Airlines easyJet

easyJet expanding UK Domestic

easyJet’s life started as a small start-up airline from Luton in 1995, with two routes to Glasgow and Edinburgh, before expanding overseas to become the airline we know today.

It’s ‘roots’ have always been set in the UK domestic market, having the most number of flights and routes from London to Scotland, and an extensive network from Belfast. Yes, we have seen links come and go – the base at Southend didn’t survive, and neither did the original Go base at East Midlands – and the long-forgotten Luton to Liverpool service in the early 2000’s.

easyJet is now the UK’s largest domestic carrier (in terms of the number of seats), and after expending their offering last summer following the collapse of flyBe – with additional services from Birmingham and Manchester, easyJet is expanding its reach further again with border restrictions continuing.

In it’s most recent round of additions are some returnees to the network, along with time-specific services and those which would appeal to those looking for a British seaside holiday:

London Gatwick – Belfast City
Belfast International – Leeds Bradford
Belfast International – East Midlands
Newcastle – Jersey (returning)
Liverpool – Bournemouth
Bristol – Aberdeen
Bristol – Jersey
Newquay – Inverness
Birmingham – Newquay
Birmingham – Jersey
Manchester – Aberdeen
Manchester – Edinburgh

Some are quite easy to see which would appeal to the holiday market, and have been operated by other airlines in the past. Birmingham to Jersey and Newquay were operated by flyBe (and Newquay was one of bmibaby’s more successful routes from Birmingham), while Newcastle to Jersey returns – despite being one of Jet2’s seasonal offerings with competition also from Loganair.

More core regional connectivity has also been added. Gatwick to Belfast City was a former flyBe route before they sold the slots to easyJet, along with Manchester to Edinburgh and Aberdeen, which follow a similar path instigated at Birmingham.

There are some which may seem surprising. Liverpool to Bournemouth for example – however with so many cruises travelling around the UK this summer, the ports of Southampton/Portsmouth, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh (as long as restrictions are lifted), and the cruises not always starting and ending in the same place, there is a possibility that a flight would be beneficial over a train.

Some might not last the season, although given the situation we find ourselves in that shouldn’t be surprising. However, this is easyJet further flexing their muscle in a market they have historically enjoyed and prospered in.


Could EasyJet introduce ‘Business Class’?

EasyJet and ‘Business Class’ are not what you expect to find next to each other in a sentence, but it could be happening as part of a wider push to create loyalty which includes a new loyalty scheme.

EasyJet already has three products, confusingly easyJet Plus both refers to the onboard ‘upgraded’ product and the easyJet Plus Card which for a yearly subscription gives access to these benefits on every flight and more.

The Plus product is bookable through the purchase of an ‘upfront or extra legroom seat’ after or during the booking process. This also gives you the added benefit of Speedy Boarding and an extra cabin bag, and access to a separate check in desk. The card also gives fast track security in some destinations as well.

A future ‘business class’ product would essentially be an extension of this. It has been rumoured there will be a trail of a separate cabin (the upfront cabin) on some routes from Gatwick, specifically those which are business heavy – Amsterdam, Milan, Zurich etc. They would come with a higher fare, and like many other European business class products, the middle seat would remain free – giving more space onboard. These would be designated by different coloured head rests.

Although not actually specified, you would have thought the existing easyJet Plus and possibly easyJet Plus benefits would remain – the separate check in desk, speedy boarding and fast track security.

Currently easyJet Plus isn’t a frequent flyer scheme, but appeals to frequent flyers due to the value proposition, it only pays if you fly a few times a year. For those who fly a lot (at least 20 one-way flights, or £1500 in value) there is the mysterious easyJet Flight Club, of which I am a member. While it isn’t a traditional scheme, it does have nice benefits such as changing flights free of charge (plus any additional fare) and name changes on a dedicated phone number.

A new Frequent Flyer scheme would appear to merge the two together, combined with a new loyalty proposition. Effectively fly so many flights and get one free. There will be tiers as well, which come with added benefits – but unlike traditional schemes you will be able to pay for membership of that tier, effectively in a similar fashion as you do at the moment with easyJet Plus. The top tier may also include independent lounge access, at the airports which have them.

So, is it really business class? Probably not in the way we know it, but it is a recognition from easyJet there is a demographic which would appreciate these changes, especially where they are taking market share from the legacy carriers.


A Squeeze of Orange?

The European aviation scene is an interesting one at the moment with a lot of movement between the big players. There are those who are going to miss out, and those which could potentially make large capacity gains, leaving just three of four groups.

With the ever increasing attempt of creating a more ‘upmarket’ image Ryanair are really the ones to watch. They have an extraordinary amount of aircraft on order, not just to replace the current fleet, but to add it making it the largest carrier in Europe. The assault at going upmarket is going to spill over into serving primary airports, something their business plan has avoided over the last 20 years.

We have already seen this happen in some markets, they already have some slots at Amsterdam, as well as Barcelona El Prat, Madrid, Brussels, Copenhagen, Milan Malpensa, Rome Fiumicino, Athens and Lisbon. It is not co-insidental that easyJet also operate from all of those airports and have bases in the majority of them. This challenge is only ever going to increase from Ryanair, but its not just them, there is also some serious challenges now by IAG owned Vueling, who are also muscling in on historically easyJet bases.

easyJet have always been strong in the UK market. They first set up camp at Luton airport in the mid-90’s, and then expended to Gatwick, before buying Go which gave them other bases at Stansted, East Midlands and Bristol. Another purchase, this time BA franchise partner GB Airways gave them a stronger hold at Gatwick and Manchester, with FlyBe slots at Gatwick enhansing their portfolio. So, yes, easyJet have a strong position in the UK, especially at Luton and Gatwick.

Abroad, easyJet has had mixed sucess. They have long held their base at Geneva which is very sucessful, as is Paris. There have however been some failures: Madrid was closed as a base, so was Rome recently and East Midlands which was a difficult market.

The recent base closure of Rome is an interesting one, where both Vueling and Ryanair deceded upon them forcing easyJet out. It also saw the end of the much heralded at the time Linate to Fiumicino shuttle which they won rights for, only to be closed shortly afterwards. Making the case that the aircraft were better off at new bases Venice, Naples and at their historic Italian base in Milan Malpensa it isnt going to be an ‘easy’ ride there either – especially at Milan, where Ryanair is trying hard to compete head to head.

It is not just abroad though where the challenges are being felt. You just have to look at the first ever easyJet base at Luton. They really do have the upper hand at the airport, complimenting Wizzair who operate to eastern Europe extensively. With a low cost wing opening, Copenhagen had been hoping it would attract low cost carriers to the airport with incentives to fly there. It worked and both Ryaniar and easyJet set up a Luton to Copenhagen schedule – from nothing to a crazy 8 flights per day between them. The fares are extremely low and seem to be attracting passengers, although it cant do anything for the yield for either airline, sometimes you can get seats for £20 return.

Despite going up against Monarch on some sunshine routes from the beginning, it is now Vueling who are getting in on the act up against easyJet coming to their home turf. Not only that, but the three routes already announced are all going toe for toe against the orange airline. This summer IAG-backed Vueling will operate twice a day to Amsterdam and Barcelona, with a six time a week service to Zurich. One would assume further routes are planned to link their bases – maybe Rome or Madrid could be on the cards for the winter. Air France and KLM backed Transavia will be operating Luton to Paris Orly this summer, going up against easyJet’s Charles de Gaulle service.

It is going to be tough for easyJet where they don’t already have the upper hand to compete with the ever unstoppable Ryanair, and Vueling – the newcomers on the scene with big backers. It doesnt have the cost per seat advantage Ryanair has to have low prices, doesnt have the same number of aircraft on order, and doesnt have the distribution channel IAG can provide Vueling.

Gatwick will remain strong given their slot position, although a number of routes have already been dropped given competition from other London airports – notably in Germany including Cologne and Strasbourg.

At airports like Milan Malpensa, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Zurich, they are a lot more exposed to advansing airlines.

It is going to be an interesting couple of years, but surely a lack of ambition won’t derail one of the most iconic airlines in European aviation.


Backwards is the new Forwards

We are heading into a new cycle in travel, it was once all about the internet and ‘low cost airlines’ flying to places you didn’t really want to go. That is changing though, and not really for the reasons which most people think.

Yes, the internet and low cost airlines are not going anywhere, in fact they continue to thrive, but what we are seeing is a revolution, a revolution which sees the customer as king once again which a revisit to the motto ‘The customer is always right’.

We can trace this back somewhat to the change of CEO at easyJet. When Andy Harrison left the company was in trouble. It was beginning to pick up a reputation for lateness, along with indifferent product which had been ridiculed by the customer, especially in the UK after the famous Airline programme on ITV followed their earlier beginnings. With Carolyn McCall onboard hot from the media industry, the customer was put right at the heart of what the company does.

Although still keeping the low cost structure elements which customers had been crying out for were slowly introduced.  Allocated seating was the big one, and at the time a big step being the largest low cost airline in Europe to introduce it. There were question marks if doing this would have an impact on turnaround times, but after a trial it was rolled out network wide. It now also adds revenue to the bottom line that to a higher take up of people purchasing seats than people taking up the ‘Speedy Boarding’ offer.

More recent changes have included a ‘beefed up’ business offering for regular flyers, and the introduction of a more generous two cabin bag allowance for easyJet Plus customers. The constant creation of routes from primary airports have really helped the business market, along with a more business-like and professional branding.

So well received has this new, more ‘premium’ push by easyJet that Ryanair has started copying those features. Under the ‘Always Getting Better’ plan they aim to shed themselves of the cheap and nasty airline of old to one which is cheap and cheerful. Like easyJet, Ryanair has reintroduced allocated seating on all its flights, and has a two cabin bag allowance throughout the aircraft, although the larger bags are limited to 90 per flight.

Following a change of philosophy through the winter, Ryanair started flying more through the usually unpopular winter months. These were not new routes, but beefing up schedules on routes which may appeal to business like London to Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Milan and Athens. A push into primary airports like Barcelona El Prat, Rome Fiumicino, Brussels and Cologne have shown the commitment to this. A better website and digital offering is set to revolutionise how we book air travel bringing Ryanair back to the fore once again.

That takes us to the kings of central Europe, Wizzair. Today, the 19th May is their 11th anniversary which signals a new direction for the airline which brings them now in line with the two dominates in European point to point air travel. Wizzair has really grown with the migration within Europe since the borders have been relaxed, especially within Poland, Romania and Hungary.

Wizzair has long been the poor relation to the two, having only been created 11 years ago, well behind the curve of the established low cost carriers. It really went along the lines of the Ryanair model, connecting secondary or even teriarty airport, with a very low cost model often referred to as the ‘ULCC – Ultra Low Cost Airline’. It has even started charging for taking luggage onboard the aircraft, following the model seen in America by Sprint.

The 11th birthday is also a watershed moment for the airline, adopting some of the policies from easyJet and Ryanair, along with new branding which reflects a more professional approach.

In a press statement today, the airline said, “In its first 11 years, the airline has carried 90 million passengers, grown from a new airline platform to 59 aircraft with more than 380 routes in 38 countries. Focused on customer care since the outset, Wizz Air is also announcing a range of new enhancements aiming for a better customer experience.

“WIZZ undertook an initiative to rejuvenate its brand over the last few months and the launch of today’s refreshed brand and livery demonstrates the airlines’ continued commitment to provide a positive experience for its customers. The WIZZ brand now has a fresh, more vibrant, sophisticated look and feel and some of the initiatives being implemented.

József Váradi, Wizz Air Chief Executive, said: Over the course of the last decade, Wizz Air has had significant success in revolutionising an entire industry, and we have exceededour ambition to make reliable and affordable air travel available to everyone in Central and Eastern Europe as we extended operations all across Europe and beyond. The launch of our refreshed brand is another one of our many measures to constantly improve passengers’ travel experience. We are very excited to launch our new livery on both the A320 and our new A321. We remain focused on developing our pan-European network of routes and look forward to welcoming returning and new customers on board.”

On the other hand we have seen the larger, what we would now describe as legacy carriers going the other way. British Airways has taken the hold bag off its cheaper European fares, along with charging for seats across its entire network, unless you check in 24 hours before departure. Lufthansa is in the depths of relaunching their low-cost airline as Eurowings, which will see them also compete in the low-cost long haul market along with Condor in Germany, and also Norwegian and Thomas Cook in other markets in Europe.

A good old fashioned message of giving the customer what they want at a decent price is always going to win over the even sharpest of critics, and sometimes revisiting the past is key to success in the future.

Image via Bjorn


Iceland – Something for a Winter Weekend

Ever since easyJet launched the new Luton to Reykjavik service, I have been looking forward to my little pre-Christmas jaunt to Iceland.  Thanks to easyJet flying up to four times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday) travelling to Iceland has never been cheaper, and I wanted to see the main winter attraction – the Northern Lights.

Arriving at 11am from Luton on a cold Tuesday morning, I arrived into Keflavik Airport on a clear winter’s day.  The transfers to town are extremely well organised, there are two main excursion and transfer companies, Iceland Excursions and Reykjavik Excursions. For my little trip I used Reykjavik Excursions, and they have the benefit of having free wifi on board all their coaches.  They also have two levels of transfers to and from the airport, the standard which only takes you as far as their coach station near Reykjavik Domestic Airport, and an upgraded version which drops you off at your hotel.

Arriving at the hotel, The Icelandair Hotel Marina, which is brand new and in the up and coming Marina district of the city, it couldn’t give you any more of a welcome to Scandinavia. It has a quirky modern design, and a bar which would rival those of the most desirable in the centre of town, it really is the trendy hangout location.

Having the afternoon to myself, I decided to have a look around the city. It reminds me of a large ski resort, lots of small independent shops interspersed with some really nice restaurants.  The weather can be really cold, hence why walking & skating on the local lake seems to be a favourite pastime.  Although I was out for a good 4 hours, I was really surprised at how late it got dark, at least gone 4pm, which is what we are used to in the UK at this time of year.

That evening I went straight for the main event, the Northern Lights.  Again I went for the cheaper bus option with Reykjavik excursions, and with the tours they pick you up from the hotel as standard. To my surprise there were actually 5 coaches going, mostly filled with Japanese students! At 9pm the coaches left, and we headed inland. It took about an hour to get to our final destination, somewhere near the rift valley and the old parliament. It only took about half an hour in sub-zero temperatures, but the Northern Lights did come out – not at their brightest, but at least I did see them. Due to the travelling time I didn’t get back to the hotel until gone 1.30 am, so you really do need to plan your trip carefully.

The next morning, really early I departed on the Golden Circle tour. With Reykjavik Excursions they have the added bonus of travelling to a Tomato factory, where they use the geo-thermal heat to grow tomatoes all year round. The next stop was Gullfoss and the amazing waterfall, and then on the nearby Geysers, one of the iconic stops on a visit to Iceland. Due to the time of the year everything was really icy, so although the tour was supposed to finish at 4.30, it was nearer 6pm actually arriving at the hotel due to the coach having to put show chains on for quite a bit of the journey.

Going to Iceland in winter is something that I could really, really recommend, and it will surprise you. Out of anywhere I have been in the world, I could say that it is the most unique and interesting place you could ever imagine.