The outspoken head of the Irish budget airline Ryanair has dismissed apocalyptic warnings of a global swine flu pandemic, saying that the virus was only a risk to Asians and Mexicans â€śliving in slumsâ€ť.
Michael Oâ€™Leary, who pioneered the 1p fares which transformed European aviation, told a press conference that he did not think the virus that is thought to have killed around 150 people in Mexico would wipe out his firm’s business this summer despite UN warnings of a pandemic.
â€śAre we going to die from swine flu? No. Are we in danger of SARS? No. Foot and mouth disease? No. Will it affect people flying short-haul flights around Europe this summer? Thankfully, no,” Mr O’Leary said.
He added: â€śIt is a tragedy only for people living … in slums in Asia or Mexico. But will the honeymoon couple from Edinburgh die? No. A couple of Strepsils will do the job.”
So far only two swine flu cases have been confirmed in Britain, a couple who returned from their honeymoon in Cancun last week and took ill at the weekend. Iain and Dawn Askham of Polmont, near Falkirk in Scotland, are said to be responding well to treatment with anti-viral drugs at an isolation ward in Lanarkshire.
Curiously, there have been no deaths from the virus outside Mexico and doctors have been unable to explain the high level of mortality in the country.
Mr Oâ€™Leary has been accused by his critics of doing anything for publicity and recently caused an uproar by suggesting that Ryanair might charge passengers to use toilets on its flights. The airline does not operate flights to Mexico.
Ryanair is considering introducing a â€śfat taxâ€ť on overweight passengers after the proposal was backed heavily by its customers in an online poll say the Times Online.
The survey was a publicity stunt launched by Michael Oâ€™Leary, the chief executive, last month. It asked people to suggest new discretionary charges that the airline could apply.
More than 40 per cent of the 100,000 online votes have supported charging overweight passengers extra and Ryanair has said that it will consider introducing such a scheme.
However, in an unusual display of discretion for the notoriously aggressive airline, Ryanair said that it would not do so to make money but to make passengers more comfortable.
The â€śfat taxâ€ť â€“ Ryanairâ€™s phrase â€“ would charge overweight passengers more based on their body mass index. For logistical and legal reasons, it is unlikely that the airline could introduce such a charge.
Weighing every passenger would add unnecessary complexity to the boarding procedure and it might also run foul of discrimination laws.
Human rights advocates believe that it may result in an absurd situation where the airline was unable to charge its fattest passengers because that would classify as discrimination against the disabled but would be able to charge the mildly overweight.
Ryanair has hinted that a more likely levy would be a scheme whereby obese passengers would be asked to buy an extra seat.
Similar policies operate in the United States where Southwest, which pioneered the low-cost model used by Ryanair, asks overweight passengers to buy an extra seat voluntarily. If the aircraft takes off with empty seats, they are given a refund.
Second on Ryanairâ€™s poll, supported by 20 per cent of respondents, was a â‚¬3 (ÂŁ2.60) charge to use a â€śsmokingâ€ť cubicle.