So, the worst has happened, just as Ryanair said it would. The budget airline has had to cancel thousands of flights – around 50 of them, every day, for the next six weeks. It follows an ominous warning that was made by chief executive Michael O' Leary last month:
“What is increasingly likely to happen is that there will be no flights. Mrs May and the Brexiteers will be trying to explain that to you in 12 months’ time, why getting a car to Scotland or a ferry to Ireland are the only options on offer.”
Except, that is, while last month’s warning concerned Brexit, this week’s cancellations concerned a cock-up of Ryanair’s own making. As explained on Ryanair’s Facebook page:
“We have messed up on the planning of pilot holidays and we’re working hard to fix that”.
Obviously, the fact that Ryanair has problems with scheduling its pilots’ holidays does not, of itself, mean that Brexit presents no problems for airlines. But what has happened this week does rather speak of the culture of the company. For months it has been trying to tell us that Brexit will mean serious disruption of flights, if not the cessation of many routes altogether. In last month’s outburst, O’Leary suggested that the EU had decided that threatening to disrupt aviation was the way to ‘stick it to the British’ in order to force all kinds of concessions from Britain.
It is all bluster: every day, hundreds of flights depart from EU airports to destinations outside the EU – without any obvious problem. Why should Britain suddenly find itself isolated? Moreover, Ryanair is an Irish company – it will remain part of the EU economy after Brexit. So, even if the EU were prepared to sacrifice its own tourist industry in order to spite Britain, is it really going to want to stop an EU-based airline flying to Britain?
Meanwhile, O’ Leary might be best advised to concentrate on his own operations – and how he is going to compensate the thousands of passengers who have been affected. I don’t think his beloved EU is going to be very impressed if Ryanair tries to fob off its passengers.