Ryanair has lost a a High Court case challenging the Irish Government’s Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The budget airline had challenged the legality of travel advice published by the Irish Government in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ryanair claimed the travel restrictions imposed were ‘unlawful’ and amounted to a disproportionate interference in the rights of the airline and its passengers.
Today, Mr Justice Garrett Simons ruled that the Government had ‘acted lawfully’ in providing travel advice and public health advice in respect of the coronavirus pandemic on a non-statutory basis.
He said: ‘The Government is entitled, in the exercise of the executive power, to provide such advice to the public.’
Ryanair claimed the restrictions were unconstitutional and sought various orders and declarations, including an order setting aside the restrictions announced in late July.
These included measures stating that people should not travel outside of Ireland, except for essential purposes, and that everyone should holiday at home this year.
Ryanair maintained that what had been published by the Government went ‘well beyond mere travel advice’ and represented the ‘imposition of restrictions on international travel.’
Judge Simons today rejected the airline’s argument.
‘Ryanair’s principal complaint is that, as a matter of domestic constitutional law, the Government, in publishing the impugned travel advice, exceeded its executive powers and trespassed upon the legislative power,’ he said.
‘These arguments have been rejected.’
Under the current public health guidelines, any person entering the Irish State is advised to restrict their movements for a period of 14 days.
This advice does not apply to travellers entering the Irish State from a small number of countries identified on the so-called ‘green list.’
In its ruling, the High Court said the information published on the Government’s official websites presented an ‘accurate portrayal’ of the legal status of the travel advice and public health advice.
‘The advice to avoid non-essential travel and to restrict movements on entry to the State is just that: advice,’ the ruling said.
‘The Government merely requests that persons entering the State from a country not on the “green list” restrict their movements for 14 days. As of August 2020, there had been no legal requirement to do so.’
Ireland has some of the strictest Covid-19 travel advice in Europe, advising against non-essential travel to all but four countries, namely Cyprus, Finland, Latvia and Liechtenstein. Those four countries, however, have also imposed restrictions on incoming passengers from Ireland.
Last month Ryanair blasted Ireland’s top officials, claiming the nation’s airlines were being ‘locked up like North Korea’ as a result of the pandemic.
Ryanair told This is Money that holidaymakers who have booked flights and no longer wish to travel due to Government guidance but have not had their flights cancelled may still face a ‘change fee’ and have to fork out the difference in air fare costs if they want to change their flight dates.
The airline told This is Money: ‘For non-cancelled flights, standard T&Cs apply.
‘Passengers who do not wish to travel on their booked flight can move it to another date, in which case, a flight change fee and the difference in fare may apply.’
Shares in Ryanair are down over 2 per cent to €11.28 today.
Ryanair’s response to High Court decision
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ryanair, said: ‘We welcome the High Court decision, which confirms there is no legal requirement for the current travel restrictions.
‘This means that travel to/from Ireland to 15 countries on the green and amber lists, including Germany, UK, Italy, Greece, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Malta, Cyprus, Finland, Norway, Latvia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania can take place without restrictions in accordance with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) ‘traffic light’ system.
‘We call on the Irish Govt. to immediately adopt the EU “traffic light” system and to also implement the recommendations of its own Aviation Task Force report.
‘If the Government adopts the EU “traffic light” system with no restrictions for green and amber countries it will avoid the closure of Ryanair’s Cork and Shannon bases.’
Passenger numbers tumbling
Earlier today, Ryanair admitted that it had seen passenger numbers drop by 64 per cent last month compared to figures at the same point a year ago.
The airline flew 5.1million people to destinations in September, compared with 14.1million in the same month last year.
Ryanair said it operated around 53 per cent of its normal September schedule with a load factor, which is the industry measure of how full the planes are, of 71 per cent.
In recent weeks, Ryanair announced that it planned to cut a further one in five of its flights scheduled to jet off this month, blaming ‘excessive and defective’ ongoing and ever-changing travel restrictions.
In a bid to drive up passenger numbers, Ryanair has been trying to tempt customers weary of lockdown to buy-one-get-one-free deals and seats for £5.
But, across the UK and Ireland, officials are imposing ever-shifting travel restrictions and quarantine measures on holidaymakers. Last night, it was announced that holidaymakers arriving in the UK from Poland, Turkey and and three Caribbean islands would have to self-isolate for 14 days from 4am this Saturday.
Rapidly shifting goalposts are off-putting for many holidaymakers, who face an uphill struggle trying to get valid travel insurance and run the risk of losing thousands of pounds if their travel plans are scrapped or changed at the last minute.
Jobs in jeopardy
Last month, Ryanair boss O’Leary claimed that without an extension or replacement for furlough, pilots and cabin crew would be put on unpaid leave ‘for the winter.’
He told Sky News: ‘We want to keep our pilots and our cabin crew employed and paid, but we’re going to have to have huge Government assistance for that.
‘Otherwise I’m afraid they’re all going to have to go on unpaid leave for the winter.’
He also refused to confirm he wouldn’t be sacking more staff.
‘Winter bookings, forward bookings, at the moment are terrible… we can’t rule out job losses’, he added.
Ryanair has previously suggested that it could end up having to cut 3,000 jobs as a result of the pandemic, with many staff already lumped with hefty pay cuts. The airline has also warned it may be forced to close its bases in Cork and Shannon by the end of this month if travel restrictions are not loosened.
The pandemic has triggered a jobs bloodbath within the aviation sector. British Airways owner IAG announced last month that it had already cut over 8,000 jobs across its operations. Up to 5,000 further job cuts at the airline are in the pipeline.
After warning that over 700 pilots could end up losing their jobs earlier this year, easyJet has struck a deal with its union that appears to involves no compulsory job redundancies.