DUBLIN - Ryanair's Christmas bookings are running ahead of pre-pandemic levels, with average air fares up by a low double-digit percentage as passengers travel freely for the first time in three years, Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said on Thursday.

"Christmas is very strong. At the moment Christmas bookings are running ahead of where they were pre-COVID in 2019 and pricing is ahead by a low double-digit percentage," O'Leary told reporters.

He added that the low-cost carrier, Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers, has engaged in almost no price discounting since September, with the exception of a modest Black Friday sale, owing to the strength in demand since the summer.

(Reporting by Graham Fahy Writing by Padraic Halpin Editing by David Goodman )