I used to think of Wizz as that Central/Eastern European airline with the goofy name and pink and purple airplanes. That image is… outdated, to say the least. Sure, it still has the name and colors, but make no mistake about it; Wizz is a European powerhouse. It’s the Ryanair of Central and Eastern Europe, and I mean that as the highest praise. But it’s more than that, and it continues to grow quickly.
While many airlines see the COVID pandemic as a threat to their very existence, Wizz sees nothing but opportunity. The airline was founded in Hungary in 2003 with its first flight in 2004. Its main investor was Indigo Partners, Bill Franke’s company that has backed Spirit, Frontier, Volaris, Tiger, Sky, and more.
Wizz’s initial wheelhouse was in the middle of the continent, but it has always had an important presence in London via far-out Luton as well.
Wizz Air % of Scheduled Departures by Region 2004 – 2020
In this chart, the pink shading in the back shows the number of scheduled departures by year using Cirium’s schedule data. Wizz has been growing at a breakneck pace. It first hit 100 daily departures in 2008, 200 in 2011, 300 in 2015, 400 in 2017, 500 in 2018, and 600 in 2020. Next year it is on pace to increase from around 610 daily to 693, though everything after the pandemic began is not exactly reliable. I’m sure Wizz has schedules in there that aren’t being flown. Those lines on the chart show the breakdown by region.
The initial beauty of Wizz was that it had incredibly low costs and was in the right place. As the European Union expanded and borders fell, many of the people from Central and Eastern Europe migrated to Western and Southern Europe where the jobs were more plentiful and better paying. That created an instant need for cheap flights to get friends and family back and forth.
In Wizz’s first full year of operation, 2005, its two largest bases were Poland and the UK. Since that time, Wizz has tried a lot of things and failed a fair bit. That, however, is perfectly acceptable. Without trying, the airline wouldn’t have had so much success along the way. Here’s something of a scorecard.
- Austria – Jumped into Vienna in 2018 when airberlin failed and every airline tried to join the party. While others have pulled out , Wizz has only grown, recently adding Salzburg as well.
- Germany – Dortmund began in 2004 and has become huge for the airline. Half of the airline’s German flights depart from there. Memmingen, Cologne, and Berlin have all succeeded too.
- Moldova – It’s not a big place, but after starting in 2013, it now runs about half the flights touching the country. Many smaller European countries have seen this same trend.
- Poland – The first Wizz route was to Poland, and it now serves 9 cities in the country with more than 25,000 flights a year.
- Romania – Wizz didn’t even start serving the country until 2006, but it really stepped on the gas in recent years. In 2020, Romania was the number two country for the airline behind Poland and just ahead of the UK.
- United Kingdom – Started London/Luton flying early and has done nothing but expand since then.
- Egypt – First tried to serve the market from Ukraine in 2008 to 2010, then tried from Poland in 2014 and Hungary in 2015 but hasn’t been back.
- Germany – A winner and a loser… Secondary airports in big cities (where Ryanair flies) have not done well. Wizz left Lubeck for Hamburg in 2016 and abandoned Weeze in 2012 without even trying Dusseldorf.
- Ireland – Entered in 2006, but thanks to weak demand and competition from Ryanair, it left in 2013.
- Turkey – There have been a couple efforts to serve Turkey both from Hungary and Ukraine. The airline left in 2016 and hasn’t returned.
- Ukraine – Wizz was bullish on Ukraine to the point that it started a locally-based subsidiary in 2008. As Ukraine’s fortunes go, however, so do Wizz’s. The Ukrainian airline is gone, but it still remains an important point for the Hungarian airline. And it has begun growing again, so maybe there’s long term hope.
On the whole, this penchant for trying new things and accepting failure has served the airline well. Now, with the pandemic, it is throwing things into overdrive.
While most airlines are looking to defer aircraft deliveries, Wizz is actually speeding them up. It has been watching airlines pull back during the pandemic, and it smells opportunity, adding routes at a furious pace. Here are some of the bigger projects.
Wizz New Experiments
- Italy – Opened a base at Milan/Malpensa in July and Catania just this month. It also just announced a coming base in Bari. It continues to grow throughout the country.
- Norway – After a long-standing presence, finally opening a base in Oslo. Also opening a base in Trondheim. It is beginning domestic Norway flights, clearly looking to kill off Norwegian.
- Russia – Decided to open a base at St Petersburg in September with growth already baked in.
- United Arab Emirates – Has served Dubai/World Central a little, but now created Wizz Abu Dhabi with flights to Athens, Alexandria (Egypt), Kutaisi, Larnca, Odesa, and Yerevan starting soon. The airline just received its operating certificate and has big plans.
- United Kingdom – Opened bases at Doncaster and Gatwick this month. Gatwick has been served since 2016, but now it will base aircraft and wants to grow as fast as it can gets slots.
The Abu Dhabi airline is interesting since it’s made possible by the A321neo which is now on the property at the airline. There are more opportunities like that further afield. As long as it doesn’t require a widebody, Wizz is going to be curious.
Keep an eye on these guys, and don’t be surprised if Wizz ends up being a good option on your next trip within Europe. There’s no end to the airline’s growth in sight. Not everything will work, but if this success rate continues, that’s still a winning strategy.