EasyJet cuts Luton flights
EasyJet is cutting flights from Luton in an ongoing dispute over airport fees in a move that is likely to increase the cost of holidays to Spain and Portugal.
The budget airline says it remains committed to plans to grow over the next year but adds that it is cutting flights to and from the Bedfordshire-based airport by 20% in favour of more “attractive locations”.
It argues that Luton airport is no longer competitive having raised costs such as landing fees by 25% over the past three years. For similar reasons, competitor airline Ryanair will next month ditch the majority of its flights from Manchester Airport.
Around 4.7 million passengers fly with easyJet from Luton each year.
Andy Harrison, chief executive of easyJet, says it is one of only a few airlines expecting to make a profit this year. “This means responding to airports with uncompetitive costs, as well as moving swiftly to seize opportunities as competitors retreat,” he adds.
EasyJet is also likely to scrap all fights from East Midlands airport, which is also served by Ryanair and BMI Baby.
The airline has now entered a 90-day consultation period with staff from the two airports. It is not yet clear when its East Midlands base will close or which Luton flights will be affected.
In a statement, easyJet says: “Flights to and from East Midlands up to the end of 2009, including the Christmas and New Year period, are wholly unaffected. Passengers do not need to take any further action and their flight will be operated as planned. Passengers travelling after this period will be informed well in advance if and how their travel might be affected.”
It adds that passengers flying in and out of Luton will be advised if their flights are affected, but there are currently no definite changes to schedules.
Bob Atkinson, product development manager at travelsupermarket.com, believes easyJet is likely to reduce the number of flights between Luton and airports in both Spain and Portugal, as both these destinations are already well served by other budget airlines.
The credit crunch has also seen the number of people flying to places like Spain drop by 20%.
Atkinson adds: “Fewer flights means less choice and higher ticket costs for passengers. My advice is that people consider travelling to alternative airports rather than put up with a higher price.”
EasyJet says it has been forced to reduce capacity at Luton because of the airports refusal to “recognise the commercial realities of the recession”. It is angry that the airport has increased landing charges, despite negotiations with its Spanish operator Abertis and owner Luton Borough Council, which easyJet claims receives more than half of these charges.
Last month Ryanair announced it would ditch the majority of its flights from Manchester Airport because of the airport’s refusal to lower landing charges.
Both airlines have also taken issue with airport passenger duty (APD), which currently adds £10 to the cost of European tickets. This autumn APD will increase to £12.
Harrison says: “The rise in APD hits regional airports hardest and increases the pressure to move aircraft to mainland Europe. The government seems to think that APD is a free lunch. It isn’t - it costs jobs in the UK.”