Wizz Air began the much-anticipated summer season of travel with a 23 per cent year-on-year boost in passenger numbers over June, as it outpaced its strike-hit ultra-low cost rival Ryanair.
Its rival, Ryanair, reported passenger figures grew nine per cent to 17.4m last month. However, the carrier was forced to cancel 900 flights as a result of French Air traffic controller strikes – affecting 160,000 passengers.
Wizz Air carried 5.3m passengers over the month, up from 4m on the previous year and marking a strong start to what is expected to be a booming period for budget airlines.
The June numbers also took its load factor – the amount of available seating being used – of 92.2 per cent, up from 86.1 per cent last year and meaning the majority of its available seats were booked up. Ryanair saw load factors level out.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s outfit has slammed the EU commission this year for “ignoring” passengers over the French strike action, calling on chief Ursula Von Der Leyen to take urgent action to protect overflights from being cancelled.
Wizz Air meanwhile has been expecting this year’s record summer demand to finally dig it out of the lows of last year, which saw it fall behind rivals EasyJet and Ryanair in its post-pandemic recovery.
This June, it reported operating losses of £401.6m in its full-year results, but analysts said that a dip in fuel prices and rising ticket prices would see it turn a corner over the rest of the year.
June also saw the airline announce big expansion plans, with ten new routes announced on its Albanian network – to Birmingham, Liverpool and Edinburgh – and 100 extra flights scheduled over the winter.
The high passenger numbers will provide a welcome, if already expected, relief for Europe’s fastest growing ultra-low cost airline, after a turbulent few months which saw it come under scrutiny for poor passenger practices.
In May, Sunday Times investigation found it owed nearly £5m in unpaid refunds to passengers across 881 county court judgments.
This prompted claims that its Chief Executive Josef Varadi had overstretched Wizz Air in a single-minded pursuit of post-pandemic recovery.
It remains to be seen how both airlines will fare in what will be a critical second half of the year.