Flight disruption ‘a blip’ but summer challenges remain, head of easyJet says

EasyJet cancellations and delays have “stabilised” in recent weeks, but travel disruption would continue until winter, according to chief executive Johan Lundgren.

The UK budget airline’s move last month to cut 10,000 summer flights had brought last-minute cancellations down to pre-Covid levels.

Lundgren predicted that the disruption to flights seen across the world this year would be a “blip” and reliability would return by next summer.

But the industry faces being repeatedly hit by unpredictable external factors in the aviation “ecosystem”, which made it impossible to guarantee there would be no more disruption going into the summer peak.

Lundgren told The Sunday Times: “I think there will continue to be challenges in the remainder of the summer.”

He added: “We couldn’t possibly have foreseen that Amsterdam was going to introduce capacity caps. You can’t plan for the increased Covid infections that drove levels of absenteeism up at airports and air traffic control, and also in our company as well.”

Lundgren has been criticised for firing too many staff, 2,000, during the height of Covid, which left the airline scrambling to hire workers at a time of near-full employment.

But he said he had no choice because the bulk of his operations were in the UK, which had “much tougher and harder restrictions” than other countries.

Lundgren also echoed criticisms made by Luis Gallego, boss of British Airways owner IAG, that former chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme stopped earlier than in many other countries.

“Ours ended in September, while in other jurisdictions, it was kept on throughout the whole of the winter,” he said.

Easyjet’s chief operating officer Peter Bellew resigned last week amid ongoing flight cancellations and delays.

Bellew’s exit led to speculation that chairman Stephen Hester would oust Lundgren next.

Asked if he feared for his job, Lundgren said: “I enjoy a very constructive relationship with Stephen and the whole of the board and we are focusing on delivering great shareholder value … but you will have to speak to Stephen about that.”

Lundgren predicted that demand for flights would be strong even if the UK was hit by a recession.

“In recessions previously, we see that people trade more towards value, which really benefits us. We also know that people haven’t been travelling for two and a half years and there’s a strong underlying demand for people to travel. I think that will continue,” he said.

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