Just hours after Hungarian LCC Wizz Air announced its first routes from London Southend Airport, Ryanair has come out with a mirror image route announcement. Europe’s largest LCC will match Wizz on two of the three routes announced, in keeping with a trend of tit for tat route announcements that we’ve seen from Ryanair of late.
According to Business Traveler, the flights will operate to Bucharest five times a week and to Vilnius in Lithuania three times weekly. These routes perfectly mirror the earlier announcement of services by Wizz Air, leaving only the connection to Sibiu, Romania to its competitor. For Ryanair, this is a solidifying of its routes at an airport where it dominates, sending a clear message to its competitor who will debut at Southend on these services.
Also announced this week, as picked up by Zdopravy, Ryanair will add Georgia to its list of destinations from November onwards too. Up until now, Wizz Air had been the only LCC to serve Georgia directly from Europe.
Clearly, competition between the two airlines is fierce, and Ryanair isn’t going to give an inch to the Hungarian LCC. However, with Ryanair announcing a profit drop of 21% while Wizz saw a rise in profits of 42% in the last quarter, you’ve got to wonder, who will come out on top?
Going head to head
Back in 2016, Ryanair and Wizz Air appeared to be living in relative harmony. Ryanair dominated the west of Europe, while Wizz was quietly growing stronger in the east. In some places, both carriers vied for top positions, for example in Poland which was the largest of all the Eastern European markets, accounting for one-third of all seats.
At the time, Ryanair had launched a number of new routes to Poland, including to Lodz and Poznan, from its base at London Stansted. With his, it became the airline with the most connections to Poland from London. Meanwhile, Wizz continued to link more cities to Poland too, with new services from Bristol, Aberdeen and Porto.
Despite this, of all the routes served in Eastern Europe, Routes Online reported that only ten of them saw an overlap between the two carriers. This was a tiny fraction of the two carriers overall network and hinted at a silent ‘no compete’ policy between the two. However, with Ryanair on the offensive in the east and Wizz running out of new places to grow, it was clear it couldn’t continue this way.
As Ryanair continued to build a strong presence in Central and Eastern Europe, Wizz Air brought the party to Ryanair’s home turf. It opened a base in London Luton Airport in mid-2017, and In 2018, Wizz also announced a new base at Vienna. It was clear the little pink airline was no longer content to expand in the east and was ready to tackle Ryanair’s stronghold head on.
Tit for tat responses
The whole tit for tat on route announcements is nothing new for these two carriers. In fact, it was happening as long ago as 2012. At the time, Wizz moved its operations to the new low cost Warsaw Modlin airport. Ryanair, who had previously dropped the destinations from its network, immediately launched new services from Modlin too, mostly on the identical routes to Wizz Air.
This unusual practice by Ryanair has been seen multiple times in recent years, most recently following a route announcement by Wizz involving Edinburgh. At the start of August, Wizz announced four new routes from Edinburgh, including Budapest, Bucharest, Gdansk and Warsaw. Days later, Ryanair announced its own route expansions, including a new service from Edinburgh to Bucharest and increased frequencies to Budapest, Gdansk and Warsaw.
At around the same time, Wizz revealed flights to seven new destinations from Ukraine, starting in November. In response, Ryanair said it would double the number of routes to Ukraine, taking the number of weekly flights to the nation from 52 to 113 by November.
It’s almost as if the unwritten ‘no compete’ policy of years gone by has been replaced by a ‘do compete, with teeth and claws’ policy. Whatever the reasoning behind this strategy of going head to head with its low cost rival, Ryanair clearly isn’t going to make growth easy for Wizz.