The low-cost airline responded to the quarantine news in trademark fashion – announcing a seat sale – but O’Leary is not expecting a dramatic surge in bookings. Indeed, Ryanair is only adding a handful of extra services during the Christmas period to destinations in Italy, Spain and Poland. It will continue to offer just 30% of its previously planned December capacity, with planes likely to be only two-thirds full, but O’Leary was confident that the roll-out of Covid vaccines next year will herald a return to normality. However, he suggested one way the Government could make up for its “mismanagement” of travel during the pandemic.
“If the UK wants to recover quickly next year, and get tourism and travel moving, there’s a simple solution: it needs to scrap APD for two or three years. It’s the most regressive tax in the UK. We’re selling £29 tickets of which £13 is going on APD. Instead of wasting millions on lavish state aid, or Eat Out to Help Out schemes, get rid of APD to get families moving again next Easter and summer, once vaccines are here. It’s money that goes straight back into the pockets of consumers, not back to businesses.
“Travel can get hotels, restaurants and other businesses, especially in London, back on their feet, it can help fix high youth unemployment, and I think the volumes will return in 2021 – but only if prices are low and the Government scraps this tax.”
Given how hard airlines have been hit by global travel restrictions, many are predicting that the cost of travel will rise in 2021. Pent-up demand could be met with limited supply, particularly following the collapse of Thomas Cook in 2019 and a clutch of airlines this year. O’Leary claimed that Ryanair wouldn’t be raising fares, but suggested that peak season travel would be expensive.
He said: “I think long-haul flights are going to take another year to recover. You’ll see families wanting to visit the old short-haul favourites next summer, not take the risk of flying to the likes of Bali or Thailand. Even on short-haul routes I think capacity will remain restrained, so we should expect higher prices for flights to the beach and the main European holiday destinations. Midweek travel and shoulder season should stay quite low, but fares during the school holidays will be higher.”
As for the experience of flying next year, O’Leary expects facemasks to remain a requirement at least until after summer, but believes other travel restrictions, such as pre-flight testing, will be dropped soon after vaccines are rolled out. Of recent plans announced by Qantas to refuse boarding to unvaccinated travellers, he said: “That’s not the sort of thing that will be happening in Europe or North America. Once you’ve vaccinated the high-risk groups then requirements such as that will be pretty pointless.”
As for the next hurdle for the travel industry – Brexit – O’Leary believes Boris Johnson will “roll over” and announce a last-minute trade deal, with the only noticeable change for travellers heading on holiday to Europe the requirement to “wait for longer in the non-EU immigration queue, alongside all the Chinese and American travellers”.