Europe’s biggest budget airline has blamed “media hysteria” over the Omicron variant of coronavirus for larger than expected losses.
Ryanair has reported a loss of €96m (£80m) for its third quarter – covering the last three months of 2021.
While it flew 31.1 million passengers – nearly four times as many as a year earlier – the expected “close in” bookings for Christmas and New Year did not materialise as travel restrictions extended across Europe.
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, said: “The sudden emergence of the Omicron variant in late November, and the media hysteria it generated in December, forced many European government to reimpose travel restrictions in the run-up to Christmas.
“As a result, December traffic slowed to just 9.5 million, with a lower 81 per cent load factor, well behind the expected target of 11 million guests.”
On 22 December the airline decided to cut its capacity in January by one third.
Mr O’Leary said: “We hope that the rollout of booster vaccines across Europe in recent weeks, and growing evidence that Omicron is less virulent than other variants, will enable EU governments to remove travel restrictions and restore consumer confidence.”
Ryanair has announced 720 new routes and 15 new bases for the summer, including moving into Newcastle following the departure of easyJet.
But it is closing its base at Frankfurt, citing “excessive charges” as the reason.
The airline now has 41 Boeing 737 Max aircraft in its fleet, and says there has been “universally positive passenger and crew feedback”.
With fuel prices rising, the chief executive said: “Ryanair’s very strong and sensible hedging policy will deliver significant savings for all our customers and shareholders at a time when many airline competitors have unwisely reduced or abandoned sensible hedging strategies.”
Mr O’Leary predicted that by the 2026 financial year, Ryanair will be carrying 225 million passengers annually, compared with “almost 100 million” this year.
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