This week saw the launch of easyjet’s newest route from the UK, a double daily service between the low-cost airline’s London Gatwick base and Moscow; in addition, the airline will serve Moscow from Manchester 4 times a week.
Flying rights between the UK and Moscow are controlled by a treaty that allows 2 airlines from each country to serve the route. On the Russian side, the route is operated by Aeroflot & Transaero while, until last year, British Airways and bmi operated the route from Heathrow. With its takeover of bmi however, British Airways was forced to release slots on the route which were then put out to competitive tender by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority. This tender quickly became a simple 2-horse race between Virgin Atlantic and easyjet and, to the surprise of many, it was the low-cost carrier that came out on top.
The reasoning behind the CAA’s decision was simple. Virgin Atlantic were unlikely to bring anything significantly different or new to the route whereas easyjet not only fly from a different UK airport but, more importantly, also guaranteed not to charge more than £140 per person return for the first 3 years – compared to British Airways current lowest fare of over £300.
At over 4hrs in length, the London – Moscow route isn’t the furthest destination that easyjet serves but it’s close. The airline will operate the route using a 180 seat capacity A320 whereas British Airways has thus far mainly used the larger, wide-bodied 767. The real difference however is that whereas easyjet offers a single, no-frills economy product, British Airways offers a choice between World Traveller (economy), World Traveller Plus and Club World. Many of those who currently fly on this route do so on business and will probably choke on their caviar at the prospect of flying with a low-cost carrier. However, easyjet is confident that its low fares can both win over existing market share as well as expanding the market and, accordingly, has predicted that it will carry some 230,000 people on the London – Moscow route in its first year (equivalent to approx 30% of the existing annual current market).
One factor that may weigh against easyjet is that Moscow is one of only a handful of routes that it operates where British citizens require a visa; currently an outrageous £115 for a single entry tourist visa. The cost and hassle of this visa might count against easyjet as it will discourage the sort of ‘casual’ flying from which the sector has thrived.