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Ryanair cancels 25pc of Italy flights and Aer Lingus waives change fees as coronavirus hammers demand

Passenger no-shows and a fall in demand is seeing a growing number of airlines cancel flights and waive change fees

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Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. Passengers board a Ryanair passenger plane. Photo by Ulrich Baumgarrten via Getty Images

Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. Passengers board a Ryanair passenger plane. Photo by Ulrich Baumgarrten via Getty Images

U. Baumgarten via Getty Images

Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. Passengers board a Ryanair passenger plane. Photo by Ulrich Baumgarrten via Getty Images

Ryanair has taken the decision to cancel up to 25pc of its Italian short-haul flights for a three-week period from March 17 and April 8.

The announcement comes as a Covid-19 outbreak in Northern Italy, and rising cases throughout Europe, have heightened unease around travel.

"While we are heavily booked over the next two weeks, there has been a notable drop in forward bookings towards the end of March into early April," Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's CEO, said in a statement.

"It makes sense to selectively prune our schedule to and from those airports where travel has been most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak."

The airline has already notified passengers, it says, and will advise customers of any schedule changes at least 14 days in advance.

If an airline cancels a flight for any reason, it must offer passengers a re-routing or refund (see here for a full list of passenger rights).

As well as a drop in bookings, Ryanair has seen "a significant step up in passenger no-shows on flights, particularly from and within Italy," it says.

"This is a time for calm," O'Leary added.

"We will make sensible cuts to our schedules over the comings weeks to reflect weaker bookings, and changing travel patterns."

Airlines around the world have been reviewing operations as the coronavirus impacts on business, with Aer Lingus cutting ten flights to Northern Italy in March and April, and EasyJet warning of bookings hits.

Aer Lingus has waived its change fees for travel within the next week to Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa, Venice and Verona, provided travel occurs within 30 days of the original date and is to/from its airports in Italy, Switzerland or Nice, France.

"We continue to keep what is a dynamic situation under constant review," it said.

On Monday, BA also waived its flight change fee, allowing customers to delay travel booked during the next two weeks without paying a penalty - a move intended to give its passengers more confidence.

Ryanair has been holding daily "Covid-19 action meetings" since Monday, February 24, it revealed, and has been considering possible rolling schedule cuts as well as allocating annual and/or unpaid leave to pilots and cabin crew, recruitment, promotion and pay freezes across the network, and working with third party suppliers to cut costs.

The airline remains in a fundamentally healthy position, it says, but it expects that a fall in demand due to the coronavirus "will result in further EU airline failures over the coming weeks".

“Our focus at this time is on minimising any risk to our people and our passengers," O'Leary said, adding that Ryanair will "continue to comply fully with guidelines from national governments, the WHO and EASA."

Online Editors