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Ryanair unveils “biggest” Irish summer schedule, but O’Leary says travel rebound is under threat

Ryanair will introduce four new routes, but says lockdowns will “unsettle” people 


A Ryanair aircraft taxis towards a gate in Budapest, Hungary. Bloomberg photo by Akos Stiller

A Ryanair aircraft taxis towards a gate in Budapest, Hungary. Bloomberg photo by Akos Stiller

A Ryanair aircraft taxis towards a gate in Budapest, Hungary. Bloomberg photo by Akos Stiller

Ryanair’s Michael O'Leary has said steps aimed at containing spiralling coronavirus infection rates in Europe are putting the region's travel rebound at risk.

Measures including a return to lockdown conditions in Austria mean airlines face a "fraught" period through Christmas as they wait to see whether a resurgence in demand will be strangled off, O'Leary said Tuesday in a webinar broadcast by Eurocontrol, criticising the curbs as illogical.

Bookings for holidays next summer could also be affected, and there's a possibility that the US will review the reopening of its borders, he said in the most downbeat take on prospects from an airline chief since lockdown worries began to weigh on airline stocks Friday.

"It's inevitable that we will undermine confidence between now and Christmas and that will disrupt Christmas and it will also unsettle people between Christmas and New Year, when they normally start booking their summer holidays," he said, adding that until last week "things were going great."

Ryanair this week announced its Irish summer schedule for 2022, which it dubbed its “biggest yet”, including four new routes among 180 in total. 

The four new routes are from Dublin to Madeira and Suceava (Romania), from Cork to Venice and from Shannon to Malta. 

It comes as Europe has quickly become the global epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak, prompting governments to resort to a fresh round of clampdowns.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that the latest surge in infections is the worst of the pandemic and called on federal states to tighten restrictions - just days after Austria announced a fourth lockdown.

The deterioration comes with the aviation industry only just beginning to recover after the virus grounded flights for months, leading carriers to slash jobs, retire fleets and load up with debt just to survive.

Subsequent travel restrictions made for a sluggish resumption of demand on international routes, with European operators enjoying only a short period of strong bookings in the second part of the summer and during October's school holidays.

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O'Leary said governments are panicking and that new restrictions should apply only to the unvaccinated, with the principle of free movement within the European Union upheld by member states.

"I think now we're going to unsettle people, we're going to undermine confidence, despite the high levels of vaccination across Europe," he said.

The CEO said there's a chance that a rebound in North Atlantic travel could go backward if events in Europe prompt a "jumpy" Biden administration to reconsider a reopening of US borders that took effect on November 8. Ryanair's own business wouldn't be impacted by such a development since it operates only short-haul flights.

O'Leary said the airline aims to restore cuts to crew pay over the next two or three years, provided passenger numbers continue to recover.

His view of the threatened recovery contrasts with that of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. counterpart Shai Weiss, who said Monday he doesn't personally expect a tightening of the US or UK borders, since the Covid flareup in mainland Europe stems mainly from the slow take-up of booster shots rather than a new viral threat.

"Cases are no longer the determining factor," Weiss said. "It's really about variants of concern that are new and dominant beyond the delta variant, and we haven't see one."

He said Virgin is set for a bumper Thanksgiving and Christmas but can't predict how strong demand will be next summer, with most bookings coming no more than a few of months in advance of flying.

Meanwhile, EasyJet said separately Tuesday it will recruit 1,500 seasonal cabin crew for next summer, with 11,000 applications already received.

The UK airline said it has sufficient pilots for the period but will look to take on 150 cadets early next year and begin recruitment of experienced Europe-based aviators for its Airbus SE fleet in coming weeks.

Additional lines by Pól Ó Conghaile 

© Washington Post

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