McCall hints at change in focus for EasyJet

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EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall has revealed the carrier's ambition to become "Europe's preferred short-haul airline" during the next 10 years.

Her declaration did not rule out the possibility that EasyJet could seek to reposition itself further up the value chain and McCall added that she had deliberately avoided using the terms "low-cost" and "low-fare" in her description.

She also stated that the carrier intended to increase its volume of business travel and the value it derived from it, divulging that 18% of the airline's passengers are travelling on business.

McCall explained that the company's new flexi fare ticket was launched in June to pursue this aim. The tickets, available through the EasyJet website, allow passengers unlimited flexibility to change their flight date up to 2h before the scheduled departure time.

Detailing the motivation behind this approach, McCall said: "The only reason that we're doing it is that we believe there's value to unlock there." A further hint at a possible change of focus away from the low-price end of the market came in response to a question about how EasyJet sought to differentiate itself from its competitors such as Ryanair. McCall stated that the difference was in the airline's approach.

"The volcano was a good example where EasyJet didn't stand up and say we're not going to do this, we're not going to do that, we just got our passengers back, in fact we wet-leased aircraft to repatriate passengers. We hope that means they'll come back to EasyJet if they have a choice," she said.

Detailing the importance of being the "preferred choice" of passengers, McCall said she knew passengers had a choice of carriers to many destinations, but stated that value would be added if passengers favoured EasyJet's service above that of its competitors.

The EasyJet chief executive was speaking at the inaugural Amy Johnson named lecture. Organised to commemorate a century of women in flight, it was held at the Royal Aeronautical Association in London's Mayfair on 6 July, the same day the English aviator achieved her pilot's licence in 1929.

McCall discounted a suggestion that EasyJet could replicate its success in the USA or Asia, commenting: "We have so much still to do in Europe it would be so distracting and diversionary." She added that EasyJet was also "completely disinterested in long-haul".

In response to a question about the Office of Fair Trading's ruling that charges for booking flights using debit cards must be dropped, McCall said: "What we really don't want is to drop the charges and compete with airlines from Europe that are OK to do it. What we are looking for is a level playing field."

On the subject of its intention to launch services from London Southend in April 2012, McCall stated that the decision to do so had been made for "very good, sound commercial reasons". Describing the investment that had been made in the airport, she said that it provided a "brilliant customer experience if you live in that catchment area", which enabled passengers to get from landside to airside in 4min.