Aer Lingus 'ripping off its customers for years'

 

The chief executive of Aer Lingus has said he has no problem admitting that the airline had been "ripping off its customers for years" through its fares policy.

Mr Willie Walsh, who introduced a "low-fares" system last year, also said that competition for the State airport company, Aer Rianta, would be good.

In an address on Saturday to the PD annual conference, Mr Walsh said the outlook for the airline's business this year was uncertain.

The impact of the Iraq war was a 20 per cent reduction in bookings on transatlantic routes in the first week of hostilities compared with the same week last year, he said. Mr Walsh added that the reduction in bookings was an "understandable and inevitable" reaction to the war.

However, the company had taken pro-active action on pricing to stimulate demand resulting in "strong bookings" for the next few months. "The longer-term prognosis over the summer months cannot be called at this stage," he said. "2003 will be a very difficult trading environment for the airline industry.

"The war in Iraq is compounding an environment of declining economies and intense competition." Mr Walsh said bilateral agreement governing flights between the US and the Republic was "clearly anti-competitive". US airlines could operate into Ireland from any airport in the US, while Irish airlines were restricted to four airports in the US.

"Aer Lingus would open a number of further gateways in the US if this situation were to change with major benefit to Irish business and tourism," he said.