Awesome Drama Over easyJet’s Unreliable Operation

If you’re outside of Europe, you likely haven’t been paying close attention to the awesome drama unfolding over easyJet. The airline’s operations appear to be falling apart and the founder is threatening to take the name away if it doesn’t improve. This is worthy of a TV special.

easyJet was started in 1995 by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. He slapped his famed “easy” brand with bright orange colors on the airline and it took off from there. The initial idea behind easyJet was to be like a Southwest Airlines – low cost, low fare EasyJet Delaysflying all around Europe but initially from its Britain base. I’ve always thought of easyJet as being Ryanair’s more convenient cousin. For example, easyJet flies most to primary airports while Ryanair focuses on alternates. easyJet also hasn’t gone to the extremes of cost cutting in terms of passenger amenities, but there’s a problem.

EasyJet’s on-time performance sucks, and for that reason, Ryanair is infinitely more convenient. You can follow FlightStats to see how dreadful easyJet’s performance has been on a daily basis, but the furor really came out of a report showing that the airline didn’t even get half of its flights out of Gatwick in the air on time in June. It’s not good.

Lots of excuses are coming out of the easyJet headquarters, but nobody really cares. Management has blamed air traffic control strikes, but other airlines don’t seem to be performing as poorly as easyJet. This is where it gets interesting.

Sir Stelios may be intricately tied with easyJet, but he’s pissed. Back in May, he left the board because he’s angry about the airline’s expansion plans, which he thinks won’t add value for shareholders. His family still owns 38 percent of the airline, but he stepped down from the board so he could act solely as a large shareholder to prevent management from going forward with these plans.

The on-time debacle has just added flames to the fire. When Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary came out swinging against easyJet and Sir Stelios for having a terrible on time record and failing to publish it, Sir Stelios got angry. He made it clear that he had nothing to do with it, and that led to one of the strangest things ever. In fact, I’m surprised it didn’t cause a rip in the space-time continuum.

O’Leary apologized. In print. No, he didn’t apologize to easyJet but rather to Sir Stelios for implicating him in the airline’s failures. Sir Stelios has taken that apology and started a crusade of his own against easyJet. He is now threatening the airline by saying that if on-time performance doesn’t improve within 90 days, he’s pulling the brand license. Yeehaw, this is getting good.

Sir Stelios had already been angry about the use of the brand, and this just adds flames to the fire. See, brand license requires that the airline generate at least 75% of its revenues from the core business of flying. This is meant to protect other easy-branded companies that have their own spheres. The airline, however, is arguing that the way that number is calculated is bull. So the two have been going at it in court.

In the end, this is just a disaster. How can an airline focus on running a business when its embroiled in a massive fight with its founder and 38% shareholder? It really can’t. I don’t blame Sir Stelios. He’s acting in his best interests, as he should. This whole thing is just a mess, and ultimately passengers will be screwed.

[Original photo via Flickr user alistairmcmillan]

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