Ryanair plans more flights for Christmas as profits rise on higher fares

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said concerns about recession and inflation have been 'greatly exaggerated'. The budget airline is increasing flight capacity ahead of Christmas season. Photo: Johanna Geron/Reuters (Johanna Geron / reuters)

Ryanair (RYA.IR) returned to profit in the first half of the year driven by record passenger numbers in the second quarter and higher fares.

Profits after tax jumped to €1.37bn (£1.2bn/$1.36bn) in the six months to 30 September, compared with a loss of €48m for the same period last year.

Revenues for the period tripled to €6.6bn, as the airline carried 95.1 million passengers, compared with 39.1 million last year.

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s group chief executive, said fares in July, August and September were up 15% compared with summer 2019.

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“The strength of the recovery this summer has surprised us,” O’Leary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

“We see that huge pent-up demand for travel. We thought it would ease off in September, October as we came to the winter, but so far to date there’s not much sign of that.”

The airline said it would restore pay levels for its crews to pre-pandemic levels on 1 December — four months earlier than previously planned.

The Dublin-based company said it will offer 10% more seats this winter than pre-COVID, compared with capacity cuts of about 20% at most of its European competitors.

“This will be the first Christmas in three years where people can reunite with their friends and family, and there seems to be a very strong appetite to do so.

“Every time there’s a recession people don’t stop travelling, they trade down to the cheapest provider, which is Ryanair.

“The lowest-cost provided always grows stronger in a recession.”

O'Leary said he hoped the sector would avoid a repeat of last year's lockdowns caused by the omicron variant, "which damaged last Christmas at such short notice".

He added that "concerns about the impact of recession and rising consumer price inflation on Ryanair's business model have been greatly exaggerated".

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O'Leary said he expects the airline "to grow strongly in a recession as consumers won't stop flying, but rather they will become more price sensitive".

Ryanair now expects to fly 168 million passengers this financial year, up from its previous prediction of 166.5 million, significantly ahead of its previous annual record of 149 million.

He also claimed the biggest thing European governments could do to cut airline carbon emissions was to improve air traffic control to avoid wasted time in the air.

“We would eliminate 20% of our fuel, we would eliminate 90% of our flight delays."

Ryanair said it expected full-year profit of between €1bn and €1.2bn.

Watch: Europe's budget carrier Ryanair predicts boom in summer air travel