Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary today revealed the depths of cuts in his airline’s flight schedule from the UK and Ireland after the country was plunged into a third national lockdown earlier this month.
The airline’s boss said the company would operate ‘around ten or 20 flights a day’ compared to the ‘normal 2,000’ from January 21 amid the country’s new travel restrictions.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today show Mr O’Leary, who is worth an estimated £3.8 billion, said: ‘We’re taking significant bookings from people going on holiday somewhere.
‘On the one hand there’s a huge upper spike in the third wave but the vaccines are coming. If the UK vaccinate all of the high-risk groups, the elderly, the nursing homes and the NHS by the middle of February why are you restricting people’s movement thereafter?
‘I think the vaccine is a solution to this. Whether it will be in place by Easter is too early to call but certainly by the summer. By the time we get to the school holidays we’ll see few restrictions across Europe because of the rollout of these vaccines.’
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary will cut the airline’s flight schedule from the UK from 2,000 to ‘around ten or 20 flights a day’ amid the travel restrictions
It comes as figures revealed that Heathrow Airport saw a drop of 58.8 million passengers last year, with just 22.1 million people travelling through the west London airport in 2020 – down 72.7 per on the previous 12 months.
In December, passenger numbers fell by 82.9 per cent year on year to 1.1 million while November saw just one million people fly from Britain’s largest airport – an 88 per cent drop from the seven million passengers recorded the year before.
During the show Mr O’Leary questioned why the Government had not yet issued an end date to the travel restrictions and said it was ‘beyond him’.
He continued: ‘That’s one of the great contradictions of the Government’s mismanagement of the Covid travel restrictions.
‘On one hand Boris Johnson is telling us that all the high-risk groups will get vaccinated by the middle of February and yet they introduced these travel restrictions which meant passengers arriving to the UK needed a negative polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours of arrival.
‘But there’s no end date on when that restriction is going to be ended. Why it’s not ending in the middle of February along with the vaccine rollout is beyond us.
‘The challenge for the airline is nobody can make a booking for two weeks out in February and March if they have to wait until they get a negative PCR test four days before departure. Bookings have collapsed and air travel will collapse to and from the UK.’
Mr O’Leary’s comments comes just days after Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye said he welcomed pre-departure testing for travellers as a temporary measure amid the pandemic.
Mr Holland-Kaye told Times Radio: ‘There needs to be a plan for what’s going to come next so that we can start to get aviation back to some level of normality while keeping people safe.
‘What we’d like to see is that testing before you take off becomes the standard as an alternative to quarantine.’
However Mr O’Leary said the move would not work for short haul flights and ‘the vast majority of air travel within the UK’.
Mr O’Leary explained that no date had yet been as to when the travel restrictions would be eased. Pictured: Air stewards at London’s Heathrow Airport walk past the Covid-19 Testing Centre this month
Figures reveal that passenger numbers at Heathrow Airport had dropped by 58.8 million in 2020 amid a new strain of Covid-19. Pictured: A plane taking off from Heathrow Airport
He said: ‘It’s easy for someone in Heathrow who has spent most of the last six months trying to get the regulation to increase his charges so that he can charge the airlines and our customers higher fares to pay for his Covid losses to be warbling on about pre-flight testing.
‘It may have some impact on long haul travel where people are paying extortionately high fares and are flying for specific reasons many months out.
‘It doesn’t work for the short haul and the vast majority of air travel within the UK is short haul where people may travel with reasonably short notice.
‘The challenge for us now as airlines is we can’t cancel a flight inside 14 days without paying huge compensation and we can’t run the risk of putting on lots of flights where we run the risk that lots of passengers won’t travel because they have failed PCR testing so what they’ve actually done is simply grounded all the airlines in effect.’
He added: ‘We’re calling today on Grant Shapps to tell us when this restriction is going to be lifted because if you’re vaccinating all of the high-risk groups by the middle of February then there’s no requirement for these travel restrictions.’
His comments come after it was revealed that Heathrow Airport saw passenger numbers drop by 58.8 million last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
In December, passenger numbers fell by 82.9 per cent year on year to 1.1 million, amid a new strain of Covid-19.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘The past year has been incredibly challenging for aviation.
‘While we support tightening border controls temporarily by introducing pre-departure testing for international arrivals, as well as quarantine, this is not sustainable.
‘The aviation industry is the cornerstone of the UK economy but is fighting for survival. We need a road map out of this lockdown, and a full waiver of business rates.
‘This is an opportunity for the Government to show leadership in creating a common international standard for pre-departure testing that will allow travel and trade to restart safely so that we can start to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision of a global Britain.’