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EasyJet and Ryanair Diverge on European Summer Travel Outlook

Edward Russell
March 25th, 2021 at 3:10 PM EDT

The leaders of Europe’s largest budget carriers, EasyJet and Ryanair, have distinctly different takes on the outlook for the coming summer travel season.

Both EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren and Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary are hopeful for an uptick in flyers come June as vaccination rates rise and travel restrictions ease across the continent. But that is where the similarities end, with Lundgren vaguely and cautiously optimistic for the period when asked during an Aviation Week webinar on Thursday. Conversely on Wednesday, O’Leary touted a recent “surge” in bookings and significant pent up demand for Ryanair’s plans to fly up to 80 percent of its 2019 capacity this summer.

“We’ve been locked up for essentially the last 12 months, people have been home schooling [and] they’re desperate to go back to the beaches of Europe — they’re desperate to begin enjoying family life again as normal on the back of a successful Covid vaccine program,” said O’Leary. Ryanair anticipates travel within Europe will resume safely and with few — if any — restrictions by June.

Keeping with his summer optimism, Ryanair unveiled 26 new routes primarily between the UK and southern Europe. They include a return to Belfast City airport with eight routes, as well as new service between London Stansted and Preveza, Santorini and Zakynthos in Greece, and Rodez in France. Ryanair previously served Belfast City from 2007 to 2010, Cirium schedules show.

Lundgren was a distinct contrast to O’Leary. After declining to provide any guidance for the summer, he did say that 85 percent of EasyJet’s 342-aircraft strong Airbus A320-family fleet were in “fight-ready conditions” for the travel recovery. In addition, staff have been kept certified to be ready to go when needed.

“The travel sentiment and the bookings are so reactive of the daily news flow,” said Lundgren. “People are really, really waiting to see what the roadmap is going to be, and what’s going to happen in terms of restrictions.”

What happens with travel restrictions within Europe could go any way. Governments in at least Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy and the UK have begun or talked about beginning reopening measures aimed at restarting their economies. However, a recent increase in Covid-19 infections — even as vaccination programs shift into high gear — in parts of Europe has some worried of a third wave on the continent.

O’Leary brushed aside concerns over another wave of infections and Covid variants, emphasizing his bullishness on vaccines. He touted the UK’s target of vaccinating 80 percent of adults, and the EU’s aim for 70 percent of adults by the end of June for his optimism.

According to the latest data from the UK, 55 percent of adults had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of March 24. However, only 5.3 percent had received two doses.

O’Leary is not alone in his optimism. On Monday, Eurowings CEO Jens Bischof said he expects a “very, very steep” rebound in leisure travel this summer. The Lufthansa Group-owned budget carrier plans to expand its presence outside of its core German market, including new nonstops between Mallorca and the UK.

Lundgren’s caution may be well placed. If the pandemic has taught the industry anything, it is that Covid-19 is a wily adversary. A spike in travel last summer was followed by a second wave of infections that fall and winter, and a second cull in flights. For the first quarter, European airline capacity will be down 74 percent compared to 2019, according to Cirium. EasyJet, Eurowings and Ryanair have all similarly slashed schedules by between 88 and 90 percent.

But from the bottom of a crisis many say the only way one can go is up. Budget carriers are widely expected to do just that when the recovery arrives.

“The key changes to the market — more short-haul, more leisure, more expensive competitors — all point towards a growing opportunity set for airlines who focus on leisure short-haul traffic,” wrote Bernstein Research analyst Daniel Roeska in a report Monday.

Edward Russell
March 25th, 2021 at 3:10 PM EDT

Tags: easyJet Ryanair

Photo credit: EasyJet and Ryanair are bullish on growing out of the crisis. Wikimedia / Dylan Agbagni

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