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All Grown Up: Wizz Air Celebrates Its 18th Birthday

Eighteen years have passed since Wizz Air took off on its first scheduled flight. The route was from Katowice to London Luton, airports which remain very important to the ultra-low-cost carrier to this day.

Four routes and eight flights on day one

Wizz Air’s first base was at Katowice, Poland, helped by 13 million people living within a two-hour drive. It had four routes on day one: Berlin Schönefeld (as it then was), London Luton, Milan Bergamo, and Rome Ciampino.

The first day’s schedule is shown below, with all times local, requiring one A320. There were eight sectors, with four legs per crew per shift, often considered optimal. Despite so many sectors, there were nearly 14 hours of aircraft block time, well over the minimum 12h per day often sought.

Having so many sectors and such high block time is unusual for an airline. It was achieved by extending the operating day and 30-minute turns. However, notice there was no ‘firebreak’ in-between crew shift changes to make up for any delays.

The average block time per sector was approximately 1h 40m, well-positioned in the one-to-two-hour sweet spot for LCCs/ULCCs. As you might expect, Wizz Air was a highly productive operator from day one.

  1. Katowice-London Luton: 06:20-07:30
  2. London Luton-Katowice: 08:05-11:20
  3. Katowice-Milan Bergamo: 11:50-13:25
  4. Milan Bergamo-Katowice: 13:55-15:30
  5. Katowice-Rome Ciampino: 16:00-17:55
  6. Rome Ciampino-Katowice: 18:25-20:20
  7. Katowice-Berlin Schönefeld: 20:50-21:55
  8. Berlin Schönefeld-Katowice: 22:25-23:30

Wizz Air’s first day of flying on May 19th, 2004. Image: GCMap.

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249+ million passengers so far

May 2019 saw Wizz Air carry its 200th million passenger since that historic day in 2004. The ULCC’s own data shows that it transported 38.9 million people in full-year 2019, 16.7 million in 2020, and 21.7 million in 2021.

Between January and April 2022, 10.4 million flew. That was 95% of what it had in the same period in 2019, not helped by most countries then having heavy coronavirus restrictions, especially earlier in the year. And January to March is, of course, also the least demanded quarter of the year.

April was different. Wizz Air carried 3.6 million passengers, 10% more than in 2019. It is the first whole month of the aviation summer season, Easter fell in that month, and many nations loosened, or entirely removed, restrictions, all boosting demand. I suspect it’ll carry around 4.7 million in May.

This specific A320, HA-LPB, was Wizz Air’s first aircraft. It arrived in May 2004 and stayed until October 2011. Photo: Rob Starling via Flickr.

Now Europe’s fifth-largest airline

The rest of 2022 will be like April, pushing well ahead of pre-pandemic figures. OAG shows that the Wizz Air Group has 60.2 million seats for sale this year, up by 41% over 2019, driven by its extreme expansion in the past two years. It has 1,076 routes, up from 741 in 2019.

Italy has been the primary winner. It is now Wizz Air’s top country, up from fifth pre-pandemic, pushing down Poland, the UK, Romania, and Hungary. It has 10.9 million Italy seats, up nearly fourfold in three years. Along with significant growth from Ryanair, it has contributed to Italy being Europe’s only major nation to exceed pre-COVID capacity in the all-important June-September period.

Have you flown Wizz Air? If so, share your experiences in the comments.


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