Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has told Sky News it is expecting countries across Europe, including the UK, to stop “locking people down” from June despite media “hysteria” on whether summer holidays will be allowed.

He was speaking as the airline revealed an “expanded” UK summer schedule, including 26 new routes, based on the assumption that the government will allow holiday travel despite growing worries about surging COVID-19 cases in many European countries.

In an interview with Ian King Live, Mr O’Leary denied it was a gamble and credited UK vaccine success saying it was clear that holiday hotspot nations including Greece, Spain and Portugal wanted to welcome UK travellers who had been vaccinated.

He rated the chances at higher than 50% and also insisted that the airline was making good on the crisis era issue of refunds, with a backlog of direct requests cleared and new claims being handled within 24 hours online.

Jaunts abroad are currently banned under measures to contain the spread of the disease – with MPs due to vote this week on fines of £5,000 for those who flout the rules.

The government’s global travel taskforce is expected to make recommendations on restarting foreign travel on 5 April though industry hopes of a vaccine-led green light from May 17th have taken a knock in recent days.

PM Boris Johnson has warned a third wave of the virus on the continent will inevitably hit the UK while there are fears too that any vaccine export block imposed by the EU will add to bumps in the road ahead for the UK’s vaccine rollout.

Ryanair said that it was the comparable success of the UK’s jab provision that had given Ryanair the confidence to broaden its summer 2021 schedule.

Travel firms have reported a surge of bookings this year through pent-up demand for trips abroad, despite government advice that it is too early to make plans.

Companies, including Ryanair, have been advertising aggressively in a bid to boost business in an industry that has paid a high price for the public health emergency.

It has seen British Airways cut 13,000 jobs, Virgin Atlantic vastly reduced in size after its rescue from near collapse while Flybe was the first corporate casualty of the crisis.

On Wednesday, TUI placed 273 jobs at risk through plans to close a further 48 high street travel shops.

Ryanair has cut jobs but managed to mitigate the impact of the pandemic through new deals with pilots and crew.

Its summer schedule includes over 2,300 weekly flights from the UK across 480 routes, including 26 new routes to “popular” holiday destinations in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

(c) Sky News 2021: COVID-19: Ryanair takes gamble with ‘expanded’ summer holiday schedule

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