Ryanair boss O'Leary says the era of €10 flights is over

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Ryanair won't be offering flights at rock bottom prices any more thanks to the soaring cost of fuel, the budget airline's boss has admitted.

Chief executive Michael O'Leary says the era of the €10 ticket is over.

The airline's average fare would rise from around €40 (£33.75) last year to roughly €50 over the next five years, he told the BBC.

But he says he believes people will continue to fly frequently, despite the rising cost of living.

"There's no doubt that at the lower end of the marketplace, our really cheap promotional fares - the one euro fares, the €0.99 fares, even the €9.99 fares - I think you will not see those fares for the next number of years," Mr O'Leary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The rise in fuel costs that is pushing up air fares, is also raising household energy bills, eating into people's disposable incomes. But the airline boss said, despite that, he expects customers to seek out lower-cost options rather than cut back on flights.

"We think people will continue to fly frequently. But I think people are going to become much more price sensitive and therefore my view of life is that people will trade down in their many millions."

As airfares have become cheaper in recent decades, the number of flights taken has risen, with more people taking short breaks abroad, on top of an annual holiday. Airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet, Vueling and Wizz Air have competed to offer low-cost no-frills services.

Commercial flights now account for about 2.4% of global CO2 emissions, and the sector is facing pressure to reduce its impact on the climate, including campaigns to persuade people to switch to rail and road travel.

However, Mr O'Leary argued road transport and shipping were bigger contributors of CO2 overall, and said the focus on reducing emissions from air travel was "misplaced".

He said Ryanair was investing in more fuel efficient aircraft, but that greater reductions in fossil fuel use would come from the switch from petrol and diesel to electric road vehicles.

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, which severely disrupted international travel, people have proved eager to get back on board flights.

But as demand for air travel has bounced back, staff shortages at airlines and airports have lead to delays and cancellations, in the UK and abroad. Some passengers have been forced to wait for hours, or reschedule travel at the last minute.

Mr O'Leary said Ryanair had managed the situation better than other airlines because it had been "part lucky and part brave" in its decision to start recruiting and training cabin crew and pilots last November when the Omicron variant was still affecting international travel.

In the first six months of 2022, Ryanair cancelled 0.3% of flights, compared with British Airways' total of 3.5%, and Easyjet's 2.8%, according to air travel consultancy OAG.

Mr O'Leary said he had "very little sympathy" for the airports, saying they knew schedules months in advance and that security staff, which are the responsibility of the airports, required less training than pilots.

He accused Heathrow, which has capped the number of passengers coming to the airport over the summer, of "mismanagement".

Mr O'Leary said he was "hopeful" the problems at UK airports would be resolved by next summer, but said Brexit could continue to create challenges when recruiting staff.

Heathrow has previously defended the cap, saying it was necessary to provide a reliable and safe service.

Publishing its latest traffic figures on Thursday the airport said the cap was working and that July had seen "improvements to passenger experience" - with fewer last minute cancellations and better aircraft punctuality and baggage handling.

It said 88% of passengers were now clearing security in 20 minutes or less. It added that 1,300 people had been hired at the airport since last November, and that "security resource is back at pre-pandemic levels".

The Airports Operators Association has said airports in general have been recruiting staff since late last year and most passengers are now travelling with no, or minimal, disruption.

Ryanair is based in Dublin, but operates hundreds of routes in and out of the UK.

Britain's departure from the EU had proved to be a "disaster for the free movement of labour" Mr O'Leary said said and called on the government to "be honest and own up" that it was the cause of worker shortages.

The UK labour market was "fundamentally broken" Mr O'Leary said and argued it was time for the UK to consider reversing "some of the stupidity of Brexit". He said the priority for the next UK prime minister should be to sign a free trade deal with the EU, including free movement of labour.