Irish holiday-makers can expect a year of cut price airfares across the airline industry, Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary has said.
Predicting a relatively healthy resumption of flight activity from July and a full return by next summer, the outspoken chief executive rubbished the notion that fares would soar in the coming months.
“Prices are going to come way down. We think it’s pretty clear that for the next 12 months prices are going to be way down,” he said of the overall sector in an interview with The Irish Times.
“Once we are flying we will lower the fares to whatever prices we have to sell at to fill the flights. That’s the business model.
“This nonsensical idea that we’ll be keeping the middle seat free and people will have to pay higher fares – if people would pay higher fares we’d have been charging higher fares for the last 20 years.”
The aviation sector has been almost completely grounded as a result of Covid-19. Recently the International Air Transport Association calculated Europe's carriers could lose in the order of €70 billion worth of sales, with demand for flights halved this year.
At home Irish consumers have been expecting a future shaped more than ever by the “staycation or domestic holiday as residual anxiety about the pandemic and air travel lingers.
However, the Ryanair boss is more upbeat and expects the industry to bounce back.
“I am reasonably certain that by the summer of 2021 we will be back to 2019 passenger volumes but at much lower prices. What we don’t know is will it take until summer 2022 or summer 2023 for air fares to return to 2019 levels.”
The airline is resuming 40 per cent of its flight schedule from July, and Mr O'Leary said it had sold 250,000 flights in Ireland and the UK to continental Europe in the past week.
He said that level of appetite in the face of an ongoing pandemic was likely to be shaped by cut price accommodation offers. “The hoteliers, the resorts are all pricing down to try to recover what is left of the holiday season. There is never going to be more value than there is now.”
Mr O’Leary said it was unrealistic to think that all Irish people would take a holiday at home rather than travelling abroad.
"You don't have the capacity in Rosslare or Brittas Bay or Lahinch. There isn't the capacity there; it's complete rubbish. The Irish have been for many years going on holidays to Portugal, to Spain, to the Canaries, the Balearics; that's not going to change. They can't all stop and go to caravan parks."
Whatever way things shape up, the Ryanair boss has continued his crusade against Government policy on a 14-day quarantine for visitors to Ireland who must now register their details with authorities for two weeks of self-imposed isolation.
Mr O’Leary has said the Irish approach differed dramatically from other countries who have scrapped similar policies, and published an open letter to the Government imploring it to follow suit.
As with other airlines, the wearing of face masks aboard Ryanair flights will be mandatory. However Mr O’Leary said passengers would be allowed to eat and drink on board as normal.
“We’re not going to be going around torturing people. If you’re drinking something or you’re eating something lower the face mask but if you’re not [don’t].”