The outbound winter holiday season faces a near collapse as Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary warned that bookings have slumped to a tenth of normal levels.

Europe’s biggest budget carrier expects to operate just 40% of its normal schedule next month due to travel restrictions and a feared second wave of Covid-19.

Ryanair is launching a ‘buy one get one free’ offer for 24 hours on 1,600 routes for travel until December 14 while rival is cutting selected fares by 50% in a flash sale.

O’Leary said: “At the moment November and December look like they’re booking at around 10% of our normal volumes.

“And that’s a number that’s repeated across most of the European and the UK airline industry. We have never seen such awkward forward bookings.”

O’Leary attacked prime minister Boris Johnson’s resistance to implement a testing regime for travellers, accusing the government of “mismanaging the situation” and failing the industry.

Ryanair has been at the forefront of criticism of quarantine restrictions across Europe.

The measures have killed the prospect of any meaningful recovery in air travel this winter.

O’Leary, speaking to ITV’s Peston, said: “I mean, the British government doesn’t have any competence, never mind confidence.

“You know the example that we point to all the time is that the Italians and the Germans have been allowing flights, intra-EU air flights, since the first of July and have managed to keep their Covid case rates down around 20 per 100,000.

“In the UK… the government is mismanaging the situation. They’ve limited the number of flights people can take and yet you’ve seen huge outbreaks.

“Boris Johnson promised us world-leading test and tracing and, like most of his promises, it’s turned out to be vacuous and completely undeliverable.”

His comments came as research by travel analytics company ForwardKeys found that European airlines have been offering significantly discounted fares for the September to December period in a bid to lure back travellers.

Analysis of air fares from the four major northern European markets, France, Germany, Netherlands and UK, for the destinations of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain reveals that during August the majority of routes were priced at more than 15% below the same time last year.

Vice president of insights Olivier Ponti said: “We are living through a very difficult market for airlines, with demand being less than a fifth of what it was at the same time last year.

“The airlines have been responding with the tools at their disposal, reducing capacity and offering promotional prices to attract back travellers, but they have no control over the evolution of the pandemic and travel restriction policies, which strongly influence bookings.

“The effect of attractive prices will thus remain limited, especially given that many consumers are still concerned that their plans will be disrupted and that any money spent on air tickets may not be promptly refunded in the event their flight is cancelled.

“Building back consumer confidence is a prerequisite to attracting people back to flying.”

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