The government’s plan to quarantine arrivals in the UK is “idiotic” and will be ignored by the travelling public, according to the boss of Ryanair.
Michael O’Leary said that the proposals, due to be implemented by the start of June, were likely to be shunned by many people because they were “hopelessly defective”, doing little to control the spread of coronavirus.
He called instead for the compulsory use of facemasks on all flights, as well as on trains and the London Underground, claiming that this would be a more effective measure to manage the infection.
He spoke out as Ryanair posted its annual results, with the airline warning that it expected overall passenger numbers to almost halve in the current financial year.
The budget carrier reported a 13 per cent increase in profits to €1 billion (£890 million) for the year ending in March on revenue up 10 per cent to €8.4 billion (£7.6 billion). However, it said that it expected to deliver significant losses in the current quarter because of the impact of coronavirus.
Mr O’Leary warned that the impact could be exacerbated by the government’s plan to require all arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of their mode of travel. Ministers are expected to abandon efforts today to exempt travellers from France, although hauliers, scientists, medics and border officials will not have to comply.
The plan has infuriated airlines and tour operators, who warn that it will undermine any attempt to resurrect their industries following the lockdown.
Tour operators such as Tui and Jet2 have been planning to restart holidays as soon as mid-June but if Britons are required to self-isolate on their return this is likely to prevent any large-scale bookings. British Airways has already said that it will not resume major flight operations while the quarantine remains in place.
Mr O’Leary said today that the policy was “idiotic and it is un-implementable”. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “You don’t have enough police in the UK to implement a two-week lockdown. And what’s really worrying is that a two-week lockdown has no medical or scientific basis to it in any event. If you really want to do something that’s effective, wear masks.”
Ryanair has announced plans to implement 40 per cent of flights — 1,000 a day — from the start of July as part of its own recovery. It has said that facemasks will be compulsory on flights and at airports. The airline has also told passengers that it may take their temperature before they fly and refuse to allow those with a fever on board.
Mr O’Leary said that it was likely that the quarantine plan would be dropped within weeks because people would refuse to abide by it.
“The 14-day lockdown has no credibility and I think will be eliminated by the time we get to the end of June anyway,” he said. “As the government puts more meat on the bones of an un-implementable, unmanageable and un-policeable 14-day lockdown, people will simple ignore something that is so hopelessly defective in favour of . . . some effective measures like facemasks. Facemasks are effective; 14-day isolations aren’t. “
In its results, the airline said that it saw an increase in passengers for the full year but that since the start of April it had operated less than 1 per cent of its scheduled flights. It told investors that it had sufficient funds to “weather Covid-19 and emerge stronger when the crisis passes”.
Ryanair is in the midst of consultations over base closures, job cuts of up to 3,000 mainly affecting pilots and cabin crew, and pay cuts as it looks to keep costs low.
Nevertheless the Irish carrier expects to post a loss of more than €200 million (£178 million) for the quarter to the end of June. It expects a smaller loss in the second quarter amid a “substantial decline in traffic and pricing” as a result of the coronavirus groundings.
Ryanair said that it expected passenger numbers for the current year to be “less than 80 million”, reducing its target of 100 million given last week. Its original target had been 154 million.
In a statement, Ryanair said: “Full year 2021 will be difficult for the Ryanair Group as its airlines work hard to return to scheduled flying following the covid-19 crisis. As we look beyond the next year, there will be significant opportunities for Ryanair’s low cost, growth model as competitors shrink, fail or are acquired by government bailed out carriers.”