MIAMI – Speaking today on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Ryanair (FR) CEO Michael O’Leary discussed how his airline’s flights have gone to 10 per day from 2,000 per day. But he insists that the Summer holidays will go as planned.

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. 

On the radio show, O’Leary said 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. However, he also said that countries across Europe could see travel restrictions begin to ease by the summer due to the mass vaccine rollout.  

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 of the virus. But the vaccines are coming. If the UK vaccinates all of the high-risk groups, the elderly, the nursing homes, and the NHS by the middle of February, why are they 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 Boeing 737-8AS reg. 9H-QAK taxiing to take off at Naples International Airport (NAP). Photo: Marco Macca – @aviator_ita

Questions Government Actions

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’. “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 lifted. 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.”

“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 ground all the airlines in effect.”

O’Leary added, “We’re calling today on Grant Shapps (Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom) 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.” 

Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS at Naples International Airport (NAP). Photo: ©Marco Macca – @aviator_ita

Heathrow Releases Figures

O’Leary’s comments come as Heathrow Airport (LHR) released figures that show a drop of 58.8 million passengers last year, with just 22.1 million people traveling through the west London airport in 2020, down 72.7 per on the previous 12 months. 

In December, passenger numbers fell by 82.9 percent year-on-year to 1.1 million, while November saw just one million people fly from Britain’s largest airport, an 88 percent drop from the seven million passengers recorded the year before.

Holland-Kaye said he welcomed pre-departure testing for travelers as a temporary measure amid the pandemic. 

He 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.

“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.”

Ryanair Boeing 737 MAX 8 200. Photo: Joe G Walker

O’Leary Disagrees

But O’Leary replied, “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.”

Featured image: Wiki Commons.