EasyJet says Omicron variant already affecting bookings | easyJet

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EasyJet said near-term bookings had weakened since the new Omicron variant was identified amid concerns over travel restrictions, but it still expects passenger numbers to return to close to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the summer.

The airline reported a loss before tax of £1.1bn for the year to 30 September, wider than the £835m loss made in 2020, but the figure was better than analysts had expected.

Johan Lundgren, the chief executive, said that while “many uncertainties remain as we navigate the winter”, the airline expects to benefit from a bounce back.

“We’re seeing very strong demand into next summer” Lundgren said, “because there is very strong pent-up demand. We have more revenue for next summer than we had at this point in time for the summer of 2019.”

Commenting on demand since the new variant emerged, easyJet said: “It’s too soon to say what impact Omicron may have on European travel and any further short-term restrictions that may result.

“However, we have prepared ourselves for periods of uncertainty such as this. While we’ve seen an increase in transfers with some softening of trading for the first quarter [October to December] it is really encouraging to see that we are still seeing good levels of new bookings for the second half.”

Revenues from bookings for the spring and summer of 2022 are currently running ahead of 2019 levels. EasyJet said demand was also strong during key periods such as the October half-term and for ski and Christmas holidays. It has been ramping up flights and is flying 25 more planes, with plans to return to 70% of its pre-pandemic capacity in its second quarter, and to near 2019 levels over the summer.

Lundgren said the UK’s decision to put several countries in southern Africa on the red list of the toughest travel restrictions was an important measure. Yet he questioned the costly “blanket PCR testing” for travellers entering the UK, which “once again makes the UK government an outlier” in Europe. The government had only recently changed the requirement to lateral flow tests on day 2, in time for half-term breaks in late October.

The threat posed by the “highly mutated” Omicron variant shows what a “perilous and precarious” situation the world is in, the head of the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Stock markets were down on Tuesday after the chief executive of the US biotech firm Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, said in an interview with the Financial Times that it would take several months before an Omicron-specific vaccine could be produced at scale.

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