As airline bosses warn that average fares for the summer will swell to above 2019 levels, The Independent can reveal that the price of a Ryanair round-trip to Italy in May increases 18-fold within the course of a week.

From London Stansted to Pisa – the gateway to Tuscany – the Monday evening flight on 23 May costs only £11.99 – less than the £13 in Air Passenger Duty that Ryanair must pay when a passenger flights from a UK airport.

The mid-morning flight on Thursday 26 May is the same price, giving a return fare of just under £24.

Yet the identical flights exactly a week later, during the main half-term in England, costs dramatically more: £269 outbound and £159 coming back, producing a total fare of £428.

The inbound flight has actually fallen by almost £100 during the course of Thursday. At 9am this morning the return trip cost £525.

Everything about the trips is identical, apart from the fare: same aircraft, same timings, same small baggage allowance.

Air fares traditionally soar for flights during school holidays, and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee holiday weekend is also increasing demand for the days immediately before the celebrations start on 2 June.

Yet the extreme variation in air fares is far more pronounced this summer. Off-peak departures seem stubbornly slow to sell, while demand for family friendly lights is intense.

Earlier this week Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said that average summer air fares will be “high single digits ahead” of pre-pandemic levels.

Announcing the airline’s half-year figures, Mr O’Leary said: “There’s so much pent-up demand from families for holidays. They’ve been locked up for 18 months or two years. There is certainly going to be a very strong return to the beaches of Europe this summer.”

His words were echoed earlier today by Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, who was also commenting on his carrier’s half-year results. At an analysts’ meeting, he spoke of “a big pent-up demand across the network – stronger in the UK than elsewhere”.

The airline says average fares for travel in July, August and September are 15 per cent ahead of 2019, the last normal summer before the coronavirus pandemic.

Fares last researched direct with Ryanair website at 4pm on Thursday 19 May.

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