EasyJet has said the Omicron variant of coronavirus hit passenger demand last month, but revealed it has seen a recent boost in bookings from the move to scrap Covid travel tests.
The low-cost airline said Omicron saw its load factor, a measure of how well it fills its planes, slump to 67% in December after recovering past 80% in October and November.
Despite the Omicron impact, easyJet almost halved headline pre-tax losses in its first quarter to the end of December to £213 million, down from losses of £423 a year earlier.
The carrier said it has seen a “step change” in bookings since the January 5 announcement that pre-departure Covid testing would be scrapped for fully vaccinated arrivals entering England, with demand buoyed further by last week’s news of restriction-free travel from February 11.
Chief executive Johan Lundgren said the UK is “leading on bookings versus Europe for the first time since spring 2020”.
It is “traditional beach and leisure destinations that are recovering the quickest”, he explained.
The airline is boosting capacity on flights to Greece and Turkey, while Spain also has “encouraging signs of demand for the summer”, Mr Lundgren said.
EasyJet said that, while Omicron is expected to continue to have a short-term impact on its performance in the quarter to the end of March, its flight programme will “ramp up” from just 50% of 2019 levels in January to near pre-pandemic levels between July and September.
Mr Lundgren said: “EasyJet produced a significant year-on-year improvement in the first quarter, despite the short-term impact of Omicron in December.”
He added: “Booking volumes jumped in the UK following the welcome reduction of travel restrictions announced on 5 January, which have been sustained and then given a further boost from the UK Government’s decision earlier this week to remove all testing requirements.”
Many European destinations popular with UK holidaymakers continue to require coronavirus tests for arrivals, even if they are fully vaccinated.
They include Cyprus, France, Greece, Morocco, mainland Portugal and Switzerland.
But Mr Lundgren said he expects testing for travel “across our network should soon become a thing of the past”.
He went on: “We see a strong summer ahead, with pent-up demand that will see easyJet returning to near-2019 levels of capacity, with UK beach and leisure routes performing particularly well.”