(Fixes day in lead)
LONDON, March 22 (Reuters) - The chief executive of British airline easyJet always expected bumps along the way to a travel recovery, he said on Monday, denying that a third wave of COVID-19 infections in Europe put the carrier at risk.
Government ministers have repeatedly warned Britons not to book holidays abroad, given pandemic uncertainty, threatening airlines’ hopes for a summer recovery. The latest warnings sent travel and airline stocks down by as much as 8% on Monday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said the rise in infections in continental Europe, a so-called third wave, could head to the UK, placing the peak holiday season in further jeopardy.
“I never thought that this was going to be a straight line,” easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren told an aviation conference on Monday.
Lundgren said he expected “bumps along the way” but what was important was that vaccines were being rolled out, providing light at the end of the tunnel.
“The more you can successfully roll this out, the easier and the faster you can remove the (travel) restrictions because it will be safe to do so,” he said.
EasyJet shares were down 5% at 1523 GMT on worries over the third wave.
Data provided by conference host Eurocontrol showed that easyJet flew 92% fewer flights over the past seven days than in the same week in 2019.
In the UK, foreign holidays are currently banned. The government has said they could be allowed again from May 17 at the earliest.
EasyJet, which has raised new debt, cut costs and axed staff to survive the crisis, is well-placed for a recovery, said Lundgren, adding that there is underlying demand for travel.
Britain is due to announce on April 12 how and when overseas travel can restart.
Lundgren said he expects the government to introduce a “risk-based framework” with countries ranked on COVID-19 risk levels.
Vaccine certificates to allow those who have been inoculated to travel freely will also be “part of the mix”, he added.
Lundgren also urged governments in Europe to resist taking a zero-coronavirus approach that would keep borders shut.
“We need to get back to a place where we can travel safely and fly again with no restrictions in place,” he said.
Reporting by Sarah Young Editing by David Goodman