• Quote: ‘Ryanair hopes roll-out of Covid booster jabs and evidence Omicron less virulent than other variants will see more restrictions ease and restore consumer confidence – ahead of Easter – seeing capacity this summer topping pre-pandemic levels’

By Andrew Atkinson

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said expect the Covid-19 virus to cause further disruptions – before the crisis is put to an end.

“We would caution all shareholders to expect further COVID disruptions before we here in Europe and the rest of the world can finally declare that the COVID crisis is behind us,” said O’Leary.

Ryanair, who fly in and out of Alicante-Elche Airport, warned in January of a hit to bookings and cut flights by a third.

O’Leary added: “The sudden emergence of the Omicron variant and the media hysteria it generated in December forced European governments to reimpose travel restrictions in the run-up to Christmas”.

Ryanair, who reported a quarterly loss of €96m, said demand had improved since the recent lifting of travel restrictions – but prices were having to be cut to fill up planes over the next couple of months after the recent slump.

O’Leary said Omicron had significantly weakened peak last-minute bookings and fares over Christmas and New Year, cutting December traffic and load factors.

“While recent bookings have improved, following easing of travel restrictions Q4 traffic requires significant price stimulation at lower prices to quickly recover load factors which suffered steep declines due to the Omicron collapse in bookings over the Christmas-New Year period,” said O’Leary.

Ryanair expects to have carried just under 100 million passengers for its full-year to the end of March – at a loss of €250m-€450m.

The Dublin-based carrier hopes the roll-out of booster jabs and evidence about Omicron being less virulent than other variants will see more restrictions ease and restore consumer confidence – ahead of Easter – and sees capacity this summer topping pre-pandemic levels.

O’Leary added: “The outlook was hugely sensitive to any further positive or negative Covid news flow”.

Ryanair loss of €96m for the third quarter to the end of December is narrower than the €321m loss it suffered a year earlier.

Customer numbers, at 31.1 million, were more than three times higher, and revenues of €1.47bn were 331% up on 2020 levels.

The emergence of Omicron meant it was a weaker than hoped for quarter – after a promising start to the period when UK “traffic light” travel restrictions were scrapped in October.

Finance director Neil Sorahan told Reuters: “There, absolutely, could be upward pressure on fares over the summer – after rivals cut capacity.”