Owners of second homes around Bergerac, long-distance lovers with one partner in Bologna, and Polish physicians with families in Bydgoszcz: all will be alarmed by the apparent 40 per cent cut in the lifeline they have come to depend upon – cheap flights from Stansted. Yesterday Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, blamed the "Scottish misers", as he described the Chancellor and Prime Minister, for his decision to re-deploy 16 of the 40 aircraft the airline has based at Stansted this summer. Labour's "tourist tax" – in reality, the Air Passenger Duty introduced by the last Tory chancellor, Ken Clarke – was accused of being jointly responsible for the cut of 40 per cent in flights, along with Spanish-owned BAA, for its refusal to negotiate on charges for using Britain's third-busiest airport.
Over the 14 years since easyJet first took off, British travellers have grown accustomed to the widest range of no-frills flights and some of the lowest air fares in the world. Could the end of the summer mark the end of low-cost flying? After all, Ryanair is technically the world's favourite airline – in terms of international passengers flown, if not on-board cosseting. But as with most announcements from the Irish airline, the plan to cut capacity at its main airport from the winter should be treated that with a pinch of inflight salt, for which no doubt a fee will be payable.
Between late October and Easter, airlines traditionally cut capacity from the UK: on a wet Wednesday in November only the idle rich are willing and able to fly to somewhere in eastern Europe they can neither spell nor pronounce. Ryanair will actually offer around 15 per cent fewer seats from Stansted than last winter – enough to push fares up, and distressing for people using certain airports, but not the end of cheap aviation. London remains the world's aviation capital, and as one airline dips another will grow: Aer Lingus, is expanding Gatwick services. The worst of times for airlines is the best of times for travellers.