Ryanair is to cut its Italy programme by up to 25% this spring in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The cancellations affect flights due to depart between March 17 and April 8.
The budget carrier said it had seen a “significant drop in bookings” for the late March and early April period over the past week.
It also noted “a significant step up in passenger no-shows on flights, particularly from and within Italy”.
The service reductions follow rivals British Airways and easyJet cancelling flights due to weaker demand.
Ryanair said it did not expect the cancellations to have a material impact on its current year results, to the end of March 2020, and said “it is far too early to speculate what impact the Covid-19 outbreak will have on FY21 earnings”.
The airline, which has been holding daily coronavirus action meetings since February 24, said it will “continue to monitor bookings carefully” and “continue to flex its schedules in response to this developing situation” and follow WHO guidelines.
Ryanair said its response to the coronavirus outbreak could include rolling schedule cuts as booking patterns alter, allocating annual leave and/or unpaid leave to pilots and cabin crew, recruitment, promotion and pay freezes, and “working with 3rd party suppliers to cut costs”.
In a statement, it also predicted some airlines could go out of business “over the coming weeks” as a result of the impact.
Chief executive Michael O’Leary said: “Our focus at this time is on minimising any risk to our people and our passengers. While we are heavily booked over the next two weeks, there has been a notable drop in forward bookings towards the end of March, into early April. It makes sense to selectively prune our schedule to and from those airports where travel has been most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
“This is a time for calm. We will make sensible cuts to our schedules over the comings weeks to reflect weaker bookings, and changing travel patterns. All affected customers will be advised of any schedule changes at least 14 days in advance. While 80% of people who contract Covid-19 suffer only mild symptoms, the risk of infection can be significantly reduced by frequent hand washing with soap and water.
“We will continue to comply fully with guidelines from national governments, the WHO and EASA as they are updated on a regular basis. We will update the market in due course on any significant developments.”
Ryanair today reported a 9% rise in February traffic to 10.5 million passengers while Hungarian budget rival saw numbers increase by 25% to more than 3 million for the month.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “While the decision to cancel flights in the face of growing concerns around the spread of coronavirus may be understandable, passengers due to travel will want to know what this means for their travel plans, especially in the run up to the Easter holidays.
“BA and Ryanair must ensure they are keeping passengers informed and quickly re-routing them to their destinations on the next available flight, with other carriers if necessary.
“Given the circumstances, airlines should also consider offering flexibility to customers who don’t want to travel, such as allowing refunds and waiving flight change fees for both existing and future bookings.”
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