Wizz Air’s New Direction — Western European Flights And Bases

Disclaimer

Before I dive into this, let me start by saying I’m going to be talking a lot about ‘Western Europe’ and ‘Eastern Europe’ in this article. I know there are differing opinions by experts as to exactly which countries belong in these different zones. And there is particular debate about the concept of a ‘Central Europe’, and whether certain countries like Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia belong in ‘Central Europe’ or ‘Eastern Europe’.

There’s of course also concepts of Northern and Southern Europe, which I won’t be discussing in this article.

For the simplicity of discussing Wizz Air and their geographical expansion today, I’m simply going to refer to ‘Western Europe’ and ‘Eastern Europe’, with most of the countries some commentators place in a ‘Central Europe’ into the ‘Eastern Europe’ list. Think of it as if I have drawn a line down the centre of Europe, with Germany, Austria and Italy to the left (in what I will for today class as ‘Western Europe’), and Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia to the right (in what I will call, for simplicity sake, ‘Eastern Europe’).

I mean no offence to anyone who may disagree with my simplistic division, I’m only doing it to be able to discuss Wizz Air in an easy to digest format.

With that out of the way, on to today’s topic.

Wizz Air

Wizz Air is a huge Hungarian low cost airline, headquartered in Budapest.

They have a unique business model in the crowded European low cost market, with around two dozen bases in Eastern Europe, primarily connecting Western Europe with Eastern Europe (as well as Eastern Europe with Eastern Europe). They have been operating since 2004, but have been rapidly growing in the last few years.

In addition to their current narrow body fleet of 104 aircraft, they have a massive 265 new aircraft on order, and once they receive all these aircraft, they will be one of the largest airlines in Europe.

I’ve flown Wizz Air several times, and have noted they are unique in the following ways:

  • They are able to offer some of the lowest airfares of any airline in Europe, even lower than Ryanair
  • As they are often flying into the depths of Eastern Europe from Western Europe, their flight times are often three or more hours, which is really pushing my limits of tolerance for flying an ultra low cost carrier
  • I think my European geography is fairly good noting my disclaimer in the introduction above (I’ve visited almost every country in Europe), but Wizz fly to plenty of cities in Eastern Europe I have never heard of, like Kutaisi, Craiova and Debrecen
  • They have huge operations at London Luton, which is my least favourite London airport and most of their ‘weekend away’ flights leave at very undesirable times, like 11:30pm, flying several hours east, meaning they arrive at ungodly times like 4am
  • I have tended to avoid them previously, both because I’ve found their legroom to be tighter than any other airline I’ve flown in Europe, and they used to charge for even a single piece of hand luggage, meaning their advertised fares were misleading as you would always need to add an additional cost to take even a single hand luggage bag; they have since changed this policy and advertised fares include one piece of hand luggage, so they’re probably now considered low cost, rather than ultra low cost

Until now, while Wizz did connect people within Eastern Europe, their involvement in Western Europe was almost entirely transporting passengers between the two regions. They base their planes in Eastern Europe, and operate return flights west each day.

Wizz have little competition on many routes that Ryanair and Easyjet don’t even serve, yet I’ve been impressed with how low they’ve been able to keep their prices. Easyjet never advertises flights from the UK at under EUR/GBP29.99, while I’ve seen Wizz flights from London to Eastern Europe for under EUR10.

So why am I writing about this airline that many of you may not have previously considered?

Well, Wizz have decided to launch proper bases at both London Luton and Vienna, to fly routes within Western Europe, rather than ‘Eastern’ Europe, which represents a new direction for them.

London Luton

I understand Wizz do operate some (seasonal?) routes to a few ‘Western’ European cities already, although I’m not sure if they currently consider Luton to be an actual base (or how many aircraft they actually base there).

The new operations will fly under the Wizz Air name, with a new airline code, W9. From October of this year there will initially be new Western Europe routes from London Luton to:

  • Grenoble
  • Lisbon
  • Tromso
  • Verona

This seems like an odd list huh? The reason this excites me is that I expect Wizz to have cheaper fares than any other carrier on these routes, and there are definitely some routes I actually want to take.

For example, London to Tromso is traditionally a pretty expensive route. For some reason their new London flights aren’t yet showing up on Google Flights or ITA Matrix, but as predicted, they are able to offer much cheaper prices than their competition.

Vienna

From Vienna there will be new services (under the main W6 code) from late this year and early next year to:

  • Bergen
  • Billund
  • Catania
  • Dortmund
  • Larnaca
  • Lisbon
  • Madrid
  • Malmo
  • Milan Malpensa
  • Nice
  • Rekjavik
  • Stockholm Skavsta
  • Tenerife South
  • Thessaloniki

Now while you may class Vienna in the same ‘region’ as existing bases in nearby Hungary, I believe Vienna is geographically the western-most base Wizz operate (excluding the new London base described above) and to me represents an interesting step from an eastern-focused airline, into the west. I expect as Wizz scale their operations, they will gradually open bases more and more west into ‘Western Europe’.

It will be very interesting to see if they eventually launch bases in Germany (to Western Europe). I would be particularly interested in seeing a Munich base, as flights from Munich to Western Europe are traditionally expensive.

As expected, Wizz’s entrance onto these Western European routes brings with it excellent fares — here’s Vienna to Tenerife, a flight of more than five hours in length:

Bottom line

Look, Wizz isn’t my first choice of airline to fly. They’re a basic, no frills, low cost airline. Compared with Ryanair I would say Wizz is slightly more pleasant, but has slightly tighter leg room.

But they have obviously seen opportunity on routes like London to Norway, where they can come in and provide significantly lower prices. And this really does excite me.

With hundreds of planes on order, I would expect to see many more Western Europe bases open and some dramatically lower prices on some really interesting routes. More competition is always a good thing.

Have you flown Wizz Air?

Comments

  1. Wizz already operate a bunch of routes this summer based out of Luton – Tel Aviv, Iceland, Larnaca, Athens etc

  2. @ Sam – correct. The discussion about the LTN base was more about how they are using a new call sign so it’s more like a separate airline.

  3. A simple solution to your Political Correctness conundrum is just to refer to it as “Central & Eastern Europe” or CEE. This clearly would respect both sides of the debate while including all the areas to which you are referring. As you say, it is common to refer to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Poland as Central European, or in other jargon, the “CE-4”. I worked for a company focusing on emerging markets and that’s what we did…

  4. @ Justin – I would, but I’ve always thought of Austria as Western Europe which is why the opening of a Vienna base for a CCE airline sparked my interest enough to start writing this article in the first place.

  5. I doubt any LCC will be launching a base at Munich any time soon. How Lufthansa managed to squeeze Transavia out of Munich even though they apparently had load factors of over 90% still intrigues me. I had hoped Easyjet would launch a base here but nope. It hurts to see how much we pay for flights from Munich compared to other airports.

  6. @James. Thank you for educating the readers about the differences between Eastern and Central Europe when it comes to CORRECTLY identifying Hungary’s “designation” regarding that. I appreciate it.

  7. James,
    Interesting article. I will say that as Budapest based traveler, it is the default flag carrier for Hungary. As such, an easy way to have a much more pleasant experience on them is to pay 200 euros a year for Privilege Pass. Priority Boarding, free seat selection, better carry on allowance are all part of the package. It is basically buying status for a nominal amount.

    Operationally, they aren’t perfect. Most of their routes aren’t daily, and their customer service leaves a lot to be desired. However, most of the fares I have purchased for them have been under 20 euros. I buy all my tickets on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, so I do have the delay protection.

    Overall, I am amazed at the amount of travel I have had with them for a fraction of what it would have cost before. It is fairly odd enjoying a priority pass lounge with snacks and beers before a 12 euro flight.

  8. @James. Actually, let me take back what I wrote :-)))). After I read your full article, I realized that you are in the “other” camp……..
    Your first paragraph tricked me.

  9. @ Daniel B – I don’t classify Hungary as only one of Central or Eastern Europe, and recognise there is plenty of debate about it. For the purposes of keeping the article simple and digestible only, I’ve divided countries into Western, and Eastern Europe with Hungary in the Eastern list.

  10. I am not sure I would agree they’re better than Ryanair, whilst Ryanair’s customer service is pretty poor there is some semblance of communication whereas if something goes wrong with WizzAir there is literally no comeback. I’d place them on the level of Vueling/Level or whatever IAG are calling their cowboy outfit now….

  11. FYI Prague is their “most western base” except for LTN. At the same time as expanding in Vienna, they are cutting some routes from smaller airports in the area – Brno, Kosice. IMO they’ll cancel/reduce some routes from Bratislava too, no point in having same routes from both VIE and BTS which are some 55km – 35miles apart

  12. This obsession with ultra cheap flights is quite literally ruining the world. The EUR 29.99 flights does not come anywhere close to reflecting the “true” cost of operating the flight. Societies are left to pay the remaining bill (in the form of crew being underpaid and needing welfare support, carbon emissions, over crowded airports, etc…)

  13. @ Jan – according to Wizz’s website, there are no Wizz bases in Czech Republic. I thought Prague would have been an obvious option for a base.

  14. I’d say it’s more likely that they are going to make FMM (“Munich West”) a real base, rather than starting any operation at MUC airport.

  15. As a RIX based traveler I use Wizz rather often for travel westward and I must say I like them far better than Ryanair. The leg room indeed leaves to be desired, but Wizz has introduced many cool features that Ryanair has then copied afterwards, like mobile boarding passes, extra carry-on with prio boarding, different fare levels. The cabin crews are also far more friendly than their Ryanair couterparts.

    One interesting thing for travelers is the Discount Club which gives another €10 discount on all flights above €20 and the Privilege Pass mentioned above.

    Plus Wizz is in many cases the carrier that really unlocked a lot of these bases with destinations that others don’t fly to because they adhere to the hub-spoke model. Cities like Gdansk and Vilnius really have benefitted because of them, not to mention smaller ones like Debrecen and Iasi.

    I am curious to see if we’ll also get more intra-CEE traffic from them, because at the moment it’s still very expensive and often time-consuming to fly, say, Riga-Bucharest or Gdansk-Tirana.

  16. About the legroom… I’ve flown Wizz Air about 3 times, on 2 flights I had about 1in to 1.5.in space between my knees and the front seat. Now I’m a short guy (5’6), so economy or even budget, I generally “fit in”. But I had one flight where not only my knees touch the front seat, but I actually had to open my legs to decrease the distance even further. I wonder if leg space is not standardized in their aircrafts?

  17. @ Sung – yes I would have thought each LCC would have standardised pitch across their fleet. I’m 6”0 and also found my knees to be pushed right up against the seat on Wizz which I have not experienced on any other low cost airline, across dozens of flights.

  18. @Koen Verhelst: As you’re based in RIX, how do you find your country’s airline (BT*) to be?
    *airBaltic for the uninitiated.

  19. @ Jan

    Actually for Prague, Wizz Air has sadly cancelled the Prague base since mid-June. They now have only three destinations from Prague; Bari (BRI), Kutaisi (KUT and London (LTN).

  20. @VT-CIO: When I first flew airBaltic in 2009 it was a very regular experience (AMS-RIX-TBS). After that they had some huge troubles, nearly went bankrupt and the service certainly suffered for that. Their crews were often moody and the cabins of their 737 badly worn.

    But lately things are picking up. They have smarter management now. Ever since they’ve started receiving the CS300/A220-300 the atmosphere has changed immensely. They are opening up a lot of new destinations and have become a much more customer friendly company to deal with.

    In a relatively small market it kinda works nicely to be a low cost carrier where passengers pay for all extras but still you offer them the hub-spoke model and multiple departures to main hubs around Europe. I really don’t need food on a 2 hr RIX-AMS flight, but I do love being able to choose between a morning and an evening departure (that said, I probably wouldn’t enjoy their ‘slim line’ economy seats on their 6 hr RIX-AUH 😉 ).

  21. I’ve only flown Wizz one time. A “just fine” flight from LJU-LTN. The border wait on arrival at LTN was long, the ticket machines to pick up train tickets in arrivals was out of order and the shuttle to the train station was packed. It was kind of a mess at that airport.

    I had gotten a good deal on a Virgin UpperClass flight with a MR transfer to SkyMiles and connected on my own by staying overnight in London each way.

    On reflection, it was a good trip, but in the future I’d rather buy tickets with quick connections on a legacy airline to get to Central/Eastern Europe instead of dealing with low cost carriers.

    For me, my favorite way to travel to Europe from my west coast home is Saga class on IcelandAir. I hope that with their new 737s they may open up travel to more cities. While Saga class is usually around $3,000, it’s less expensive than business class on other airlines and the trip earns ~ 24,000 Alaska Miles (or more with status). Travel times with connections in Keflavik are generally quicker than trips connecting in larger airports like Heathrow or Schiphol. The small cabin up front of the 757s is kind of cozy since it’s in front of the boarding door. The IcelandAir food in Saga is generally pretty decent, especially if you’re into cured meats and pickled fish, haha.

  22. Is it just me, or was this article an incredibly clunky (East and West seems like they’re mentioned a hundred times!) and long-winded way of saying “Wizz Air are expanding in Western Europe”?

  23. I flew them a lot when we lived in Budapest for a year in 2015. As others have said, you can basically buy status and make your experience MUCH better.

    I knew quite a few people who hated them but they didn’t pay for extra leg room, priority boarding,etc (when I flew them that stuff was a la carte). I personally never had an issue with them.

  24. Thanks for the post Andrew, sad the half was about defining which country belongs to where not a more profound market analysis or anything that would mean value to this article.

    Regarding the second part I agree with your findings. Based on my experience, intra Europe’s economy service is getting worse and worse on flag carriers and it is still expensive. In a word when you can score a 300eur RT Europe-USA ticket Vica versa, why would you pay the same amount for a short hop within Europe. (Not talking about business travel here) Here comes why w6 can be successful, cheap fares, young fleet, pretty trolley dollies 🙂

    If you are a conscious traveler you can push the max out from wizzair and pay significantly less and you do not even have to squeeze yourself into a regular seat. Overally, much better experience than ryanair.

  25. Wizz Air is one of the only low-cost airlines flying to Kazakhstan (Budapest-Astana), besides Pegasus Airlines (Istanbul – Sabiha Gokcen), Air Arabia (Sharjah), and FlyDubai

  26. Old news again. Wizz Air UK was first registered in the UK in October 2017 and has fleet of 7 UK
    registered aircraft based at Luton which began flying at the beginning of 2018. It also employs over 200 UK based crew.

  27. I’m with you on the west/east division – I just use the old Iron Curtain as the dividing line. You do hear about ‘central Europe’ but Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc were always in the east to me and remain so. My Hungarian neighbours don’t fly into rage when I call them ‘east Europeans ‘, either.

    Wizzair got a huge boost when Tony Blair and cohorts allowed ‘free movement’ for eastern EU countries into the U.K. from the early and mid 2000s. Many an east European worker bee migrant got his or her first look at a new life in England from the steps of a Wizzair plane at Luton. If you know Luton (acres of wasteland former GM plant, etc) It’s a wonder most didn’t turn right back around…. 🙂

    Craiova, as you probably now know, is in Romania. The city is home to a former Daewoo factory, now churning out small Fords.

  28. W9 is a code for Air Bagan of Myanmar so all my Wizzair UK flights are showing as Air Bagan in checkmytrip. Can 2 airlines have the same IATA code?

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