Wizz Air passenger numbers rise to 7.8m despite Omicron fears

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More passengers took Wizz Air flights over the Christmas period despite the rise of the Omicron variant, and the carrier said it was cautiously optimistic about the continued recovery of air travel during the spring.

The budget airline reported it carried 7.8 million passengers during the three months to the end of December, even more than it did in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic, while its planes were more than three-quarters (77%) full.

The Hungary-based and London-listed carrier sounded an upbeat note in its trading statement to the London Stock Exchange despite reporting an operating loss of €213.6m (£179m) for the final three months of 2021.

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Wizz Air said it continued to take the hit from Covid travel restrictions, which hurt passenger demand. Despite this, the company has been ramping up its staff numbers, aircraft fleet, airport bases and routes before an anticipated full return to pre-pandemic flight levels by late spring.

Airlines have been among the slowest companies to recover from the impact of the pandemic, amid shifting travel restrictions and Covid testing requirements.

Wizz said in the summer of 2020 that it expected to become the first major European airline to recover capacity to pre-coronavirus levels. The airline carried three-and-a-half times more passengers during the festive season in 2021 than it did in late 2020, when much of the region was facing tough restrictions on travel.

József Váradi, Wizz Air’s chief executive, said: “Despite the short-term headwinds, we are cautiously optimistic for a continued recovery into spring and near-full utilisation from summer onwards.”

The airline said it had recruited more than 1,500 staff since the start of last summer, taking its total number of employees to 5,500 by January 2022, surpassing its pre-pandemic workforce. Wizz Air made 1,000 workers redundant in April 2020 and cut staff wages as Covid brought most international air travel to a halt.

Wizz Air ended 2021 with a total of 150 aircraft, and took delivery of eight new Airbus A321neo planes.

The company intends to have 500 planes by the end of this decade.

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