Iberia Express passengers decry lack of social distancing on near-full flight

The airline claims that the plane, which flew from Madrid to the Canary Islands on Sunday, met all of the necessary safety requirements

EFRÉN HERNÁNDEZ

A number of passengers on an Iberia Express flight between Madrid and the Canary Island of Gran Canaria have taken to social media to complain about the conditions under which they were forced to fly on Sunday. The plane was “nearly full,” with no possibility of observing social-distancing measures recommended in order to avoid coronavirus contagion.

On the basis of these complaints, Spain’s Civil Guard has filed a report with the central government’s delegation for allegedly failing to comply with the regulations set out under the state of alarm, which was implemented on March 14 by the Spanish government in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

A video of passengers complaining about the conditions of the Iberia Express flight.

The plane was found to be flying in excess of 70% of its capacity, and safe distancing was not being observed between passengers. That said, the regulations are not clear about flights connecting the Iberian peninsula with Spain’s Canary and Balearic islands. Former flag carrier Iberia, which owns Iberia Express, claims that the flight met all safety requirements.

Passengers have complained via social media that, despite being separated at the airport, no one had informed them that they would be flying in these conditions on the plane. The Civil Guard showed up at the Gando airport in Gran Canaria in order to check these complaints. Flights to the islands are currently permitted for reasons of force majeure, provided that a passenger can produce a document accounting for the reasons they must take the trip.

EL PAÍS consulted the Health Ministry about the regulations, and was referred to the latest Official State Gazette (BOE) published on Sunday regarding transport. The order sets out regulations for flights between Spain’s Canary and Balearic islands, but says nothing about limits for flights to and from the peninsula.

The BOE instead states that these flights are subject to the measures published on March 17, at the outset of the state of alarm. These rules left the safety measures necessary in the hands of the airlines themselves, and ascribed the regional premiers of the Canaries and the Balearics with the authority to adopt “the necessary inspection measures.”

The Transportation Ministry has opened an investigation into the flight and has requested occupation data from the company and the measures that it adopted to avoid contagion, sources from the ministry have stated.

In a press release issued on Monday, Iberia Express said that it had met with the guidelines included in the state of alarm and added that it has a coronavirus action plan that guarantees the safety of its passengers.

Meanwhile, a passenger on an Air Europa flight covering the Ibiza-Palma route in the Balearic Islands has also filed a complaint with the Civil Guard, alleging that the aircraft was too full of passengers to observe social distancing rules. The woman, who took the flight on Monday, said that there were 60 passengers on board an aircraft with seating for 70.

Sources at the government delegation in the Balearics have confirmed that the Civil Guard is processing the complaint. The Transportation Ministry said in an order released on Sunday that airlines must fly their planes at 50% of capacity on their Canary Islands and Balearic Islands routes.

The Civil Guard filed reports in April against both Air Europa and Iberia Express for violating safe distances between passengers on two flights that landed in Ibiza.

On Sunday, both the Madrid region and Gran Canaria were still in Phase 0 of the government’s coronavirus deescalation plan, but the latter moved to Phase 1 on Monday. Since the start of the state of alarm, flights between the peninsula and the Canary Islands have been reduced to just a few a week, and passengers must justify their reasons for travel. Tourist trips are not permitted.

Flying after confinement

Flights after the coronavirus confinement period is over will be very similar to those before the pandemic, but they are likely to be a lot more uncomfortable and with much longer waits. Passengers will have to get used to the obligatory use of a mask, the elimination of on-board services, and measures such as temperature checks or a so-called “immunity passport.” But airlines have rejected leaving seats free on flights, as some governments are calling for, warning that this would lead to the bankruptcy of most companies or require a price rise of 50% when it comes to tickets.

 

Spanish airline Iberia is warning customers that are due to fly with it in the coming days of the need to wear a mask, something that is compulsory under the latest decree issued by the Spanish government for all modes of public transport. Masks will have to be worn during the boarding process and the flight, and passengers will not be allowed on board without one.

 

Iberia has also reorganized its lines for passengers who are waiting to check their luggage, to board or to speak to customer service, with plastic screens installed at check-in desks.

 

On board, new cleaning treatments have been introduced with particular focus on surfaces, bathrooms and crew areas. In order to reduce physical contact, onboard sales have been suspended, as well as the distribution of magazines and catalogues. On flights of less than four hours, meal services have also been suspended, while blankets and pillows are no longer distributed. Disposable materials are being used on long-haul flights, with all fabrics being cleaned after each use.

 

The former flag carrier has also begun to test its employees for the coronavirus, and will carry out 2,500 during the month of May on its workers in airports, maintenance and crew. This will continue over the year as its workforce returns, to include nearly 17,000 employees.

 

English version by Simon Hunter.

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