Easyjet chief warns global airport security must be tightened

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Media captionChief executive of Easyjet Carolyn McCall says her company will "look after" passengers stuck at Sharm el-Sheikh airport

EasyJet's chief executive has told the BBC that airport security should be tightened around the world.

In her first interview since the possible terror attack on the Russian plane that blew apart over Egypt, Carolyn McCall said the idea of bombs on board was a thing that "kept airline chief executives awake at night".

Ms McCall would not name the airports, but said it was a global issue.

She has spent five days battling to fly home stranded tourists.

Ms McCall made it clear that following the 224 deaths on Russian flight 9268 from Sharm el-Sheikh it was time for a fundamental rethink.

'Needs to be tightened'

I asked her about the foreign secretary's comments at the weekend that airport security would have to be increased if it was found that a bomb had brought down the flight from Sharm to St Petersburg.

Even if that meant higher costs and more delays for passengers.

"I think that in some airports security is very tight and very strict," Ms McCall told me.

Image copyright AP
Image caption McCall pledged that all stranded Easyjet passengers would be home by the weekend.

"British airports do security very well.

"[But] I think Philip Hammond is right to point out that there are other countries that airlines fly to where it perhaps needs to be tightened."

I asked if Sharm el-Sheikh was one of the airports that fell into that category.

Remember, there have been criticisms of security there.

'Specific message'

"I think the government has come out quite clearly and said that Sharm will have to tighten airport security," Ms McCall answered.

"I think everybody would agree with that. It's not a blanket message, it's a very specific message about certain airports around the world.

"This will be a global thing, not just an Egyptian thing or a North African thing.

"And I think passengers will be happy about that and I think airlines will support that, because no-one wants a security threat."

Home by the weekend

After days of criticisms that Easyjet has left some passengers confused (and, on the other side of the ledger, plenty of praise about the way the airline has dealt with the issue, putting up passengers in hotels as regulations oblige them to do), Ms McCall pledged that all stranded passengers would be home by the weekend.

"Our message is we will look after our passengers as we are doing," she said.

"They will be comfortable, they will be in hotels. All their [reasonable] expenses will be paid.

"We had about 4,500 passengers in Sharm [last] Wednesday, which is when this kicked off.

"We will have by the end of today [Monday 9 November], brought back 1,500 of them.

"By the end of the weekend, we would hope to have brought back all of the delayed passengers."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms McCall apologised to passengers for the frustrations at Sharm El-Sheikh

'Frustrating'

Ms McCall apologised to passengers for the frustrations, pointing out that the issue of how many flights they could operate out of Sharm was a matter for the Egyptian authorities.

"We know it's frustrating, we apologise for it, even though this is not caused by Easyjet.

"Of course we are empathetic. We know this is not easy."

The confusion was not helped last week when Easyjet initially said that eight flights would be returning on Friday, only to subsequently cut that number to two.

Ms McCall said that the number was initially agreed by the Egyptian authorities and then rescinded.

There were dark mutterings in Whitehall that Easyjet had jumped the gun on the "eight flights" announcement.

Permission rescinded

"The reason we said we had eight flights going out is because we had permission to get eight flights out," Ms McCall said.

"And the reason that didn't happen is because that permission was rescinded, so the flights we thought we were getting out, could not go out - but that was just about everything being very fluid."

There have been complaints that Russian passengers have had far more luck getting out of Sharm than British passengers.

Was it true, as one Easyjet representative was reported to have told passengers in Egypt, that the plethora of Russian planes departing was delaying UK flights?

"I don't know, is the honest answer," Ms McCall said.

"I think the whole situation is frustrating for everybody because the aim is - you want to get your passengers back as quickly as you can.

"I think it's up to the Egyptians really, what they do - and all we can do is try and influence and try and work with them and with our own government to make sure we get our passengers back."

'Quick, easy'

Today is actually the 20th anniversary of Easyjet's first flight from Luton to Glasgow, an event that is being marked at the airline's headquarters at Luton.

Of course, the Egypt crisis has tempered those celebrations, but I did ask Ms McCall what she put the success of low-cost flying down to.

Pretty simple, she answered: "It's very quick, it's very easy, it's very efficient and it's no big deal anymore.

"You can get to so many parts of Europe and indeed many other places, without much fuss and hassle.

"It does it at very low fares, and it does it with very good service so our crew are fantastic, they smile, they put the customers at the centre of their thinking and you put that all together and that's why it's so successful."

Ms McCall will hope that the Egypt crisis does not colour too many people's perceptions.