A couple of weeks ago, somebody called easyJet lazy. This wasn’t an angry passenger or a disgruntled shareholder, but the chief executive of Hungarian budget carrier Wizz Air, Jozsef Varadi. “Lazy low-cost airlines” will be undercut by ultra-low-cost brands like Wizz and Ryanair in Europe, he told punters at the World Travel Market conference at ExCel. “The likes of easyJet..., we would call them lazy low-cost.”
Having just announced easyJet’s bumper full-year results yesterday, Carolyn McCall was having none of it.
“I can’t comment on the tone of the people from Wizz, I can only assume it’s out of jealousy – there aren’t many airlines in the world which have seen increased profits four years running, as we have – I don’t understand what this person meant,” she said.
She has been hailed by some as the queen of the skies, with her confident manner, striking dark bob haircut and no-nonsense attitude, she’s become a favourite of the FTSE 100, albeit one of its only five female chiefs.
Having spent 24 years at The Guardian, working her way up to chief exec, McCall was offered the top job at Channel 4, but took the helm at easyJet instead back in 2010.
At a time when one of easyJet’s biggest rivals Ryanair is trying to undo years of bad press over its customer service – including some damning soundbites from boss Michael O’Leary – has her media background helped her and easyJet to stay ahead?
“Of course,” she said. “As you all know, a background in media is incredibly helpful in many ways, including brand positioning.”
Is she worried about Ryanair’s new “cuddly” image? “I don’t worry about anyone else’s image, I just worry about our own brand and looking after that. We just have to keep momentum going really, there’s a really big gap between us and Ryanair and others, so we need to keep that gap and ensure our customers are really happy.”
With passenger numbers rising 6.6 per cent to 64.8m and passenger retention figures up 50 per cent – there are certainly a few really happy customers.
The airline’s push to attract business flyers has also shown progress, with 62 per cent of business travellers who booked a flight making a repeat booking.
“Popular new initiatives such as allocated seating meant many people tried us for the first time, and we are absolutely focused on driving loyalty, so they choose us flight after flight,” McCall said. “EasyJet has opened up clear blue sky between us and our competitors.”
The skies may be clear blue, but the passengers are in orange planes.