Ryanair will be ‘the first airline to return to Ukraine’ when it is safe, says CEO

Mar 3, 2022

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Ryanair will be the first airline to return to Ukraine when its war with Russia is over, its CEO has pledged.

Michael O’Leary made the promise at a press conference today as he revealed the Irish carrier is flying aid packages to help displaced Ukrainians fleeing their war-ravaged homeland.

He said Ryanair had been set to fly 2 million people into four airports across Ukraine before Russia invaded last Thursday but had to abandon those flights as fighting tore through the country.

Related: Wizz Air offers 100,000 seats to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion

“We will be the first airline to return to Ukraine when it is safe to do so … but I suspect it will take until next winter, when hopefully the Ukrainians will have seen off the Russians and sent them back to where they came from,” he said.

Airlines had faced a desperate scramble to evacuate their planes from Ukraine last week after Russia “essentially disabled a lot of the flight systems” at major airports, O’Leary revealed. Soon after, Ukrainian airspace became a no-fly zone to all but military aircraft.

But O’Leary stressed his commitment to the Ukrainian cause saying Ryanair was packing humanitarian supplies into the holds of Poland-bound planes, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have already fled. It was “the first time in 30 years” that the airline had done so, he said.

Related: How you can join us in supporting Ukraine now

The U.N. has said Poland has so far taken in over 453,000 refugees while the Polish government says a further 50,000 are arriving every day.

Speaking at a press conference in the City of London, O’Leary said that the best way to punish Russia would be for the West to “drive down the price of oil”.

He added: “We do want to see the Ukrainians succeed. We’ve cancelled all Ukrainian routes until the end of March. We do not believe it will be possible to fly to Ukraine for the foreseeable future.”

Ryanair has already seen a “significant surge” in bookings to Poland as Ukrainian expats travel to “reunite with family and friends”

But he also said he expected this summer to be a bumper season for the short-haul travel business thanks to pent-up demand for foreign beach breaks among holidaymakers who spent last summer at home.

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That, combined with the fact long-haul flying has grown riskier and more expensive due to COVID-19 and the closure of Russian airspace, has prompted Ryanair to add 14 new destinations to its summer schedule.

“If you holidayed in Bognor Regis or Scotland or the west of Ireland last summer, in a caravan in the gales and the rain, you are going [abroad]”, he added.

He went on to say Ryanair expected to host some 44 million holidaymakers this summer, a boost that would see Ryanair overtake easyJet as the U.K.’s largest airline.

Earlier, Wizz Air – the U.K. third-largest airline – offered 100,000 free plane tickets to Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homeland.

Featured image by John Keeble/Getty Images.

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