EasyJet increases flights as passenger demand returns earlier than expected, sending shares skyward

August 4, 2020, 10:17 AM UTC

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The aviation sector could use some good news, so here’s a sliver: EasyJet said Tuesday that it saw “higher than expected levels of demand” last month, with 84% of its seats filled. Now it’s planning to further ramp up capacity to 40% this quarter.

The news needs to be seen in context, though: EasyJet—Europe’s fourth-largest airline by passenger numbers—has been more cautious in returning to the skies than other low-cost European airlines, such as Ryanair and Wizz Air, have been.

EasyJet only ramped up to 30% of its total capacity during July, focusing on its most profitable routes. It carried just over 2 million passengers during the month, on 147 routes.

Ryanair, meanwhile, already got back up to 40% capacity during the same month, which may partly explain why it only filled 72% of its seats. Wizz Air also revved up its engines more aggressively, and ended up with a load factor of 60.5%.

Nonetheless, it does seem demand is returning more swiftly than anticipated. (Whether that demand could be called “healthy” is another matter, given how Europeans’ willingness to go abroad for their summer vacations appears to be fueling new COVID-19 surges across the region.)

“I am really encouraged that we have seen higher than expected levels of demand with load factor of 84% in July with destinations like Faro and Nice remaining popular with customers,” said CEO Johan Lundgren in a statement. “Our bookings for the remainder of the summer are performing better than expected and as a result we have decided to expand our schedule over the [current] quarter to fly circa 40% of capacity.”

EasyJet’s share price popped more than 10% on the news, and even Ryanair’s was lifted by 7.3%.

“It’s worth noting that approximately four months ago, there were genuine fears the aviation sector could be out of commission for much of 2020, so the change in sentiment is remarkable,” wrote CMC Markets analyst David Madden in a Tuesday post.

The previous quarter was, of course, not great. EasyJet’s fleet was entirely grounded from the end of March to mid-June, so the only action took place in the last couple weeks of June: 117,000 passengers were carried on a mere 10 planes that had a total capacity of 132,000 seats, creating an impressive-if-not-for-the-context 88.9% load factor.

On the plus side, EasyJet said its customer satisfaction level was up to 80%, which is 13 points above the same period last year. It said this was down to its enhanced bio-security measures, such as disinfecting its craft each day and requiring everyone to weak masks.