Major airlines downplay Brexit fears

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Major airlines downplay Brexit fears

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A British exit (Brexit) from the EU need not hurt the travel sector despite claims to the contrary from Ryanair and easyJet, say other carriers.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary called last week for “a resounding yes vote” to remain in the EU in the referendum on June 23, saying: “Ryanair will actively campaign for a yes.” EasyJet chief Carolyn McCall has also called for a yes vote.

However, Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ parent IAG, said a Brexit would not affect the group.

Unveiling IAG’s annual results, Walsh said: “We’ve conducted a risk analysis of a decision to leave the EU and don’t see any material risk to our business.”

His view chimed with those of rival carriers, although there are fears that uncertainty leading up to the referendum could hit demand for air travel.

Lufthansa UK general manager Christian Schindler said: “We’ve seen already [what happened to] the exchange rate with the announcement of the referendum. If people are in waiting mode, it will have an effect. Everybody expects June to be a crazy month.”

United Airlines UK managing director Bob Schumacher agreed, saying: “We have the Euro 2016 [football tournament] and the referendum in June. It could take some demand out.”

Schumacher suggested people might choose to stay at home for the referendum, adding: “It will be like no other election.”

On the impact of a Brexit, he said: “Nobody knows. We carry on regardless.” Schumacher also downplayed the effect of a falling pound on US bookings, saying: “The US is perceived as value and a safe destination.”

Nat Pieper, Delta Air Lines’ senior vice-president for Europe, took a similar view. “If the UK pulls out, it isn’t going to be like a light switch,” he said. “Our partnerships with Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM will continue. With London, Paris and Amsterdam [as hubs], we have the ability to be agile.

“Whatever happens with the pound, we’ll try to deal with it. We’ve got a lot smarter at reacting to swings in currency.”

Leading corporate travel executives agreed.

Adam Knights, managing director of travel management company ATPI, said: “ATPI hasn’t taken a position, but we have operations in all EU countries. They will still need to deal with each other. Volkswagen is still going to want to sell cars in Britain. I can’t believe we aren’t going to come to trade deals with Germany and France.

“Obviously, your euros and dollars won’t go as far for the next few months.”

Clive Wratten, chief executive of travel management firm CTI, said: “Generally, uncertainty is not good. Being in the EU makes it a whole lot easier to travel in Europe, but people need to travel [and] we’ll facilitate it.”

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said last month: “When it comes to our industry, a common market is not as important as to many others.”

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