While Norwegian may have left a gap in the transatlantic low-cost market, and JetBlue is making a play for a hybrid-long-haul model, European LCC easyJet is in no hurry to throw its hat in the ring. In an interview with Aviation Week’s Karen Walker on Thursday, easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said that the airline still had much more to do in its core market before ever considering going transatlantic.
Understands the will to go for the opportunity
Despite the poor track record of the long-haul low-cost model, one could be forgiven for wondering if any of the major European LCCs would be turning their sights westwards across the Atlantic to snag some market shares as air travel between North America and Europe inevitably rebounds.
After all, JetBlue is set to disrupt the market with a narrowbody hybrid-offering of low-cost and its premium Mint product. And, apparently unperturbed by history, Norwegian founder Bjørn Kjos is going to have another crack at it with startup Norse Atlantic – which has already begun hiring cabin crew for Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
“I can understand why somebody would say that look, here there are some pretty inefficient airlines making a lot of money on this whole thing, there should be an opportunity to do something,” Mr Lundgren said, commenting on the fortune some legacy carriers make on transatlantic routes and the ‘eye-watering’ costs of their premium seats.
Focus on expanding market share in Europe
However, it is not for his airline. The CEO of the 26-year-old LCC says that there is still much more to do in its home market, Europe, before it would consider taking the orange-and-white liveried planes out for longer jaunts across the globe. Instead, it is focusing on gaining more market share in Europe when the continent will bounce back from the heavy travel restrictions currently in place.
“We’re Europe’s second-largest airline, you know, in terms of capacities on the European network. But still, prior to the pandemic, we only had 10% of that market. It tells you about the fragmentation of the European market versus the US as an example. So we still have much more opportunities to go do what we are doing, our core,” Mr Lundgren stated.
Aiming for top-of-the-class customer experience
The airline’s strategy at the foundation for more market share is to gain leading positions at the primary airports of Europe. This, in turn, will be accomplished by getting scale efficiently with an attractive cost-base, which would allow easyJet to provide a customer experience that is ‘way over and above what you would expect from normal low-cost carriers’.
“We were always focused on the fact that this was going to be a phase about survival for the industry. Then comes the phase of recovery, then the phase of growth back again. And from day one, we always set our eyes on the horizon and how we’re going to come out of this in a strongly competitive position. To make sure that we can continue on the successful journey that we’re going on,” Mr Lundgren said in yesterday’s interview.
And while easyJet may not be looking to profit from Norwegian’s departure from the transatlantic routes, it is most certainly aiming for the European airspace left vacant by the Nordic LCC’s restructuring. Just as when Thomas Cook went bankrupt, easyJet pounced on the ailing carrier’s Gatwick slots. This move will see easyJet increase its dominance at Gatwick to as much as 54% this year.
Worldwide by easyJet
Meanwhile, easyJet is still looking to serve the long-haul traveler through its ‘Worldwide by easyJet’ platform. The LCC has partnered with several full-service airlines to offer connecting services to destinations such as Hong Kong and New York.
Some of its partners include Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Icelandair, Virgin Atlantic, and Singapore Airlines. Fellow LCC Norwegian also used to be part of the platform before its decision to withdraw from long-haul operations in a bid to survive as a company.
Changes to ancillaries
One way that easyJet hopes to enhance customer experience is a focus on right-sizing its ancillary products. While not mentioning specific details, the airline’s CEO said that ‘a lot of services and products’ were in the pipeline and that they would be rolled out at the appropriate point in time.
easyJet recently followed in the footsteps of rivals Ryanair and Wizz, making changes to its cabin bag policy. From the previous 56 x 45 x 25cm permitted anyone regardless of fare, the new allowance, effective since February 10th, is about half. Free-of-charge cabin bags can only be 45 x 36 x 20cm and must fit under the seat.
The airline says this has improved its On-Time Performance (OTP) by reducing the loading and off-loading of bags from the overhead bins. This, it claims, will benefit its customers more in the long-run.
Operating at 10% of capacity
As optimistic as the easyJet CEO may be about the future ahead, at the moment, figures for European air travel are still looking dismal. The airline expected to operate at only 10% capacity for the full first quarter of 2021. With Britons traveling for holidays abroad risking a fine of £5,000 ($6,900), this does not look to increase any time soon.
While it may set its hopes to a speedy vaccine roll-out, a coordinated approach between the EU Commission and the Member States, and a pent-up travel demand like never before, nothing is certain about the upcoming summer season this year.
Would you like to see another European LCC take on the role left by Norwegian and offer long-haul low-cost flights? Which carrier would you like it to be? Leave a comment below and let us know.