Ryanair Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary said steps aimed at containing spiraling coronavirus infection rates in Europe are putting the region’s travel rebound at risk.
Measures including a return to lockdown conditions in Austria mean airlines face a “fraught” period through Christmas as they wait to see whether a resurgence in demand will be strangled off, O’Leary said in a webinar broadcast by Eurocontrol, criticising the curbs as illogical.
Bookings for vacations next summer could also be affected, and there’s a possibility that the US will review the reopening of its borders, he said in the most downbeat take on prospects from an airline chief since lockdown worries began to weigh on airline stocks.
“It’s inevitable that we will undermine confidence between now and Christmas and that will disrupt Christmas and it will also unsettle people between Christmas and New Year, when they normally start booking their summer holidays,” he said, adding that until “things were going great.”
Europe has quickly become the global epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak, prompting governments to resort to a fresh round of clampdowns. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the latest surge in infections is the worst of the pandemic and called on federal states to tighten restrictions — just days after Austria announced a fourth lockdown. The measures have triggered unrest in countries including the Netherlands, where police fired warning shots and deployed a water canon to contain protests.
The deterioration comes with the aviation industry only just beginning to recover after the virus grounded flights for months, leading carriers to slash jobs, retire fleets and load up with debt just to survive. Subsequent travel restrictions made for a sluggish resumption of demand on international routes, with European operators enjoying only a short period of strong bookings in the second part of the summer and during October’s school holidays.
O’Leary said governments are panicking and that new restrictions should apply only to the unvaccinated, with the principle of free movement within the EU upheld by member states. The CEO said there’s a chance that a rebound in North Atlantic travel could go backwards if events in Europe prompt a “jumpy” Biden administration to reconsider a reopening of US borders that took effect.
Ryanair’s own business wouldn’t be impacted by such a development since it operates only short-haul flights.