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Is there any middle ground? You bet there is as EasyJet woos business travelers, and legacy airlines such as Lufthansa and British Airways streamline operations and develop low-cost units.
EasyJet Plc will add Amsterdam to its list of bases next year, extending the discount carrier’s reach into European hub airports dominated by full-service rivals such as Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG.
The continent’s No. 2 discount carrier will base three Airbus A320 jets in the Dutch capital starting in 2015, a push it predicts will add 600,000 passengers, an increase of 16 percent. EasyJet plans to boost the number of routes flown from the KLM hub, beginning with Hamburg, Germany, this November.
Under Chief Executive Officer Carolyn McCall, EasyJet has intensified efforts to siphon off business passengers, offering allocated seats, flexible tickets, fast-tracking and higher frequencies on key routes. EasyJet now operates 247 flights a week to Amsterdam from 20 cities and one beach destination, with about 30 percent of passengers flying on business.
“It’s highly strategic for us,” McCall said of the base selection. “We’ve been flying here for 18 years, we understand the market, we know the airport,” the executive said in an interview at Schiphol Airport today. “As part of our network connectivity, it’s a very good time.”
EasyJet will more than double capacity growth this summer, adding 6.7 percent more seats in the six months through September compared with a year earlier. The carrier is boosting its position at Rome Fiumicino Airport about 33 percent and ramping up its presence at London Gatwick with slots bought from Flybe Group Plc.
The push comes as network airlines including Lufthansa and British Airways parent IAG SA strive to streamline operations and develop competitive low-cost units. Lufthansa said last week it plans to establish a long-haul discount arm and transform its short-haul unit Eurowings into a carrier capable of competing with the likes of EasyJet and Ryanair Holdings Plc.
“The legacy carriers are still restructuring,” McCall said. “There is quite a long way to go. There are legacy issues, structural issues, that make short-haul flying for legacy carriers really difficult.”
About 12 million of EasyJet’s current annual total of 63 million passengers are business travelers. McCall has estimated that about 86 million short-haul passengers flying from Europe’s top 20 airports each year could migrate to discount airlines from network carriers.
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