EasyJet is axing up to 4,500 jobs after its boss warned that the crisis faced by airlines is even worse than rivals have predicted.
Chief executive Johan Lundgren is planning to sack 30pc of the budget airline's workforce because its business has been wrecked by coronavirus - and he warned that demand for air travel will not recover until 2023.
The redundancies mean key British flight operators have announced as many as 22,500 job cuts since the crisis began. They are a further sign that what was a golden age for air travel has come to a crashing halt.
Mr Lundgren said: “We think that this is going to take a longer time [than other airlines].
“If I’m wrong, and this comes back earlier, nobody would be happier than myself.”
Competitors Ryanair and Wizz Air have both said that they believe that the recovery will come in 2021.
EasyJet's more gloomy forecast chimes with warnings from Gatwick airport that social distancing rules, a slump in business travel and holidaymakers' reluctance to venture far afield mean it could take far longer for a return to 2019 levels.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the aviation industry to its knees, with all but a handful of passenger services grounded. Expecting a prolonged period of lower demand for air travel, carriers have now started on massive job cuts.
British Airways last month announced up to 12,000 redundancies, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic are planning to cull 3,000 positions each.
Easyjet will reduce its fleet alongside the lay-offs.
Mr Lundgren said: “The consequences of this are something that we have to do. I personally feel horrible. These are not decisions that are taken lightly.
“You do it for two reasons: you’ve got to make sure that you survive this crisis.
"And then make sure that you set yourself up to be able to compete successfully in that environment. That preserves jobs in the long-term - but it is a horrendous decision to have to take."
Airlines' faint hopes of a fast recovery were dashed earlier this month when ministers announced that everyone flying into Britain will be forced to quarantine for 14 days.
Boris Johnson is now under pressure to establish a series of “air bridges”, allowing Britons to travel to and from countries with low rates of Covid-19 when a the rule is introduced on June 8.
The quarantine, unveiled by Home Secretary Priti Patel last Friday, has incensed the airlines and airports. Many believe ministers failed to consult them over the plans.
Mr Lundgren said: “We think there should have been bigger involvement with the industry.
“How do you explain to British people that Germans and different nationalities will be able to go to Greece for a summer holiday - where there is less risk of being infected than in places in the UK? What is the rationale behind this?
The easyJet chief executive said he was in talks with the Department for Transport on rolling out air bridges and predicted that the quarantine will not be in place for long.
The airline said it will operate 51 fewer aircraft than planned by the end of 2021 and plans to operate at just 30pc capacity in the final three months of 2020.
Europe's second-largest budget airline already deferred the delivery of 24 planes from Airbus, reducing short-term costs by more than £1bn. It also borrowed £1.1bn to shore up its balance sheet, including tapping a state-backed emergency loan scheme.
The company has had a tumultuous two weeks in which it saw off a shareholder vote led by founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou to oust its senior management team, and its finance chief resigned. The carrier also fell victim to what it called a "highly sophisticated" cyber attack in which 9m customers' details were accessed.