Europe’s biggest budget airline has said that it will not be running more than a skeleton service until July – and even then, only around half the expected passengers will travel.

Ryanair says it will cut up to 3,000 jobs, mainly pilots and cabin crew, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It will also impose unpaid leave and pay cuts of up to 20 per cent, and close some bases, “until traffic recovers”.

The airline is currently flying around 1,700 passengers a day on a much-reduced network of Irish Sea and Continental services.

Between July and September it expects to fly no more than half of the planned service of almost half-a-million passengers per day.

In a market update, the Dublin-based carrier said: “When scheduled flights return in Europe, sometime in July, Ryanair believes it will take some time for passenger volumes to return.

“Consumer confidence will be impacted by public health restrictions, such as temperature checks at airports and face coverings for passengers and staff on board aircraft.”

Ryanair has also said it will challenge what it says is €30bn (£26bn) of public funds paid to rivals including Air France and Lufthansa of Germany – describing the hand-outs as “selective state aid doping for flag carriers”.

The chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said the money would push down air fares: “Prices are going to be incredibly low, which is good for consumers but bad for airlines.”

He described Air France and Lufthansa as “subsidy junkies” and said Ryanair would have to compete against these airlines “with both hands tied behind its back”.

Mr O’Leary also dismissed the notion of social distancing on board aircraft. He told Sky News: “Taking out the middle seat in an aircraft achieves no social distancing.

“There’s less than two feet between the aisle and the window seats.

“What we are recommending, and what the aviation industry is moving towards, is temperature checks on passengers at the airport – so that anybody who has a temperature of 38 degrees is asked to go home and self-isolate.”

Ryanair believes traffic will not return to pre-coronavirus levels for at least two years. The airline is in talks with Boeing about reducing aircraft deliveries in the next 24 months.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), said: “Ryanair seems to have done a u-turn on its ability to weather the Covid storm.

“Aviation workers are now facing a tsunami of job losses. The UK government has to stop daydreaming and keep to the promise made by the chancellor on 17 March to help airlines or this industry, vital  to the UK economy, will be devastated.”

British Airways has announced up to 12,000 job cuts, representing 29 per cent of its staff, and has warned unions that it may close its base at Gatwick airport completely – consolidating all its flights at Heathrow.

Meanwhile Heathrow airport has said it expects passenger numbers in April to decline by 97 per cent.

The airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye said: “When we have beaten this virus, we will need to get Britain flying again so that the economy can recover as fast as possible.

“That is why we are calling on the UK government to take a lead in setting a common international standard for safe air travel.”


Ryanair says refunds to take up to six months as it axes jobs

1.5..2020 (BBC)

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said it will take up to six months to refund passengers for flights cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He told the BBC the airline was struggling to process a backlog of 25 million refunds with reduced staff.

However, he pledged: “If you want a cash refund, you will receive a cash refund.”

Ryanair is set to cut 3,000 jobs – 15% of its workforce – as it restructures to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

It said the 3,000 posts under threat were mainly pilot and cabin crew jobs.

There are likely to be pay cuts of up to 20% for remaining staff, the airline added.

Mr O’Leary told the BBC that the planned cuts were “the minimum that we need just to survive the next 12 months”.

He said that if a vaccine was not found, “we may have to announce more cuts and deeper cuts in future”.

The restructuring could involve closing some UK regional hubs, Mr O’Leary said, but he would not say which ones were at risk.

He said Ryanair hoped to announce details of job losses and pay cuts by 1 July.

Mr O’Leary, whose pay was cut by 50% for April and May, has now agreed to extend it for the remainder of the financial year to March 2021.

‘Subsidy junkies’

Ryanair said it expected to report a net loss of more than €100m (£87m) for the first three months of the year, with further losses in the second quarter.

In a sideswipe at rivals, it said its return to scheduled services would be rendered more difficult by competing with flag carrier airlines, “who will be financing below cost selling with the benefit of over €30bn in unlawful state aid, in breach of both EU state aid and competition rules”.

Ryanair said it had entered the coronavirus crisis with reserves of almost €4bn in cash and continued to “actively manage” those resources in order to survive the pandemic.

Mr O’Leary described airlines such as Lufthansa, Air France and Alitalia as “subsidy junkies running around Europe hoovering up state aid”.

Flights resuming

Meanwhile, Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air is resuming flights from Luton airport starting on Friday, but passengers will be required to wear masks while on board.

The airline is among the first European carriers to begin restoring services that have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The flights will be heading for destinations in Spain, Portugal, Israel, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania and Hungary.

But Wizz Air warned that because of “rapid changes in travel restrictions, the list might be adapted”.

The move comes despite unchanged advice from the Foreign Office against all foreign non-essential travel.

Heathrow ‘robust’

In another development, London’s Heathrow airport, normally the busiest in Europe, has said it expects passenger numbers to have fallen 97% in April as demand slumped.

Numbers fell 18.8% to 14.6 million during the first three months of the year, the airport said.

But it added: “Heathrow remains open – and continues operating safely to help people get home and to secure vital supply lines for the UK.”

Financially, it was “robust”, it said.

“Heathrow has £3.2bn in liquidity, sufficient to maintain the business at least over the next 12 months, even with no passengers,” it added.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the BBC’s Today programme that until a coronavirus vaccine could be developed, airports would have to introduce measures to minimise infection once lockdowns started to ease.

“What this might include – and this needs to be agreed with governments and the aviation sector – is a combination of measures and that might include some kind of health screening as you come into the terminal so that perhaps if that’s a temperature check, if you have a high temperature, you may not be allowed to fly,” he said.

“As you go through the airport, you will probably be wearing a face mask, as people from Asia have been doing ever since Sars came out.”

Coronavirus: Leaving middle seat empty is idiotic, says Ryanair

23 April 2020 (BBC)

The boss of Ryanair says the airline will not resume flights if it has to keep middle seats empty to fight Covid-19, calling the idea “idiotic”.

Michael O’Leary said he was hopeful 80% of flights could resume by October if travel restrictions are eased in July.

But he said empty seats did not ensure safe social distancing and were financially unviable.

He added that if the Irish government imposed the rule, it would have to pay for the middle seat “or we won’t fly”.

Like most other big airlines, Ryanair has grounded flights as countries around Europe have imposed travel restrictions to contain the pandemic.

However, industry experts believe the rules will relaxed this summer, subject to conditions.

Emirates, easyJet and Delta in the US have all said they plan to keep middle seats empty and some think governments will make it a rule.

But Mr O’Leary told the Financial Times the idea was “idiotic” as it did not ensure a safe 2 metre distance between passengers.

“We can’t make money on 66% load factors,” he said.

He said Europe should instead follow Asia and bring in more effective measures, such as forcing people to wear masks on transport and have their temperatures checked at airports.

‘Quick recovery’
Many in the airline industry believe it could take up to three years to get back on track.

According the UN’s civil aviation body, ICAO, international air passenger traffic in the first three quarters of 2020 could drop by as many as 1.2 billion travellers, or by two-thirds.

But Mr O’Leary told the Financial Times he was optimistic.

He said Ryanair expects a “relatively quick recovery”, with 80% of flights having resumed by September, falling to 60% in its less busy winter season.

He added that, subject to an effective coronavirus vaccine, the airline would be carrying its “2019 traffic plus growth” by summer next year.

However, he said it was likely the airline would have to cut jobs this winter and that he would continue to take a 50% pay cut beyond May if necessary.

“My pay cut will run on until the last of [Ryanair] people are off the payroll support schemes,” he said.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday that Ryanair and other airlines must in future indicate the full price of a ticket when displaying offers online.

This means including the cost of value added tax on domestic flights and fees for check-in and payments by credit card.

The ruling came after an appeal by Ryanair against a decision by the Italian competition and markets authority, which said such charges were unavoidable and foreseeable, and should therefore be included in the price shown before booking

The BBC has approached the airline for comment.