Wizz Looks to Conquer the World, or At Least Europe

Wizz

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 That image is… outdated, to say the least.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

Data via Cirium

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.

Wizz Wins

  • 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.

Wizz Losses

  • 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.

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12 comments on “Wizz Looks to Conquer the World, or At Least Europe

  1. ‘presence in London via far-out Luton’ – it might be a dump of an airport, but it’s actually incredibly easy to get in to central London from Luton, and (unless you sit on the Piccadilly Line for over an hour from Heathrow) it is certainly cheaper than the Heathrow Express (which is an utter con). So Luton has it’s plus sides.

    1. From London to Stansted airport is 51 minutes by train. From London (different station) to Luton Parkway station is 32 minutes – the snag being that once you get to Stansted airport station you’re basically there, while once you at Luton Parkway you still have to go up the hill to get to Luton airport.

      But, all things considered, it’s hard to consider Luton any further out than Stansted. But Luton is… odd. Very weird airport layout and odd physical location. Punches above its weight, all things considered, however.

  2. Cranky, what do you think will happen to the smaller low cost carriers in Europe that are not directly owned by IAG, Lufthansa or KLM/Air France? One example is Volotea who flies your beloved 717s around the Greek islands and elsewhere. Perhaps Norwegian or Jet2 would be others that might have some difficulty surviving both the pandemic and the intense competition.

    Also, do you still see a place for Lufthansa (and other flag carrier) branded short haul flights within Europe, or do you see those flights transitioning to the likes of Eurowings, Transavia, and Vueling? It is tough to compete with Ryanair/EasyJet/Wizz on short haul flights given their cost advantage and the reduced levels of service where first class equals an empty middle seat.

    1. Nathan – Lots of good questions here. First, I think there’s plenty of room for the smaller European carriers that have solid business models.
      Volotea is one, like Allegiant. (Though it is rapidly focusing more on the 319s than the 717s!) Jet2 is another, the closest thing to a modern package operator there is. Norwegian used to be that way before it got greedy and went long-haul. Now it’s just a failing airline that others see as vulnerable, so it doesn’t have as much of a place as it could have. Of course, there are other smaller ones that probably don’t have the staying power, but I’m pretty bullish on Jet2 and Volotea.

      Then for legacy carriers on short haul, I do think there’s still room just like there is in the US. (Sure, they’re different markets for a lot of reasons, but that’s not the point.) Lufthansa has already decided to shrink down short-haul to be almost entirely only from its hubs.
      Everything outside of Munich and Frankfurt is Eurowings, if it still exists. The reality is that the Euro legacies should focus on their hubs and try to compete. They spent too long thinking that there wasn’t a real low cost threat and then they got hammered for it. I think it may very well just come down to labor. Transavia exists in France pretty much because the AF crews wouldn’t give concessions in any other area. Even that was a long fight to get Transavia. All of these machinations come about as ways for management to get around labor. In the US, they realized that’s not going to work and they’ve focused on the core airline… after many years of failing the other way. Whether that eventually happens in Europe or not remains to be seen.

  3. I flew Wizz last November (also my last trip until Covid canceled everything), from Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to Budapest, Hungary and back. Was extremely cheap: I paid 32 euros in total. It’s really a Ryanair clone, but without the lottery sales during the flight. For my intention, two days in Budapest to watch a football (soccer for you Americans) match, it was perfect. Would fly them again, without any problems.

  4. It looks like Bill Franke is one person who hasn’t turned a billion dollars into a million dollars investing in airlines.

  5. Flew on Wizz a few times. The most uncomfortable seats ever. But when you paid €10 it was bearable. Like Ryanair, their luggage policy (including carry-on) was difficult but they have made their website much clearer. And again, in many cases they are cheaper than Ryanair. Interesting to see another loco try fortress Dublin and fail.

  6. «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»

    This is not really true.

    The airport in Lubeck was shut down due to financial issues in 2016. Wizzair had no other possibility than leaving Lubeck and decided to keep at least some of its operations there by moving them to Hamburg.
    Prior to that they have successfully served Lubeck for an more than ten years in a row.

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