of understanding and also in terms of mitigating the risk of travel. So the airline industry and aviation generally has put in place a range of of risk mitigation that really, really significantly mitigates the risk of transmission on board aircraft in airports and indeed the risk of of transporting people into into countries with the virus.


And you're being very polite about this to a sense that you on air links are very frustrated with how this has been handled, say, particularly in as the pandemic went on and as we understood more.


Yes, certainly there has been a frustration, but I think some positive steps have been taken and we're more focused on 2021 at this point than than, you know, what's happened over the last eight months.


OK, and we will come to 2021. But I think it is interesting what's happened over the last eight months in terms of travel, air travel, foreign travel became, would you say toxic really in this country this year, didn't it? Yeah.


I mean, there was certainly a very negative narrative towards towards travel and it really wasn't merited by but by the facts. If you look at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control came out earlier this week and showed that international travel was the cause of less than one percent of infections. And similarly, the HSC and our own health prevention section within our health protection section within the agency has indicated that travel is responsible for less than one percent of infections in Ireland.


So travel hasn't been the Oger. It's been portrayed as what happened here. Yeah, I think I think there was a degree of reliance on anecdote rather than rather than data by the experts.


Well, I wouldn't say generally I would say from a government perspective at at the early stages of this crisis, it was understandable when people didn't understand how dangerous it was and what the what steps needed to be taken to protect ourselves juking.


As it went down, the government was relying more on anecdote than on occasion. I wouldn't say anecdote. I think the narrowest the narrative had been established and it was maintained. You saw you saw in the summer, for example, when when rates of transmission and infection in Ireland, where we're very low and travel was portrayed as this this very significant risk that wasn't true factually based upon the data at that point. And and it remains untrue.


Yeah. So would you would you go so far as to say that there was shaming involved around?


Yeah, there was a degree of toxicity, as you say, and flight shaming. And really we have to move on from that. If you look at if you look at how important. International travel is to the Irish economy, and I think we need to pivot away, I suppose, from from that mentality to to a position where we're actually promoting international travel as critical to our economy.


OK, now, I suppose, though, before we we leave at. There, there there are arguments against that as well, like and, you know, never have said they're very concerned about about foreign travel at the moment and seeding the fires, we do all kind of agree. No, the flights from Italy should have been stopped right at the start of this. Would you agree now?


Well, I mean, you need to remember at the start of this, there was no social distancing. There was no mask wearing. There were no restrictions. None of us were taking the steps we all know take for granted in terms of, you know, respiratory etiquette and social distancing.


So but we were in the summer, say, and it seems from from there epidemiological data that 60 percent of the Corvette that was floating around Ireland in the autumn had its genetic roots in Spain. So like it might have been only one percent of the cases, but presumably those people were coming back and seeding it in communities, as we saw with people coming back from Italy as well. Yeah, I mean, you know, community transmission is the way in which the virus transmits.


But in terms of travel being because of that, the data shows and this is the agency's own data and as I say, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control travel in itself was only a cause of less than than than one percent of that. So. So, you know, we can we can, you know, talk about anecdote and data. We tend to rely on the data. And the data shows that travel simply wasn't a factor of transmission over the period.


Yeah, look, and again, I could I could quote incidents to you from studies where, you know, particular flights that and there was a particular flight. Hang on.


I wrote down here coming in from came into Ireland, 59 cases in six of eight health regions were linked to a single international flight into Ireland. In the summer, 13 cases were linked. This was a flight that was quite empty and five different cases travelling from three different continents all had the same virus genome, which suggests that those people got it on the plane, like in Britain.


And I think you'll find that there are stories of that type. And they came about prior to the introduction by the industry of of a range of safety measures. So, for example, there's social distancing in the airport environment. There's compulsory mask wearing on board the aircraft. There's extreme cleaning of all aircraft on the turn. And then there's the the measures on board in terms of HEPA filters creating effectively a surgical quality air environment on board the aircraft. So I think the case is that the the stories that you're referring to there happened before the industry introduced those changes.


Those changes were introduced in May and June and have been have been ramped up since then. So and so as of now, it's our view. And that's the view of the industry.


Of course, it's safe and safe, like I think.


Do you think it's all to do with shaming and it's all to do with advice, or do you think people fundamentally think, I don't feel safe getting into a metal tube, sitting next to someone on a long haul flight for, you know, six, seven, eight hours? I'm within three feet of them, absolutely. Because the airlines are still seizing people in centre areas. Do you think people themselves just don't feel it's safe?


No, I think it's the narrative that has caused people to feel unsafe, to be honest with you, the narrative of Navot and the government, the narrative that has come out at a policy level, essentially, if you if you look at if you look at Irish people with a higher propensity to travel than most countries, we fly more than most countries. So we've shifted from a position where we fly more normally to a position where we're flying significantly less than than than other countries.


Something has caused that. And I don't think it's inherent in people's own attitudes. I think it's been it's been conditioned.


OK, bye bye.


Never in the government by boat, by the application of policy. Now to traffic light system, which we are technically part of know is underpinned by testing. Really? Yeah. What have you done in Air Lingus to to put in a testing regime around flying?


Well, we're we're obviously advising all of our customers to to to comply with the policy in the testing regime that's been put in place. So the testing regime is effectively twofold for for passengers travelling from orange listed countries. They have an option of taking a pre departure PCR test and that avoids them having to restrict their movements once they arrive in Ireland. And for countries designated as red, they've an option to take a post arrival five day system.


What is there anything is done to facilitate that for what people should be? Not like you've had whatever. You've got to have a year here where, you know, there wasn't a lot else going on for you. Was there any innovation happened over there?


Well, of how we've been a. Facing our customers as to how they can go about getting those tests, so we tell our customers where they can go get those tests, Dublin Airport, for example, have set up a PCR testing facility in the airport. So if you're traveling from Ireland and you need to get a PSA test to comply with where you're going, you can get it in Dublin Airport.


Similarly, if you get in the airport and then you're getting on a plane, you're going to have the results to no, it's not instant.


It's not it's not a drop in. What's the point? It's just Dublin Airport have rightly, I think, set up a system in order to provide it. Just to add to the mix of private providers. It's critical from the states perspective that the the testing capacity of the state isn't consumed by by people requiring it for travel purposes. That's why it's private providers such as that source by the DEA that are important.


What would you like to see as a as a testing regime and a system around the testing regime?


PCR test, is it slow to get the result? As you know, it's very costly. It's been between 100 and 200 euros, so it's not really scalable. So what really needs to happen is, is a rapid and scalable and affordable test. And there's a lot of progress been made in antigen testing as a standard. So it is our view that antigen testing needs to be the standard adopted for travel as a screening standard in conjunction with all of the other safety measures that that are in place and is antigen testing.


Have you guys identified and antigen tests that you are confident? Yeah, the specificity and reliability there.


Rush and Abbott have produced antigen tests that have a very high degree of specificity and sensitivity, as you say, and they're very effective. But the important thing to say is that that would be one of a number of measures that should be taken by passengers travelling.


And and we will Air Lingus get into air antigen. Testing is allowed. We will. You guys start providing that as part of this?


I don't think our links directly would provide it, but we would identify providers of that service. They're already there. To be honest. I think Dublin Airport would shift directly to antigen testing as a standard if that were approved as a standard. So so those providers are ready in the market and ready to provide that service.


OK, before we move on, there's a lot of people texting and taking issue with the notion that air travel was nothing to do with the spread of the virus in this country. And I suppose if you in its simplest terms. Right. We're fairly down on travel. Yeah, we're best in class in Europe now with the lowest numbers in Europe. They're all travelling around more than, as you say, and they're not doing very well. And they take the extreme case in New Zealand and Australia.


They have their lives back because they said we're going to forego international travel. Now, it's going to be difficult, but we get our society, our culture and our lives back for the time being. But you're linking to things that aren't cause and effect.


So there's no doubt that Australia and New Zealand are the way they are, because, I mean, if border control and not allowing.


But it's know if you take the example of Ireland versus the rest of Europe and no doubt Ireland has done a very good job in suppressing the virus. And the position we're in at the moment is very strong and it's better than it is the case than is the case in other European countries, although rates of transmission and infection are now declining in other European countries because of the measures they are taking. But the point is, it's not linked the recent improvements in Ireland and that the difference between in Ireland and other countries in Europe is not linked to travel.


So if you look at the OECD data and our own HSC data, they show the same thing that travel is responsible for less than less than one percent of cases. Would you agree that as we get it down more, if we look like who knows where it's going from here with the carry on around the place, but if we get it, we don't? Do you not agree that international travel then becomes a much more significant issue because anyone coming in with it then becomes very important?


No, because I think I think the measures that can be put in place to prevent that happening in the form of an appropriate testing regime, coupled with a number of other measures, will that will mitigate that risk. And just to give you an example of one other measure that we've been advocating for that hasn't yet been adopted, I believe everyone arriving into Ireland should be, on a mandatory basis, required to download the track and trace up. Currently, we have to fill out the electronic passenger locator form and that's, you know, almost manually says where we will be for a period of 14 days after arrival.


A far more effective regime will be a rapid antigen test prior to departure, plus a mandatory use of the track and trace upon arrival. That would mean if there were any issue with that individual in terms in terms of infection, but the ability to quickly and effectively track and trace would be would be on tap. An instant on that single measure would make a huge difference.


OK, so you do agree with the need to to keep a good idea on people who fly into the country? Because the the the CDC and the European Aviation Safety Agency this week, when they were talking about incoming travellers, are contributing little to the spread of the virus. They actually said that aviation safety, health protocols now mean that there's no inherent risk in air travel and that they don't even think there should be a focus on screening travelers. Would you go that far?


Well, what what they're saying is based upon the data, you know, they're saying that the risk associated with international travel is is minimal. The level of cases caused by it currently is is minimal.


And that's why they are also, however, advocating testing regimes to support that. So they're not advocating the the at the abandonment of any restriction. They're saying what they're saying in conjunction with their being an appropriate testing regime. And we believe that that standard needs to be an antigen test standard because it's rapid and and affordable.


OK, how bad are things interlinks?


Things have been very challenging in interlinks over the last 10 months. I think what happened to the aviation industry was was pretty catastrophic. I'm very conscious that similar things have happened to other industries, tourism in particular. But from a from a travel perspective, we were probably one of the industries that was first to feel the effects of covid-19 and will probably be one of the last industries to fully, fully, fully emerge from it. Do you think that. Yeah, yeah.


Well, what's the outlook, do you think? Like, when would we be flying with Costel again, do you think?


Well, we've put on a very I think we will be doing that quite soon, Brendan, to be honest with you, we put on a very look, I know that people are dying to know what they had travelling these things.


When you say soon, they want to know, what does he mean? Well, I mean term. Does he mean when the Easter summer means. Exactly. We have a very extensive summer schedule that we've launched. So we'll be we'll be ramping up our operations from from March, April onwards. So by the middle of June, we'll be 70 percent in terms of our operations versus what we would be in a normalized year, say, say, 2019.


So we'll be flying to all of the places are, you know, pretty much most of the places, the. People want to go to in terms of some destinations, Pharrell, Málaga, Canary's, all of that sort of stuff, we'll have our U.S. operations, transatlantic services back up and running to a reasonably normal level. And, of course, we'll have our normal business traffic, Dublin in London, Heathrow, Cork in London, Heathrow and European cities.


So we plan to be back fairly, fairly extensively from from summer 2021 onwards. And just to remind everyone, Summer for us starts in April. OK, now, do you think people are going to be nervous about booking because of uncertainty and because they've had bad experiences? And I think in fairness, we both Aer Lingus and and Ryanair, in terms of cancellations, in terms of not getting their refunds correctly and all that kind of stuff, and there is still a lot of uncertainty.


And look, if I book a flight with, you know, as much as I'd love to in May, I'm also booking accommodation, I'm booking hiring a car potentially and all that. And then if you turn around and cancel that flight in the meantime or whatever, there is a load of uncertainty around it. I wonder.


Well, what we've launched, what we call a book with confidence suite of options for our customers, whereby we allow customers to book and then to flexibly change that booking. So, for example, say you book your holidays to the canary's today and you're travelling in the middle of June or July. And in in April, you decide that you don't want to go where you want to move. That will allow you to to to to move the date of that travel.


So to move it out without without without cost, you effectively. And we also have options where you can buy fares which entitle you to a full refund or entitle you to exchange your travel for a voucher that you can then apply at a later date. So we're trying to give and we are giving our customers at the moment, you know, a lot of flexibility in how they can change their booking. So if their plans change, they can change along with them.


OK, Patrick, who is representative of a lot of texters, can you ask your guests why I'm still waiting for a voucher from our LINGA since March. I supported the company by not seeking a cash refund, has spent any number of hours trying to contact them by phone and email with the usual excuse being a high level of requests. This may eventually arbitrarily not know. The amount involved is just over 100 euros.


Yeah, well, let me let me explain where we are. Firstly, I apologise to the listener that that isn't good enough. But we've had in excess of two million individual requests for vouchers and refunds, combination of of the two am. And at this point, we've processed over 90 percent of them in excess of one point eight million of them. Each of those has to be manually processed.


So that's 200000 people who have not been processed that at over 90 percent. I can't give you an exact 90 percent of you said you've processed 90 percent. There are two million. You've processed one point eight million. There are 200000. I said I don't have a precise number. Yeah, you're right.


So we've processed a lot of people well, we've processed over 90 percent and we've done that. Would you agree that 200000 people is a lot of frustration?


Well, let me tell you what we're doing about that. We've added additional resources and we've added technology in order to speed that up. So I can assure your listeners and customers, we, our customers, that we will get to every vote and we will get every refund. And I do have a time commitment on that.


Each individual booking is it can be complex and we have to run through a number of systems in order to be able to process. I don't have a specific time period that I can say your voucher or your refund will be on this date, but I can't commit to deploying significant resources to getting it done quickly. Do you know the other thing that's coming through here is that people are still afraid of flying? I presume you accept that that there's a huge kind of nervousness out there.


And I think that that that is understandable and certainly was more understandable historically. But I from from an industry perspective, the measures have been put in place to make the travel experience safe. I just give you an example. If you book a flight, you have to you have to provide a health declaration before you travel. You have to fill a health declaration that you do not have covered or that you have you're not symptomatic in any way. You declare that you go into the airport environment, you're required to socially distance, you're required to wear wear masks similarly on board.


And there are a range of restriction on board the aircraft. Anyone who has travelled recently will be aware of how the boarding process has changed the disembarkation process. Changed everything has changed on board the aircraft to make it very safe and as I say, the aircraft environment itself is has has a quality of purity in terms. We've heard about that HEPA filters. Yes, I'd say people are still nervous about the idea of getting on a plane and there's someone buying their Royte next year and you don't know who they are or where they've been.


You're touching surfaces. There's all kinds of stuff.


And I understand the nervousness.


But even then, to to talk about the surfaces, for example, that the the aircraft are cleaned to a very high standard, much more frequently than they were previously. So so the risk of transmission on board is is very limited. I'm getting a deep clean after each flight on every turn, we're getting a deep, deep clean of the aircraft and cleaned again overnight. So the aircraft are cleaner than they've they've ever been. And that the you know, that the evidence will show.


And IATA, the International Aviation Transport Association, has has as evidence to the fact that risk of transmission on board the aircraft is just is very limited. So the act of flying itself is safe. And I think I think for 20, we're 21. We're certainly focusing and we're encouraging our customers to focus on what they can do and what is safe to do. And we believe that travel is safe.


Yeah, there has been a tendency, I think, over the last year for us to be unable to see beyond the present moment in which we find ourselves there. So the idea that things could be different in a few months as much as the vaccines, we're getting our heads around a little bit. Yeah, but there is still that sense, isn't there, that people are very reluctant to commit to the idea of a different reality in April or May?


I think we're we're sort of consumed by the immediacy and Christmases that the current immediate focus. But but things will change and they are changing. So so if you look at the steps that have happened already, so the traffic light system was brought in. We want it improved. We want a more affordable and unscalable test to underpin that. And we think that will happen, happen over time. So it's our view that people should have confidence to book. There's flexibility in how they can book and they can risk their own personal situation in that way.


So we're certainly a as we obviously would, we'd be encouraging customers to book.


But heard there's a text here says, I'm not going to fly with any airline that doesn't require all passengers to show they have been vaccinated. As we move into the reality of a lot of people being vaccinated, I know that they're talking about that with Qantas, I think. Is that something that you're going to start considering? It's going to take some time for?


We don't know. No one knows what the vaccination rollout program is, is going to be, but it'll clearly take some time for that to roll out. And in the meantime, from an international travel perspective, there has to be a testing regime that underpins travel. And it's it's important. I mean, if I could touch upon briefly, Brendan, it's critical for the Irish economy that this is done as well. And if you look at the Irish economy, how dependent we are on international travel, it's much more so the case in Ireland than in other countries in terms of foreign direct investment alone there, there are 140000 jobs associated with foreign direct investment and travel.


That sector has saved us this year. It's been flying like pharma, all that area, those big multinationals have been watching the economy. So clearly it's suffering too much like, well, from a GDP perspective, they've been sustaining the economy, but they're not flying and they need to fly literally to see in the UK.


They're talking about that basically business highfliers are people who are coming in to do a deal or who are going to be worth something to the UK economy should get to forego quarantine restrictions. Is that something we should consider?


Well, there are already a suite of exemptions in terms of the Irish traffic light system and critical business travel is one of those. So that's affected already here.


So therefore, our connectivity is OK for the.


Well, it isn't from a from a a U.S. perspective. Foreign direct investment from from from the U.S. is obviously critical to the Irish economy. And there hasn't yet been a safe travel corridor established between Ireland and the U.S. and that needs to happen quickly. And actually, we're in a unique position to do it, because, as you probably know, if you've traveled to the U.S., we've got a Customs and Border Protection facility in Dublin Airport and then Shannon Airport.


So we're in an a much better position than other countries to set up a safe travel corridor between Ireland and the U.S..


OK, Drowner Moriarity, interim CEO of Air Lingus. I think we all do hope that that that goes well for you. And that, of course, vital for all of us in 2021. Thanks very.