Some airlines don’t stop challenging…

In the last few days we’ve lost Air Asia Japan, it looks like we’re about to loose Air Asia India as well. The whole Air Asia system is currently undergoing a major restructure as it faces dire travel bans and almost zero customers.

In Europe, having told its shareholders it would sit out all of 2020 and most of 2021 while it restructures and waits out the pandemic, Norwegian went and did the exact opposite. Now its paying the price, admitting it was down 90% year on year and the undertone is it should have done what it said it would do, because its running out of cash again. Do they ever learn?

Even the big disruptors of the past, easyJet, Southwest and RyanAir have been chastened by the pandemic, their brazen attempts to kick start the travel market fell hideously flat.

Southwest is negotiating to try and keep as many staff from being furloughed as possible

And yet those who see an opportunity still exist, and they’re making the most of EU open skies, or the weakness shown in the US market by previously unassailable big players, pushing boundaries, developing new routes.

Wizz Air, the Budapest, Hungary based ULCC hasn’t stopped pushing into new territory and trying out new routes. It plonked itself in Luton, right there at easyJet’s home base, offering routes to Poland, and other summer destinations. It’s been playing the covid quarantine leap from one market to the next, like a carefully tuned fiddle. Wizz has shown dexterity, flexibility and genuine disruptive behaviour the others have all found too risky to indulge in, when things are so uncertain. Just yesterday it announced it would take on Norwegian in their own domestic market – and Norwegian should worry because Wizz is a great deal better organised and financed, and infinitely more flexible.

Why is Wizz doing it? Why would any airline anywhere aim to do this right now? Breeze (once planned on being called Moxy), the new regional airline being planned by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, is planning a March 2021 startup flying from New York. Several other small airlines are looking at similar moves in various corners of the world. Even the South African Airways domestic/regional spin off looks like it might make it to the skies, under new management.

The reason they do it is they feel they can get one leg up over their competitors when the rebound finally comes. They can test out new routes, fly to new places, take in cash now while they can for flights to places people want to go, and break even. At the same time they raise brand awareness and keep up momentum they can build from when things start moving. Because they will, as clearly as the morning comes.

They can show how nimble they are, how radical they can be and in many ways it functions like guerrilla marketing. They pop up in places you don’t expect, make some noise, maybe they stay, maybe they move on, or swap their destinations. All the time they keep flying, keep exploiting opportunities, they stay relevant, because one thing many of the more established airlines are failing to do is look like they are just that: relevant.

ULCC’s as a model going forward in a post-covid world will take up even larger shares of the market than they did. They’ll do that because travel by air needs to be cheap, needs to appear to be less impactful on the environment, and in a recession everyone’s budgets will be strained.

Meanwhile the others airlines do what they always do. They try to entice you to use your reward miles while they’ve got millions of empty seats. They try to sell you seats at prices that barely even cover the departure and airport taxes. They try to sell you destinations you don’t feel happy about going to just yet. They also can’t even guarantee for many of them they’ll still be here by the time you want come to fly. And frankly, many of them aren’t even trying that hard to sell you what they have.

So is it any wonder that that the disruptors like Wizz are always grabbing headlines and keeping themselves up front? Who dares, wins…