As and when the economy opens up again do we go back entirely to normal or do we have certain restrictions still imposed?
Ryanair planes won’t return to the skies if the airline is forced to leave the middle seat empty to comply with “idiotic” in-flight social distancing rules, its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, has said.
The boss of the no-frills carrier, which has thrived by packing its flights as full as possible with passengers lured by low prices, has previously said that blocking out the space in between aisle seats is “nonsense” that would have no beneficial effect.
He doubled down on the comments on Wednesday, saying that if governments insisted on social distancing measures, then Ryanair’s business model would be in tatters and the carrier would not fly.
O’Leary said that Ryanair had already told the Irish government that if it imposes the restriction, then “either the government pays for the middle seat or we won’t fly”.
The Dublin-based carrier’s business model relies on flying as frequently as possible, stripping out costs and running an extremely high “load factor”, the aviation industry term for how full planes are.
“We can’t make money on 66% load factors,” he said.
Leave aside the obvious capitalist point being made, that he wants to make money. Think, instead, of the larger economic point.
Things that don’t make money don’t happen. BC, before coronavirus, 157 million people took Ryanair flights in a year. It might not be true that all entirely enjoyed the experience but on net each trip added to utility. Because they did it, they thought it was worth it. That is, there were 157 million additions to human happiness.
Now, now we say that there will be limits on that. OK, that’s fine, we impose limits on things all the time. We do though have to insist that the limitations are worth it.
Let’s even assume that the preventive measures would work. Some number of Covid-19 deaths will not happen as a result of people not taking Ryanair flights. So, how many?
And how many deaths are worth those 157 million jolts of pleasure? Utility is lost by a death. Utility is gained by a jolly hol. What’s the correct balance?
You can come up with all sorts of answers to that but you cannot avoid answering the question.