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