Ryanair's recent charm offensive won't be enough to buck EasyJet's ascension, which is anything but polite.
EasyJet Plc, Europe’s No. 2 discount airline, grew faster than market leader Ryanair Holdings Plc last year as Chief Executive Officer Carolyn McCall refined its product offering to appeal to a wider range of clients.
EasyJet’s passenger count rose by 2.13 million, or 3.6 percent, to 61.3 million in 2013, the U.K. carrier said today. That compares with 2.3 percent growth at Ireland’s Ryanair, which added 1.8 million travelers for a total of 81.4 million.
Under McCall, EasyJet has boosted frequencies on core routes and introduced allocated seating and flexible tickets to draw corporate clients. The Luton, England-based airline lifted traffic in the first three months of 2013 even as about 80 jets were idled at Ryanair, where CEO Michael O’Leary recently began a campaign to improve standards of customer service.
The U.K. company also filled 89.3 percent of available seats on average in 2013, compared with a load factor of 83 percent at Dublin-based Ryanair, which has its biggest hub at London Stansted airport.
Shares of EasyJet doubled in value last year to 1,536 pence after a 79 percent gain in 2012. They’d added 3.4 percent this year as of 11:09 a.m. in London, valuing the business at 6.3 billion pounds ($10 billion).
Ryanair rose 32 percent in 2013 after saying Sept. 4 it might miss profit goals for the year to March 31, and is up 4.1 percent in 2014 for a value of 9 billion euros ($12 billion).
EasyJet carried 4.49 million passengers last month after a 3.5 percent gain, about 300,000 fewer than at Ryanair, where the total rose 4 percent. For the year, the gap between the two carriers remained at about 20 million travelers.
Air Berlin Plc, which ranks as the European No. 3 in budget flights while also offering long-distance leisure trips, said today that its passenger total dropped 5.4 percent last year to 31.5 million. The carrier, in which Etihad Airways PJSC of Abu Dhabi is a minority investor, scrapped earnings and debt targets on Nov. 14, citing the impact of sluggish economies.
Budapest-based Wizz Air Ltd., Eastern Europe’s biggest budget carrier and the No. 5 for the region as a whole, boosted customer numbers 12 percent in 2013 to 13.5 million, with an 86 percent load factor. Norwegian Air Shuttle AS, the No. 4, will post annual traveler figures tomorrow. The total for the 12 months through November was 20.4 million.
Aer Lingus Group Plc, Ireland’s second-biggest airline, carried 9.6 million passengers in 2013, similar to the year- earlier tally, according to a statement from the Dublin-based company, which Ryanair has been prevented from buying by antitrust regulators after building up a 30 percent stake.
Aer Lingus’s load factor of 78.4 percent lagged behind leading low-cost specialists, and the December passenger count shrank by 3,000 to 648,000 customers.
–Editors: Christopher Jasper, Benedikt Kammel
To contact the reporter on this story: Kari Lundgren in London at [email protected]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at [email protected]
Photo credit: An EasyJet Airbus aircraft is seen at Ljubljana's airport Brnik February 16, 2012. Srdjan Zivulovic / Reuters