LONDON – British airline easyJet said Tuesday that it is already seeing some impact on demand from the new omicron variant of the coronavirus in the days since it was first identified.
The airline, which also revealed another full-year loss in excess of 1 billion pounds ($1.34 billion), said it has seen signs that demand is softening but that it is "too soon to say” what impact the new variant will have on the industry.
It said there are signs that winter bookings have started to weaken and some travelers are delaying trips to early next year, with city destinations particularly affected.
Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said the impact so far is not on the level seen previously when restrictions were imposed, although he stressed it is “too soon to say” what the ultimate hit will be.
Because of the uncertainty about the new variant, countries are tightening up travel restrictions.
Already in Britain, the government has said arrivals will need to take a high-standard PCR test by the end of their second day in the country and to self-isolate until they get a negative result.
Lundgren questioned the government's approach.
“There’s still a big question mark around why we have introduced blanket PCR testing when we are bringing in people from countries where they have no recorded cases whatsoever,” he said.
His comments came as the company posted a loss of 1.04 billion pounds ($1.39 billion) for the year ending in September, an 18.6% improvement on last year's 1.27 billion pound ($1.70 billion) loss, which had been easyJet's first full-year loss in its 25-year history.
The latest annual loss came amid a 52% reduction in revenue to 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion), which was partially offset by a 33% fall in headline costs to 2.6 billion pounds ($3.47 billion).
The company held off from giving full financial guidance for the year, given the uncertainty.
“Airlines can’t seem to catch a break," said Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “News of new COVID variants, and the potential for further travel restrictions, makes it incredibly difficult to predict trading patterns from here.”
Despite the uncertainty, easyJet said it is still hopeful of a recovery to pre-pandemic levels of trading.
The group said it expects to ramp up its flights to around 65% of pre-pandemic levels in the current quarter through December, increasing to 70% in the three months to March and a return to around 2019 levels in the summer quarter.