Focus: Jet2’s northern ambitions

Business Traveller speaks to Jet2’s managing director Ian Doubtfire in the week it announces its tenth new route from Manchester Airport

UK-based low cost carrier Jet2 has unveiled its tenth new route this year from Manchester with the addition of Salzburg to its winter schedule.

While most of these are leisure destinations, reflecting the airline’s overriding market focus, the addition of a new Prague service from Manchester on top of a well-established service from Leeds Bradford signals a strengthening in Jet2’s business offering from the north of England.

Ian Doubtfire, managing director of Jet2, said a number of its “long-established” routes from Manchester such as Budapest and Rome, were popular with business travellers and holidaymakers alike.

He said: “We’ve increased frequency to Budapest and Rome from Manchester to daily during the summer, and we’ve seen a lot of business passengers using that. Prague also has a strong business element, and that’s four times a week now and five times a week in the summer.”

Manchester vs. Leeds Bradford

Since being founded in 2002, Jet2 has seen its traffic rise from 600,000 passengers per year to more than three million, with Leeds Bradford as its main base. But this year the airline is focusing its expansion efforts on Manchester, not Leeds, with ten new routes and two new Boeing 737s with newly designed seating.

Doubtfire said: “Manchester has always been our biggest airport. It’s a huge market well linked by train and road. As we concentrate on being the leisure airline of the North, we really need to be in the biggest airport in the North.”

Manchester Airport, the UK’s fourth busiest airport after Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, is itself seeing many changes. Terminal 1 has recently been given a £50 million overhaul (see Northern Heights in the March edition of Business Traveller magazine). More recently Emirates has opened a new executive lounge ahead of a new A380 service from Manchester, making it the first regional airport in the UK to be served by the superjumbo (see online news March 30).

Jet2 has been quick to take advantage of growth at Manchester, having recently opened its own dedicated check-in desks at the airport staffed by a 70-strong team. That coupled with new security lanes has resulted in faster check-in times and increased customer satisfaction, claims Doubtfire.

“We’ve had a lot of compliments from passengers telling us how quick it is to pass through Manchester nowadays,” Doubtfire added. “We’re very confident about Manchester and there will inevitably be some growth next year.”

Competition among low fare airlines is strong in the North, with Bmibaby also flying to Prague from Manchester (as well as Birmingham and East Midlands). But Jet2 remains defiant due in part to its “friendly low fares” ethos which includes allocated seating and a respectable 22kg baggage allowance.

Doubtfire said: “We’re certainly not the only carrier on the Prague route, but we feel very confident about our product and we feel we know the destinations that people want. Obviously one’s always mindful of the competition but our strategy really is to follow what we believe is right.”

Jet.com toilet muralsA fleet-wide facelift

As well as announcing its tenth new route for 2010, Jet2 took the opportunity yesterday to unveil new seating, the culmination of three years of design and testing.

According to Doutbfire, the new lightweight seats from design company Akro give two inches more legroom than Jet2’s old economy seating on all its aircraft. The seats are also made from e-leather, a type of reclaimed, recycled leather manufactured from off-cuts.

The seats also save on weight. On a B757, aircraft weight is reduced by half a tonne resulting in lower fuel consumption and fewer carbon emissions.

Jet2 has fitted the new seating in all its B757s and two of its B737s, and it expects to have completed a fleet-wide roll-out by the end of the summer. Carpets, bulkheads and even the toilets are also in line for a refresh, with photographic murals in the latter.

“They’re a bit quirky, with pictures of camels and fish. It makes people laugh, and happy that they’re going away,” said Doubtfire.

Turbulent times ahead

Jet2 sees a bright future ahead of it with expansion plans for 2011 already in the offing. But despite this the airline remains cautious in the coming months, with a general election fast approaching.

Doubtfire said: “Following the election we might still have some tough times, or tough challenges, from whoever’s in government. Cautious optimism is the expression I believe. I think we all know that whoever comes into power will have to deal with this deficit, so there may be more taxes coming our way.”

The Conservatives yesterday pledged to reform the planned hikes in Air Passenger Duty (APD), while the Liberal Democrats say they will scrap the tax altogether, in favour of a Per Plan Duty (PPD). But APD or not, “any tax that limits people’s spending power is obviously a concern,” Doubtfire said.

For more information visit jet2.com.

Andrew Gough

Jet.com new seating