EasyJet will ramp up its Aberdeen-Gatwick service to daily flights as soon as there is enough demand to justify the increase, the budget airline’s UK boss has said.
Ali Gayward, UK manager for Luton-based easyJet also revealed the start date for the relaunch of a service linking Inverness with Belfast.
Twice weekly flights between the Highland capital and Belfast International Airport will take off on July 2, she said.
Ms Gayward was unable to commit to a firm date for the return of a daily service between Aberdeen and Gatwick, but suggested it could happen by July or sooner.
We look forward to being able to help many more people to travel this summer.”
Johan Lundgren, EasyJet chief executive
EasyJet, which yesterday (May 20) posted underlying pre-tax losses of £701 million for the six months to March 31, against a deficit of £193m a year ago, resurrected its Aberdeen-Gatwick flights at the start of May 2020.
It followed a high profile campaign to revive the route, which easyJet had axed in early 2019 due to a “reduction in demand” – leaving the north-east without any direct air link to London’s second busiest airport, or to Gatwick’s many onward flight destinations.
EasyJet, which previously flew twice a day between Aberdeen and Gatwick from Sunday to Friday, with one flight in each direction on Sundays, restarted the route as a daily service.
That has reduced to four flights a week in each direction during the pandemic, but Ms Gayward said that could change soon.
She added: “The aim is, as soon as the demand is there for it, to bring it back up to a daily service. At the moment we’re just trying to match our capacity with demand.”
EasyJet’s relaunched service between Inverness and Belfast, together with other UK routes being added to the roster, is targeting staycation demand.
The carrier is also currently preparing for a more imminent take-off to more green list destinations, such as Portugal, following an easing of UK travel restrictions.
Ms Gayward said she expected these flights to be popular, given the likely pent-up demand for holidays, and despite the hassle and added cost of required Covid-19 tests.
And she echoed easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren in criticising UK Government ministers for creating confusion over amber list destinations. “They now seem to be saying amber is just like red,” she said.
Ministers have in recent days been accused of delivering contradictory messages over whether people can or should travel to amber list destinations.
But travel to amber list countries is “absolutely legal”, EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren insisted during a BBC interview.
The government stance is “very confusing” and frustrating for passengers, he said, adding: “We have a huge amount of people that are contacting us to say: ‘Look, can I go? Can’t I go?’
“So it’s been very confusing, and the government is almost dismantling the system that it set up.”
EasyJet expects to fly only around 15% of its pre-pandemic flight programme until the end of June despite international leisure travel restarting this week.
While capacity will still be only around 15% of 2019 levels in its third quarter, the airline expects to ramp up its programme from June onwards to meet “pent-up demand”.
It has added more than 105,000 seats since the government announced the so-called green list countries – from which UK travellers do not need to quarantine on return.
Mr Lundgren said: “We are ready to significantly ramp up our flying for the summer, with a view to maximising the opportunities we see in Europe.
“We have the ability to flex up quickly to operate 90% of our current fleet over the peak summer period to match demand.
“We know there is pent-up demand, we saw this again when green list countries were released and added more than 105,000 seats, and so we look forward to being able to help many more people to travel this summer.”
The group saw revenue plummet 90% to £240m in its first half as the recent ban on international leisure air travel from the UK saw passenger numbers tumble 89.4%.
On a reported basis, half-year pre-tax losses stood at £645m, against losses of £353m a year earlier.
But the group limited losses by slashing costs under a programme to save around £500m over the full year in response to the devastating impact of the pandemic on the travel sector. It revealed costs were cut by 59% in its first half.
EasyJet said it could not give any further guidance for full-year financial expectations, due to uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
And it warned the trend for late bookings due to last-minute changes to travel restrictions would impact load factors, a measure of how well airlines fill their planes.