Ryanair blames European 'mismanagement' for winter cuts

People walk down the steps of the main entrance of Waterloo train station, at which point they are allowed to remove their face coverings, in London, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he expects the government will move the UK capital to a higher level of COVID-19 restrictions later Thursday. The move comes as infection rates in the capital are rising. Khan says the city will soon reach an average of 100 cases per 100,000, a level some boroughs have already surpassed. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – Ryanair became the latest European airline to announce big reductions in its winter schedule after coronavirus-related travel restrictions were reimposed across the continent.

Casting the blame on European governments for “mishandling” air travel during the pandemic, the Ireland-based budget airline said Thursday that it will cut around a third of its flight routes this winter.

It said demand for flights has been “heavily curtailed” to and from the U.K., Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Portugal and much of central Europe.

The airline said it will maintain up to 65% of its route network between November and March and will close its bases in the Irish cities of Cork and Shannon, and Toulouse in France through the period. The routes that continue operating will see fewer flights.

Overall, the airline said its winter capacity will be 40% of what it was a year earlier, compared with the 60% it had previously pencilled in. It also said it expects to fill 70% of seats on its planes.

As a result, the airline said it will implement more unpaid leave and job-sharing during the winter, a move that Chief Executive Michael O’Leary described as “a better short-term outcome than mass job losses.”

However, he said there will “regrettably be more redundancies at those small number of cabin crew bases where we have still not secured agreement on working time and pay cuts, which is the only alternative.”

With the resurgence of the coronavirus in Europe over the past few weeks, many governments have sought to limit travel once again after easing restrictions during the summer.

O'Leary said the cutbacks have been “forced upon us by government mismanagement" of European air travel.

“We continue to actively manage our cost base to be prepared for the inevitable rebound and recovery of short-haul air travel in Europe once an effective COVID-19 vaccine is developed,” O'Leary said.

Over the past few months, airlines including Air France, British Airways and easyJet have cut back their already reduced winter schedules as a result of the resurgence of the virus and the travel restrictions.

Ryanair's share price in London fell 4.3% after the announcement. Others airlines saw their stocks fall too, including British Airways' parent company, International Airlines Group, which was down 2.8%.

“Spikes in coronavirus cases across Europe are resulting in fresh regional lockdowns, adding to worries that the international travel sector will remain depressed for a lot longer than previously feared,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown.