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Bill Byrne, Aer Lingus’ Senior Vice President of Global Sales took time out to discuss with Irish American News what they are doing to make it easier for us in the U.S. to get to Ireland.

Bill received a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University of Chicago and a Masters and Ph.D. from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Byrne is a native of Chicago and a dual National of the U.S. and Ireland. He is married and the father of four children.

Q. Bill, you’ve got a long, very distinguished background that looks like a great fit with Aer Lingus. When did you join Aer Lingus and what do you hope to accomplish with them?

A. I started with Aer Lingus in January of 2018. I came over from Hertz, and before that I spent 30 years with United Airlines. Most of my focus has been on international travel for the last 25 years.

So what we’re trying to accomplish with Aer Lingus is to expand in the US. We fly to more cities now than we did when Aer Lingus first started going to the US. Our history in the US was predominantly Chicago, Boston, New York, and eventually San Francisco and Washington. Now we fly to 14 cities in North America, including Miami, Orlando, Seattle. We try to fly wherever there are Irish Americans to provide as much non-stop service as possible.  In the near term we are really trying to make sure that all those routes are effective and profitable again.

We are reaching out to Irish American communities across the country so that they know where they can catch a direct flight to Ireland. The biggest issue with travel to Ireland for so many years was that you could only get a direct flight out of three cities, so you had to connect to those cities from anywhere else in the country.

When you can provide direct access, you get so much more increased tourism because people like to fly nonstop, as opposed to flying with a stopover. And so what we have found is as we’ve expanded, we’ve been able to grow the direct service into Ireland in terms of tourism. So, we’re working on having more direct flights to Ireland. Along with that, we hope people will see us as a gateway to other cities in Europe as we fly to many!.

You can fly Aer Lingus from Los Angeles and can connect in Dublin to other cities in Europe; whether it’s Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, London, Manchester, Glasgow and more. The second thing we’re trying to get people to realize is not only should we be your choice for return to Ireland, but we should be your choice of airlines to other cities in Europe as well. Once you are in Ireland you are only a short flight from Europe!

Passengers are familiar with our product and with Dublin airport and what we do. They’re familiar with the service, they like the service. You get that Irish welcome, you’re not going to get anywhere else in the world except on our flights! Transiting in Dublin, it’s really easy. It’s a relatively small airport and easy to transfer. We think it’s a very good choice.

 Q. The pandemic has shaken and stirred things quite a bit. Many of the folks that I’ve talked to about going to Ireland, are apprehensive and confused about what will be open and what they can see and do while they are there. They’re mostly vaccinated and not apprehensive about COVID. Instead, it is about being able to travel around without a lot of hassle and red tape while they are there. They’re afraid pubs and major attractions will be closed, what would you tell them?

A. I don’t blame them for being confused. And I don’t blame them for being apprehensive. Up until recently, Ireland had the most restrictive COVID policies across Europe, but those have been substantially relaxed now. Fully vaccinated people don’t have to quarantine or take a PCR test. If they have children 11 and under accompanying them, they also don’t have to take a PCR test. Children 12-17 do have to take a PCR test. It is easy to sort it out though.

Folks just have to go on the website in Ireland, www.dfa.ie, and that will tell them everything they need to know. Our website, AerLingus.com, also has the information they want.

So for a single or a couple that have been vaccinated to they’ll probably have to show their CDC vaccine card. Our airport people have examples of pretty much every vaccine card that exists.

I would also tell travelers to make sure they bring their CDC card that they would have gotten when they got their vaccination. When they present that at check-in they will be allowed to board. They will have to complete an electronic passenger locator form which is relatively easy. And all that does is it allows the health services to track somebody down if they contracted COVID. That will have to be completed 48 hours before departure. And, as far as I know, there’s no need to take a temperature for fully vaccinated passengers.

I would advise people to the extent that they can, to look at social media and look at the web to see what kinds of things are open. Because if a particular museum is the one thing you want to see, then you can make sure it is open.

 Pubs are opening, tourist attractions and hotels are opening up. So I think very soon people will see everything is wide open that they normally want to see whether it’s Giants Causeway, or the Ring of Kerry. They’re all open as you would think they would be.

What travelers will find now is a country that has been waiting for them for 18 months, and can’t wait for them to get back! And they will have a wonderful time.
Q . How many airlines does Aer Lingus have to compete with? And why should we fly Aer Lingus and not one of them?

A. So out of the U.S. on a non stop basis its Delta, United, and American Airlines.
And on a  connecting basis you can get to Ireland a whole variety of ways. I think the biggest thing I would say is we’re the Irish airline, Right? So we’ve been flying to Ireland since 1962 and we are good at it!

American carriers really didn’t start in earnest to Ireland until the mid to late 90s. We have an authentic Irish crew, Irish pilots and flight attendants. We have Irish food and an on board experience that is entirely Irish. It’s not a side business. For us. This is what we do.

The flight attendants and the cabin crew know that most of the people on board are going on holiday or actually visiting living relatives. And that sometimes is one of the most important things that our customers have to do is connecting back with their relatives -  whether it’s their mom or dad or aunts or uncles, they know they’re going home, and that doesn’t exist with other carriers.

I think the difference is our service and our people know that Ireland is important to them, and they want to show it off in the best possible light. And we’re experienced in doing it.

We’ve been doing it a long time we know how to do it, and we do it really well. I think that’s what makes the difference.

Safety is very important, and at Aer Lingus our safety record is second to none, and it always has been. We’ve always taken it very seriously. And since the pandemic we’ve stepped up our cleaning using electrostatic spraying to remove all harmful substances. Aboard the aircraft we have the Heppa filters that maybe some of the readers might have heard about. The filters take the air quality in the cabin to hospital grade.

So the experience on board will not only friendly, the service and the food is good, and t it will be safe, very clean and enjoyable.

Fares have never been better or more manageable and there’s a lot of flexibility while traveling, so at the last minute if needed, travelers can change their ticket without a fee up to two hours before departure. I think it’s a really good time to go home to see family and connect again, and it won’t be any easier than it is right now!

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