The boss of the Irish budget airline Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, said on Wednesday that the British aviation industry was weaker than that in Europe because British consumers were struggling with high interest rates and a cost of living crisis.
“Europe itself is strong, Italian domestic flights are strong, Spanish domestic flights are strong, Eastern Europe is strong. The UK, I think, is a little weaker, except for London,” he said, referring to demand for air travel in each market.
“People are generally finding it hard here in the UK, interest rates are much higher, energy prices are higher, the economy is not in great shape. We expect weakness in the winter,” he added during a press conference in London about the airline’s winter schedule.
Ryanair – Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers – is adopting a cautious stance, O’Leary told reporters, even though he estimated current booking levels to be approximately 4%-5% higher than last year.
He said, “The demand for travel is not insatiable,” and pointed to signs of a dip in consumer confidence.
Earlier, the head of British Airways owner IAG, Luis Gallego, said that the demand for travel was “very, very strong,” except in the corporate sector, adding that the recovery of corporate demand in Spain was outpacing that in the UK.
A resurgence in travel following the detrimental effects of pandemic restrictions on the industry helped Ryanair to post 663 million euros in profit after taxes in the three months to June, surpassing market expectations.
O’Leary estimated that Ryanair would carry 183.5 million passengers in the current fiscal year, compared to 149 million pre-COVID.
“We are definitely seeing people booking earlier at slightly higher fares,” O’Leary said after a robust summer period.
“We are seeing very strong demand. What is unusual is that this is the second year in a row that we have seen very strong demand at very strong prices. That cannot continue.”