By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - A recent softening in demand for Ryanair flights out of Britain may be due to a weakening economy or the impact of a "particularly trying month" of strikes, but it is too early to say if this will continue, a senior executive told Reuters on Tuesday.
Ryanair last week sharply raised its forecast for full-year after-tax profit following stronger than expected holiday travel and fares. But the company also said softer traffic and pricing for flights out of Britain would be a drag in the first three months of the year.
Eddie Wilson, the head of Ryanair DAC, the largest airline in the group, said the dip in December - which also affected traffic between provincial Irish and UK airports - may well be an aberration.
"There's no doubt that the UK economy by any stretch of the imagination, in terms of going into recession or whatever, is different than the other European economies," Wilson told Reuters in an interview.
"It may be reflected in that or it may be short term stuff to do with just a general bad feeling in the UK."
"If you can't get to the airport (due to rail strikes), the NHS (National Health Service) are on strike, border force are on strike, that may have been reflected in some unwillingness to travel... It's too early to say if that is going to continue."
Britain faces more strikes by workers demanding higher pay after meetings between ministers and trade unions on Monday failed to end a wave of stoppages across sectors from healthcare to transport.
Wilson said the fact that Ryanair did not call out anything else when raising its earnings guidance signalled that Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers saw strong demand elsewhere last month.
But he also said COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine continued to make it difficult to fully assess the general outlook.
"You can see in December that there was certainly pent up demand. In the school holidays in October, there was pent up demand. So all things being equal, and there's no interruption, you would imagine travel is going to be strong, but there's a huge caveat over that," Wilson said.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin. Editing by Jane Merriman)