Ryanair has revealed a “sudden downturn” in Christmas bookings has prompted it to slash January flights and pencil in annual losses more than twice as large as previously expected.
The Dublin-based airline disclosed the figures as it outlined the financial impact of the Omicron variant and recent government restrictions designed to tackle its spread.
It said it now expected to report an annual loss of €250-450m (£212-383m) for the year to the end of March, up from €100-200m (£85-170m) previously given as guidance.
The update is the latest to highlight the impact of Omicron on the travel sector, with Tui warning earlier this month that it could cut capacity as bookings weakened.
Heathrow has said that a “high level” of business travellers worrying about new testing requirements have been cancelling flights.
Last week, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary told the Guardian that the UK government’s response to the new variant had been shaped by “panic” and “idiots”.
In an update on Wednesday, the airline said: “The Omicron COVID variant and recent government travel restrictions across Europe have notably weakened close-in Christmas and New Year bookings.
“This sudden downturn has also caused Ryanair this week to cut its planned January schedule capacity by 33%.”
Ryanair pointed to the recent restrictions on UK travel to France and Germany and the suspension of all EU flights to and from Morocco.
It said it now expected December traffic of 9-9.5 million, down from a prior forecast of 10-11 million and January numbers at 6-7 million, down from 10 million.
“In light of the current uncertainty about the Omicron variant, and intra Europe travel restrictions, no schedule cutbacks have yet been decided for February or March 2022,” Ryanair added.
“These schedules will be revisited in January as more scientific information becomes available on the Omicron variant, its impact on hospitalisations, European population and/or travel restrictions in February or March.”
Ryanair said that for its full year it now expected to have flown just under 100 million passenger trips, down from previous guidance of just over 100 million – but that “these figures are hugely sensitive to any further positive or negative COVID news flow”.