EasyJet soars as it benefits from business and pleasure

Budget airline courts business travellers with fast-track security

Shares in easyJet today flew up 6 per cent to a fresh high as sun-seeking travellers helped to halve its first-half losses and the budget carrier launched a fresh assault on the business market.

The budget airline announced it will give business travellers who buy its more flexible but more expensive “flexi fares” free access to fast-track security lanes at 27 airports including Gatwick, Stansted and Paris Charles De Gaulle to cut journey times.

It is the latest part of easyJet’s strategy to steal corporate customers from the likes of British Airways, owned by International Airlines Group.  Since chief executive Carolyn McCall took the pilot’s  seat at easyJet three years ago, it has added flights between business destinations and launched allocated seating to build its appeal to corporate travellers.

Five years ago, the airline flew 7.5 million people on business. Last year, that number approached 10 million as all the major banks and Parliament signed up to send staff on the budget carrier.

That growth in business travel — especially from Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Belfast to London — plus an earlier Easter and strong bookings from Britons who were sick of this year’s long cold winter saw FTSE 100-listed easyJet cut its pre-tax loss to £61 million for the six months to April. That was down from £112 million a year ago. The first half is traditionally lossmaking for airlines.

EasyJet added that it was in the “final stages of commercial evaluation” with planemakers Airbus and Boeing about a significant expansion of its fleet.

But the airline’s founder and still biggest shareholder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou said of today’s figures: “Good things happen to airlines that do not order more aircraft. The results today were the outcome of buying only two new planes in the last six months while selling six.

“All this good work could be undone by the vanity exercise of buying new aircraft. There are hardly any new routes left that can make a good profit to justify their cost.”

The shares rose 60p to 1189.6p.