Christine Ourmières-Widener suggests that airplane mask mandates could be a forever thing — which would be certain to keep the unruly passenger factor stoked on board flights.
The CEO of TAP Air Portugal says the requirement that airline passengers wear masks may be with us forever.
“We have put into place so many additional protocols,” said Christine Ourmières-Widener, who was named CEO in June. “I am absolutely convinced they will stay forever.”
Ourmières-Widener said mask wearing during flights, increased aircraft cleaning and checks of vaccine certificates could all remain in place.
“We are still very cautious,” she said in an interview Tuesday as she visited TAP’s Newark office. “The pandemic is about to be gone. The recovery will take time.”
The International Air Transport Association recently urged the U.S. government to remove a pre-departure testing requirement for fully vaccinated travelers flying to the U.S. Ourmières-Widener said she backs IATA.
“What we would like to see is global protocols and more consistent way to see what conditions are,” she said, citing the difficulty in flying from one market to another. She added that a TAP passenger from Newark to Lisbon recently had to cancel his flight because his test results were no longer valid.
“We are just pushing to have one voice, one protocol that could be accepted,” she said.
Like many airline executives, Ourmières-Widener is optimistic about transatlantic travel this summer. “IATA is forecasting a recovery. Everybody is ready for it,” she said.
“It’s been a long, difficult two years. Some customers just want to travel again. We need this (recovery) to happen. Hopefully it will be true.”
Ourmières-Widener has reason for optimism as TAP plans to fly 80 percent of its 2019 capacity in 2022. Besides its Portugal, TAP’s top markets include North America and Brazil, which it serves from its hub in Lisbon. In North America, the carrier serves Boston, Chicago, Miami, Newark, New York JFK, and Washington as well as Montreal and Toronto. TAP launched service from Lisbon to Cancun in March 2020 and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic last December.
The carrier, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, received a lifeline when the Portuguese government provided TAP with a $1.4 billion bailout package in July 2020. The government took a 72.5 percent ownership stake in the airline after buying out JetBlue Airways’ founder David Neeleman’s share of the company.
“Approval of the restructuring plan has been a critical step,” Ourmières-Widener said. “It’s very important to have a plan.”
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Photo credit: Airline passengers wearing masks may become a permanent sight. Chad Davis / Wikimedia Commons