Ryanair boss says fears of new European lockdowns are deterring bookings

Ryanair boss says fears of new European lockdowns are deterring bookings

European airlines face a slump in Christmas and early summer travel as the spectre of another wave of lockdowns puts people off booking holidays, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has warned.

Austria’s decision to impose a third national lockdown from Monday, which could last until 12 December, to curb a surge in coronavirus cases and fatalities, has stoked fears of a wave of tighter travel restrictions being imposed across Europe.

“I think we’re in for a fraught period between now and Christmas where it looks like Europe is going to get very nervous again at the worst time of the year when people are making their Christmas travel plans,” he said.

“I think it’s inevitable we will undermine confidence between now and Christmas, and that will disrupt Christmas and New Year when they would normally start booking their summer holidays.”

There had been a renewed sense of optimism in the aviation industry when the UK government moved to drastically reduce, and then finally scrap, the “red list” of countries, those requiring passengers to quarantine in a hotel for 11 nights, last month.

A further boost came with the reopening of transatlantic travel earlier this month, which Luis Gallego, the chief executive of British Airways’ owner IAG described as a “pivotal moment for our industry”.

“Up until last weekend, things were going great,” said O’Leary, speaking at an online event. “Volumes were back running at about 100% of our pre-Covid price volumes. It has been disrupted by the Austrian lockdown and there is a renewed concern across Europe about a fourth or fifth wave of Covid.”

Austria’s announcement on Friday of the impending national lockdown wiped almost £2bn off the market value of UK airlines and travel-related companies, as investors fearful of further clampdowns in countries such as Germany dumped shares in listed businesses.

O’Leary reiterated that it was inevitable that air fares will increase next summer as the European low-cost carrier unveiled its schedule for 2022.

Ryanair said it would open 24 new routes next summer, taking its total to more than 500, backed by a seat sale to “make up for the lost summers of 2020 and 2021”.

“The opening of these 24 new routes reinforces the airline’s commitment to the UK and the rebuilding of the country’s tourism industry, playing a key role in the recovery of local jobs and the economy,” Ryanair said.