by Paul Sandle
LONDON, Jan 27 (Reuters) – British airline easyJet said easing of travel restrictions had spurred demand from summer beach destinations such as Greece, Turkey and Spain, giving the airline reason for optimism after omicron’s shadow dissipates.
Its chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said bookings soared in the UK as restrictions were eased earlier this month and rose again when the government said testing requirements would end in February.
He said that easyJet had seen similar trends across Europe, especially in France and Switzerland.
“We anticipate a strong summer ahead, with pent-up demand bringing easyJet back to near 2019 capacity levels, with the UK’s beach and leisure routes performing particularly well,” it said.
The airline flew 64% of pre-pandemic capacity in its first quarter to the end of December, but its 77% load factor missed its forecast of more than 80% after the new variant of COVID-19 took its toll. in demand in December.
The omicron variant will still have an impact in the near term, Lundgren said, though it will increase capacity from around 50% of pre-pandemic levels in January to 67% for the second quarter.
In November, before the impact of omicron was clear, easyJet had forecast around 70% capacity for the quarter.
Shares of easyJet, which have risen 6% in the past 12 months, were up 1% in early trading on Thursday.
Lundgren, who bolstered easyJet’s balance sheet with a 1.2bn pound rights issue in September, said that unlike other airlines that were downsizing, easyJet was adding capacity.
It said an additional 1.1 million seats had been put up for sale from its biggest airport, London Gatwick, while it had launched 16 new routes from the UK and added capacity to 30 destinations.
EasyJet’s total first-quarter group revenue to the end of December rose to £805m ($1.1bn), up from £165m a year ago, while its pre-tax loss for the quarter was almost halved to £213m.
(1 dollar = 0.7450 pounds)
(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alexander Smith; translation by Flora Gómez)