by Hugh Morris from The Telegraph, January 26, 2018
After a fairly torrid year for the airline industry, from the collapse of Monarch, the IT meltdown of British Airways (BA) and the relentless travails of Ryanair, easyJet seems alone in having cause for celebration.
This week the low-cost carrier announced a strong start to 2018 - sales rose more than 14 per cent to £1.14billion, revenue per seat grew and load factor increased 2.1 percentage points to 92.1 per cent - with a statement drenched in schadenfreude.
“EasyJet has seen a positive trading environment based on the strength of its network and customer proposition, capacity reductions and lower growth in easyJet markets, in particular as a result of the bankruptcies of Monarch, Air Berlin and Alitalia, as well as the impact from Ryanair’s flight cancellations,” the airline said.
The message from easyJet seems to be: through all the bluster and bust, we’ve been quietly getting on with our job.
“EasyJet is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in the current market,” the airline said, looking ahead to 2018.
Does easyJet carry more passengers than Ryanair?
No. A glance at easyJet’s traffic figures over the last 10 years shows a steady growth, from 44.6 million in 2008 to 81.6 million last year. This year the Luton-based carrier known for its garish orange livery expects to carry 90 million people.
That puts easyJet at eighth largest in the world and second in Europe, behind, of course, Ryanair, in terms of passenger figures.
The Irish airline’s comparative graph carries a steeper line, especially since 2014, when the Irish carrier’s traffic soared. But arguably it was this breakneck growth that contributed to the scheduling crisis experienced by the airline at the end of last year, leading to the cancellation of some 700,000 bookings.
The two airlines are conceptual soulmates, both having made a success of a "no-frills" approach to air travel, both inspired by the success of Southwest Airlines in the US. Indeed, according 2016 figures, easyJet is only one spot behind Ryanair (seventh behind sixth) in the top 10 airlines that earn the most from ancillary revenue, or extra charges, with £1.04billion and £1.52billion, respectively.
Today, however, easyJet is some 50 million passengers behind its rival, is there perhaps an air of the tortoise and the hare?
Who’s in charge of easyJet?
In November, easyJet welcomed a new chief executive into the fold, to replace Carolyn McCall who left for ITV, in the shape of Johan Lundgren, a former deputy chief executive at Tui and keen trombonist. Within a month, he had overseen the purchase of a hefty chunk of Air Berlin, the finally-defunct carrier, making easyJet the largest airline in the German capital.
In the airline’s end-of-year statement, Mr Lundgren saw the acquisition as part of a strategy to grow its presence in the city.
“My aim is to help easyJet to go from strength to strength,” he said. “We expect to reach a series of milestones in 2018 including the rollout of our full summer schedule at our newly established base at Berlin Tegel.”
This year, the airline will also introduce 20 new routes, including to four new destinations (Ancona, Genoa, Nea Anchialos and Reus), from a variety of UK airports, including Southend, Gatwick and Luton and Belfast and Liverpool.
How many destinations are served by easyJet?
EasyJet boasts 132 destinations in 31 countries, all in Europe, save some in Morocco, a service to Tel Aviv, Israel, and a suspended route to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.
Anyone to have flown from London Luton will know the airline has its rather ugly base at the Bedfordshire airport, but it also has a significant presence at Gatwick, Berlin Tegel and Milan Malpensa. Its latest base, added in October, is Bordeaux.
EasyJet’s route network shows broad coverage of western and southern Europe, with a focus on key holiday destinations. Unlike some of its low-cost rivals, less attention is paid to eastern Europe, where lesser-known destinations have seen a recent rise in popularity.
For example, EasyJet has no presence in Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Ukraine or Romania.
One way easyJet differs from Ryanair is that while the latter likes to save money (and accordingly keep fares low) by flying to a destination’s secondary - or tertiary - airports, easyJet likes to fly into the main hub.
For Paris, for example, easyJet serves Charles de Gaulle, while Ryanair flies into Beauvais.
In response to the result of the European Union (EU) referendum and threat posed to the EU Open Skies agreement, easyJet established a new sister airline in Austria, affording it an European Air Operator Certificate so that it could secure flying rights to much of its network should Brexit hurt UK airlines’ access to airports on the continent.
EasyJet is this year planning to expand its “worldwide” offering, allowing its passengers to connect onto long-haul flights with two partners - Norwegian and WestJet - through a dedicated service, with tickets for the full trip purchased via the low-cost airline’s website.
Is easyJet updating its aircraft?
Easyjet, like Ryanair, only uses one model of aircraft, its plane of choice being the humble Airbus A320, of which it has 104 (it also has 114 A319, part of the A320 family). The airline claims to operate Europe’s largest fleet of A320 aircraft, with more than 300 on the books.
On order, it has some 130 new generation Airbus A320neos - the upgraded model of A320 - with the option to purchase another 100. These aircraft, of which the airline took its first delivery in August last year, promise comfort, quiet and fuel efficiency.
Former CEO Ms McCall said at the time: “The A320neo is a major step change for our fleet efficiency and will provide a cost per seat saving of up to seven per cent over the current A320, which itself has a cost saving benefit of up to eight per cent over the A319 and this benefit will enable easyJet to continue to offer our famous low fares helping to connect people across Europe for work and play.”
In May this year, easyJet swapped 30 of its A320neo orders for A321neos, seating 235 passengers (as opposed to the A320’s 186). The airline said the larger planes will allow the carrier to grow at airports with little available capacity, with A321neos replacing A319 providing 50 per cent more seats.
What does this mean for travellers? The airline says the new aircraft features a number of developments such as galleys with a more modern design including much larger ovens so more food can be cooked simultaneously, a partition in front of row 1ABC providing privacy and more protection from the elements during boarding, a fully wheelchair accessible toilet in the rear galley, new seat pockets, new carpets throughout the cabin and a new tray table design on which customers will be able to stand a tablet device. Leg room and seat width will remain the same.
The contest between the new Airbus and Boeing models is likely to be a defining battle for air supremacy over the next few decades. As it stands, the A320neo and its sister aircraft has been ordered 5,995 times, while the 737 MAX has 4,306.
What's easyJet's unique selling point?
Launched in 2016, the airline’s Generation easyJet adverts have closely targeted an age group more likely to spend their disposable income taking advantage of ever-cheaper air travel than putting it towards what may feel like the unattainable goal of hopping onto a rung of the property ladder.
The positive campaign is representative of an airline that sees itself at the centre of youthful, free and easy city breaks and summer getaways. One of its most recent slogans aimed at the same demographic is simply: “Why not?”.
The approach is in contrast to that of Ryanair, which often uses eye-catching low fare sales and gimmicky, sometimes controversial, marketing stunts to garner attention.
But it hasn’t always been thus. In 2003, easyJet was heavily criticised - though not censured - for its “discover weapons of mass distraction” advert that featured the slogan above a close up and enlarged photo of a women’s breasts in a push-up bra.
EasyJet’s founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, once in the news as much as his Irish counterpart Michael O’Leary, is now more detached from the airline, having become unhappy with the carrier’s expansion plans.
Has easyJet been involved in any controversies?
In addition to the aforementioned advert, the airline was reproached by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for an advert in which the carrier claimed its aircraft released 22 per cent fewer emissions than other airlines, a figure not found to be based on emissions from easyJet aircraft.
In 2013, an advert stating: “This year, end up in Malaga, not Margate” was criticised by Kent locals before it was pulled by the carrier.
The airline also came under fire in 2011 when it refused to fly with a boy with muscular dystrophy because he had an electric wheelchair. In 2012, a French court found the airline guilty of discriminating against three disabled passengers in 2008 and 2009 and fined the carrier €70,000, after it did not allow unaccompanied wheelchair users onto a plane at Paris Charles de Gaulle.
In 2013, passengers on an easyJet flight were told it could not take off because the aircraft was 300 kilograms overweight due to an “exceptionally high proportion of male passengers” began an impromptu whip around the plane to encourage other fliers to leave the aircraft for the next flight. Travellers said it was to top up the £100 compensation offered by the airline, which did not seem to be enough to attract takers.