This airline’s flights could be completely free within a decade

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Moya Crockett
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There are certain airlines that lend new meaning to the phrase “no frills”. On these super low-budget flights, not only do you get no frills; you’re also spared the expense of food, reserved seating, or the ability to stretch your legs for more than three centimetres in front of you.

But even for the cheapest of cheap airlines, allowing people to fly for free might seem like a step too far.

Not according to the head of Ryanair, however, who has claimed that seats on his airline’s flights could be given away for nothing by 2026.

Speaking on Tuesday, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said that he hopes to offer zero-cost fares within a decade.

“The challenge for us in the future is to keep driving air fares down,” O’Leary told the Airport Operators Association conference in London (sounds fun, right?).

“I have this vision that in the next five to 10 years the air fares on Ryanair will be free, in which case the flights will be full.”

The logistics behind O’Leary’s rather mind-boggling claim are slightly dry, so bear with us. According to the IB Times, it’s all to do with the increasingly good deals that Ryanair has been offered by European airports in recent years – combined with a potential reduction of air passenger duty (APD).

Short haul passengers are currently charged £13 in APD for every departing flight from the UK, a fee which rises to £146 for long haul passengers. But the British government has been called upon to cut APD by 50% in its Autumn Statement – a move which airlines say would create 61,000 new jobs by 2020.

O’Leary said that cutting APD would allow airlines to make a profit without charging passengers for seats.

“We will be making our money out of sharing the airport revenues; all of the people who will be running through airports, and getting a share of the shopping and the retail revenue at airports,” he said. “Instead of promotional tickets being £9 or £5 they will be free.”

In other words, Ryanair will be kept afloat by the cash you splash in the airport, rather than the money you spend on your actual flight. And if APD is scrapped entirely – as it has been in Ireland – you might not even have to pay tax on your air tickets.

The famously outspoken O’Leary, who supported the Remain campaign during the referendum, also slammed the government ministers in charge of Brexit – comparing them to the hapless characters in WW2 sitcom Dad’s Army.

The airline boss said there is “very little evidence” that ministers know how Brexit will play out, “apart from some mildly lunatic optimism over here that it will be all right on the night.”

“It’s like Dad’s Army going off to war here,” O’Leary continued, adding: “These guys have no idea where they're going for the next two years and the problem is that in the absence of any discussions with the Europeans on Brexit they’re all talking to themselves.

“They stand up in the Houses of Parliament [and say] ‘We're going to do a good deal for Britain’. Any idea what a good deal looks like? No, they haven't a clue.”

He concluded: “The UK is going to walk itself off a cliff unless somebody in the Tory Party comes up with a bright idea.”

Images: iStock, Rex Features