Ryanair expects air travel to be depressed for 2-3 years

LONDON — European budget airline Ryanair said Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on its earnings, with lockdown restrictions leading to a 99% drop in passengers in the first quarter, and warned travel is likely to remain subdued for years.

The airline, which grew in recent years to become the region’s busiest carrier, says the quarter was the “most challenging” in its history, with a loss of 185 million euros ($216 million). It described a second wave of COVID-19 as its “biggest fear.”

Travel restrictions led to a collapse in the number of travellers, with 500,000 passengers in the first quarter compared with 41.9 million in the same period last year.

The low-cost carrier expects air travel to be depressed in Europe for the next two to three years.

Ryanair shares fell 4% on Monday. The stock price of other European travel and tourism companies also got slammed on concerns about new travel restrictions in Europe to deal with a flare-up in contagions in some parts of the region, particularly Spain. Shares were down some 13% in tour operator TUI, by over 8% in British Airways parent company IAG and 10% in budget airline easyJet.

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The British government this weekend imposed a 14-day quarantine on travelers arriving from Spain, Norway ordered a 10-day quarantine for people returning from the entire Iberian peninsula, and France urged its citizens not to visit Spain’s Catalonia region.

IN PHOTO: Spanish flags being used as social distancing signage stick out from the sand in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Sunday, July 26, 2020. Britain has put Spain back on its unsafe list and announced Saturday that travelers arriving in the U.K. from Spain must now quarantine for 14 days. The move by the UK taken without forewarning has caught travelers off guard. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)