Ryanair expects 95% fall in passenger numbers until April

Ryanair expects to lose 95% of its traffic in February and March, with few if any flights operating from the UK and Ireland, because of the latest Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The Dublin-based airline, which normally carries the most passengers in Europe, lambasted “brutal lockdowns” and called on the Irish government in particular to accelerate vaccinations.

Ireland has banned incoming travel from Britain until Friday, and from Saturday is expected to require all international arrivals to provide a negative Covid-19 test from within the previous 72 hours to enter the country. The UK is considering a similar testing measure.

Ryanair said it was again cutting its full-year traffic forecast by a further 5 million passengers to between 26 million and 30 million, at best below 20% of 2019 levels.

It expects to fly fewer than 1.25 million passengers in January and 500,000 in February and March, when it would usuallyfly approximately 10 million a month. It said it would significantly cut flight schedules from 21 January so there would be few, if any, flights to or from Ireland or the UK “until such time as these draconian travel restrictions are removed”.

The carrier warned last week it would post its first annual loss since 2009, when the financial crisis struck. It said the cancellations would not further affect its results as the flights would have been largely loss-making.

Ryanair urged the Irish and UK governments to accelerate vaccination programmes, contrasting in particular Ireland’s current vaccination rate with other countries.

An airline spokesperson said: “The WHO have previously confirmed that governments should do everything possible to avoid brutal lockdowns. Ireland’s Covid-19 travel restrictions are already the most stringent in Europe, and so these new flight restrictions are inexplicable and ineffective when Ireland continues to operate an open border between the Republic and the north of Ireland.”

The World Health Organization’s guidance in fact states that lockdowns can slow Covid‑19 transmission and while it warns that “such measures disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups, including people in poverty, migrants, internally displaced people and refugees”, it says it recognises that “some countries have had no choice but to issue stay-at-home orders and other measures: and is “hopeful that countries will use targeted interventions where and when needed”.

Ryanair added: “The fact that the Danish government, with a similar 5 million population, has already vaccinated 10 times more citizens than Ireland shows that emergency action is needed to speed Covid vaccinations in Ireland.”

The Irish airline has been advertising flights while highlighting the availability of vaccines, calling on customers to “jab and go” – a campaign that drew more than 1,600 complaints, according to the Advertising Standards Authority, which is investigating.

Ryanair said all customers affected by further flight cancellations and restrictions would be emailed on Thursday to advise them of free rebooking or refunds. It has previously not offered to refund passengers when flights operated, regardless of lockdown rules.

EasyJet, which carried most UK passengers pre-Covid, said on Monday it would be reviewing its schedules and probably operating only domestic and limited international flights while lockdown lasts.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian airline Wizz Air said it was cancelling flights as a result of the latest lockdown. Capacity in January is expected to fall to 25% of 2020 levels from the 35% level it flew in December.