(Recasts with CEO comments, adds detail)
By Sarah Young
BERLIN, March 27 (Reuters) - Britain’s easyJet said it hopes to add Middle East and Asian carriers to its long-haul connections programme, which enables travellers to buy multiple flights in a single transaction.
“Worldwide by easyJet”, the long-haul connections business the carrier set up last year, was a preferable way for easyJet to grow revenues rather than gaining direct exposure to long-haul flying itself, CEO Johan Lundgren said on Tuesday.
“No, no plans on that (long-haul flying),” he told reporters before boarding a flight from London to Berlin, which when it reached Berlin was met by police who removed a disruptive passenger.
“This (Worldwide by easyJet) is a good way of actually offering long-haul but we don’t need to buy very expensive planes,” he said.
Four months into the job he said was not planning any major change in direction at Europe’s second biggest budget airline.
“I can tell you right now, there won’t be a revolution to the strategy,” he said.
For “Worldwide by easyJet”, the airline partnered with long-haul low cost airline Norwegian, to enable travellers to buy combinations of easyJet short-haul tickets and Norwegian’s long-haul via a single transaction.
The company was “pleased” with the intake of bookings for the Worldwide product so far, Lundgren said, and it expected to add more partners over the course of this year as talks with Middle East and Asian carriers were “far advanced”.
Lundgren was travelling to Berlin for an event to mark easyJet becoming the biggest airline in the city from this summer after it acquired parts of Air Berlin last October. With about half of the 25 Air Berlin aircraft now rebranded with the easyJet livery, Lundgren said other acquisitions could follow in the future.
“Yes,” he said when asked if there would be further acquisitions.
“We have an investment grade balance sheet...I’m a firm believer there will be more acquisitions in the industry.”
He said easyJet remained interested in acquiring the short-haul operations of Alitalia, the ailing Italian flag carrier, and was in talks with its commissioners.
When asked about the transition deal agreed for Britain’s exit from the European Union, he said easyJet welcomed the clarity it brought, for itself and for businesses and that he was confident there would be a deal on aviation for the period after Brexit.
Lundgren, the Swedish former deputy CEO at travel company TUI, replaced Carolyn McCall as easyJet CEO in December 2017.
Asked about bigger rival Ryanair’s move earlier in March to flying both Boeing planes and Airbus jets after an acquisition, Lundgren said easyJet was happy with its Airbus-only fleet at the moment.
On Tuesday, easyJet added seven new airports to “Worldwide by easyJet” including Paris Charles De Gaulle, Berlin Tegel and Amsterdam Schiphol plus other airlines including Thomas Cook , with connections to the Caribbean and the United States, and Corsair, which flies to Indian Ocean destinations.
Previously connecting flights were only available on its Worldwide platform via London Gatwick.
Currently the most popular route using the Worldwide product is between Rome and Chicago, with travellers flying to Gatwick on easyJet, then onto Chicago with Norwegian. Tickets cost from about 150 pounds in total.
Reporting by Sarah Young; Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Susan Fenton