Wizz Air passengers down 81.8% but airline vows to emerge a 'winner' from crisis

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
A passenger wearing a protective face mask is seen aboard a Wizz Air Airbus A320. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters
A passenger wearing a protective face mask is seen aboard a Wizz Air Airbus A320. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

The coronavirus crisis left Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) passenger numbers at less than a fifth of previous levels last month, new figures show.

The Hungarian budget carrier, listed in London, published its traffic data for January on Wednesday, as airlines continue to battle one of the worst crises in the sector’s history.

The figures show it carried fewer than 574,000 passengers, down 81.8% on a year earlier.

Mass cutbacks to schedules mean capacity on flights which did go ahead stood at just over a quarter of January 2020 levels. Seat numbers were down 73.1%.

Meanwhile the company said it had the lowest per-passenger and per-kilometre emissions among its rivals, and also highlighted its launch in Abu Dhabi, with its first flight to Athens taking off.

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The figures come less than a week after Wizz Air’s third-quarter results. The company revealed its revenues had plunged 76.5% to €149.9m (£132m, $180m) in the three months to 31 December.

After a 2019 third-quarter profit of €21.1m, the same period last year saw losses of €116.4m.

Chief executive József Váradi highlighted “sustained government restrictions” which “severely obstructed” air travel.

Many European governments reversed a summer loosening of restrictions in the last few months of the year to tackle soaring coronavirus infection levels.

The UK government plans to quarantine travellers from high-risk countries in hotels, and is facing calls from the opposition Labour party to quarantine all new arrivals.

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Wizz predicted capacity would be depressed in February and “part of” March 2021.

“With the increasing administration of the COVID-19 vaccine we expect 2021 to be a year of transition with Wizz Air ready to service underlying demand in a fast and agile way as it becomes increasingly unrestricted,” it said.

Váradi said measures taken by the airline would enable the company to “emerge from the COVID-19 context as a structural winner."

It came after Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called for the establishment of global standards for vaccination and certification to safely restore global travel.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination programs roll out,” he said on Tuesday.

“Understanding government policy benchmarks and agreeing the global standards needed to support a return to normality in travel will ensure that air transport is well-prepared and does not become a meaningful vector for reimportation. Airlines are ready to support governments in this task.

IATA figures last month suggested Europe would be the worst-hit global region in terms of airlines’ losses in 2021, with an $11.9bn decline predicted.

Passenger traffic is estimated to have plunged 70% this year, with more than seven million jobs thought to have been lost or at risk of being cut.

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