11/17/2010

easyJet: towards flexible fares and business passengers

For some time some airlines have been charging for all sorts of extras. Now easyJet seems to be going even further by introducing flexible fares aimed at attracting business people: where might it end?


Early in November 2010 I read reports that some airlines are making a significant part of their income by charging for things that used to be included, such as meals, alcoholic drinks, blankets, headphones and so on. Even seats which have some advantages (more leg room or near an exit) are sometimes charged extra. The UK companies Ryanair and Flybe were quoted as making nearly 20% from such extra charges.

Reports in the press today, Wednesday 17 November, suggest that easyJet may now carry these ideas even further, by adopting a system of flexible fares. As I understand it, these fares will be explained on the web site via which we book flights. This is in contrast with the current system, whereby any particular flight has one quoted basic price. It is not yet clear if this will include the possibility of allocated seating, which would improve the chances of attracting the sort of business passenger who is not used to having to push, shove and rush to get a good seat.

An interesting historical precedent for this is a low-cost airline which did this some years ago, as well as the possibility to change flights without charge. It was very much appreciated by business passengers, who represented about one in three of its passengers. Its first flight was from London Stansted to Rome, and it had on board a person dressed in an orange boiler suit who was handing out vouchers, and whose name was Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Its name? Not easyJet, but Go, a subsidiary of British Airways which was launched in May 1988. Three years later, Go was sold to a private equity firm, which then sold it after a year to easyJet. Unfortunately (for some of its happy customers), easyJet immediately scrapped the flexible fares. Now it may be that the new easyJet chief executive, Carolyn McCall, wants to revive this concept and to attract more business passengers.

Of course, the next logical step would be to group all the desirable seats together, probably at the front of the aircraft and separated from the rest of the aircraft by a screen. After that comes the possibility of offering genuinely tasty meals, rather than the plastic sandwiches currently on offer, as well as priority boarding and exit access and a more exclusive lounge waiting area. They could then call this by the entirely new name of "Business Class"!

However, none of this will ever really appeal to business people unless there is a reasonable guarantee of punctuality. As an example, on weekdays in the summer period of this year (28 March to 30 October, 31 weeks, 155 weekdays) the 7 am flight EZS8569 from Geneva to London Gatwick was recorded no less than 18 taking off off after 9am, with the worst being a take-off at 1h24 pm. This was a deliberate choice made by easyJet Switzerland when there were not enough of their aircraft available for all the scheduled early morning departures, but it would be entirely unacceptable to business passengers unless they could expect to be moved to a flight of a different airline without charge.

Contrast this with the flight of Swiss to London City, scheduled for 7h30, for which the latest recorded takeoff was 8h40, Baboo also to London City, scheduled at 7h40 and with only two takeoffs after 9am,  and British Airways to London Heathrow, scheduled at 7h45 and never taking off after 8h30. If you were going to London for an important morning meeting, would you risk easyJet?

However, beyond the idea of flexible fares and more business passengers, how about copying land and sea transport by offering air cruises? Coffee and fresh croissants as you leave Geneva over the scenic lake and mountains, a lunch stop in the Eternal City, a low altitude passage over the beautiful Norwegian fjords and the polar icecap (while it lasts), dinner and a show in London and then back to Geneva!

easyAirCruise !

13:54 Posted in easyJet anecdotes | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: easyjet, geneva, flexible, fares, go | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

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