Ryanair to cancel flights from next month. | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter


Irish budget airline Ryanair's boss Michael O'Leary has said that the UK air travel industry was weaker than Europe's as British consumers grapple with high interest rates and a cost-of-living crisis.

"Europe itself is strong, Italian domestics are strong, Spanish domestics are strong, Eastern Europe is strong. The UK I think is probably a little bit weaker with the exception of London," he said, referring to the demand for air travel in each market.

"People are generally struggling here in the UK, interest rates are much higher, energy prices are higher, the economy is not in a good place here. We would expect weakness in the winter," he added, speaking at a press conference in London on the airline's winter schedule.

Ryanair - Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers - is taking a cautious approach, O'Leary told reporters even as he estimated current booking levels were around 4%-5% higher than last year. He said "demand for travel is not insatiable", citing signs of a dip in consumer confidence.

Earlier, the head of British Airways owner IAG, Luis Gallego, said demand for travel was "very, very strong", except from the corporate sector, adding that the recovery of corporate demand in Spain was happening faster than in Britain.

A rebound in travel following the damaging impact of pandemic restrictions on the sector helped Ryanair make 663 million euros in after-tax profits for the three months to June, beating market expectations.

O'Leary estimated Ryanair would carry 183.5 million passengers in the current fiscal year, compared with 149 million pre-COVID. "We are certainly seeing people booking earlier at slightly higher fares," O'Leary said after a robust summer period.

"We're seeing very strong demand. What's unusual is this is the second year in a row we've seen very strong demand at very strong prices. That can't continue."

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Ryanair also announced today cuts to its winter schedule due to delays in the delivery of Boeing aircraft, but Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers said its full-year traffic forecast was unaffected "as yet".

Ryanair said in a statement that it had expected to receive delivery of 27 aircraft between September and December. But due to production delays at the Spirit Fuselage facility in Wichita, Kansas, combined with Boeing repair and delivery delays in Seattle, it now expects to receive only 14 aircraft during the three-month period.

Flight cancellations will take effect from the end of October, and will be communicated to all affected passengers by email over the coming days, Ryanair said. "At this early date, we do not expect these delivery delays will materially affect our full-year traffic target of 183.5 million," Group Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said.

"But if the delays worsen or extend further into the January to March 2024 period, we may have to revisit this figure and possibly adjust it slightly downward," he added. Ryanair shares were down 1.4% at 0705 GMT.

The budget airline said it will cut three aircraft from those based at Charleroi airport in Belgium, two from Dublin and five from Italian airports, including Bergamo, Naples and Pisa. There will also be aircraft reductions at East Midlands airport in the UK, Porto in Portugal and Cologne, Germany, it said.

Ryanair had expected delivery of 57 Boeing aircraft between September 2023 and May 2024. "Ryanair is working with Boeing to try to accelerate deliveries in the January to May 2024 period so that it can enter the Summer 2024 peak travel season with all 57 new Boeing aircraft deliveries as expected," the airline said in its statement.

And, UK households are expected to have £3bn less to spend this Christmas compared to the previous year, as the cost of living crisis continues to weigh heavily on consumers, according to research revealed today by ShipEngine and Retail Economics, an independent research company.

The study highlights the ongoing financial strain caused by high inflation. It predicts that shoppers will adjust their holiday spending habits; that they are intending to start Christmas shopping earlier, and they are turning to online marketplaces to stretch their budgets and reduce overall expenditure.