Bigger than BA: The 20 things you didn’t know about Wizz Air

Since its 2004 inception, the Hungarian company has become a major low-cost airline in Europe

Tonight, a party is taking place at a swanky hotel in London. We can only imagine that tiny packets of pretzels will be served alongside €6.50 cans of San Miguel, as Wizz Air celebrates 20 years in the skies.

Since its first ever flight from Katowice, Poland to Luton Airport in 2004, the pink-splashed Hungarian airline has grown to become the seventh biggest in Europe. Today, Wizz serves 200 destinations across 53 countries and is the biggest airline in central and eastern Europe.

With an exclamation mark replacing the “i” in its logo, Wizz has ushered in a new era of ultra low-cost services in the skies, where everything – from seat selection to cabin luggage to name changes on tickets – comes at a price.

Passengers board a Wizz Air plane at Girona airport Spain in September 2004
Passengers boarding a Wizz Air plane at Girona airport Spain in 2004, the company's first year of travel - Bloomberg

The airline has come bottom of various customer satisfaction polls over the years, but Wizz is here to stay, and has ambitions far greater than low-cost flights between Luton and eastern Europe. Including, perhaps, long-haul flights on the horizon. Here are 20 things you didn’t know about aviation’s budget disruptor.

1. József Váradi was just 38 when he founded the airline

Hungarian businessman József Váradi worked at Procter and Gamble and Hungary’s state airline, Malév, before founding and becoming the CEO at Wizz in 2003. Today, Váradi is one of the richest men in Hungary,

József Váradi, chief executive officer of Wizz Air Holdings Plc, during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, UK, on Thursday, May 23, 2024
József Váradi has led Wizz Air for the past 20 years - Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

2. He’s no Branson or O’Leary, but he has made a few headlines

In 2022 Váradi stirred controversy for appearing to call on crew to work through fatigue: “I mean, we cannot run this business when every fifth person of a base reports sickness because the person is fatigued. We are all fatigued but sometimes it is required to take the extra mile,” he said.

Responding at the time, Wizz said: “Our crew unavailability has been very low, at 4 per cent. In this context, going the extra mile to minimise disruption was discussed. What this does not mean is compromising safety.”

Váradi also made headlines after it was revealed that he will unlock a £100 million bonus if he successfully raises the company’s share price to £120 by 2028. Justifying the figure, he told City A.M., “This is like a commission rate of 1 per cent”, and insisted that all employees will reap financial rewards if the target is met.

3. Wizz carried more passengers than British Airways last year

Many more, in fact. In 2023, Wizz Air carried 60.3 million passengers. British Airways carried 43 million passengers – although IAG, incorporating BA CityFlyer, Iberia, Vueling, Level and Aer Lingus, carried a total of 115 million passengers. For comparison, easyJet flew 82.8 million passengers in 2023 and Ryanair carried 182 million passengers.

4. It has usurped easyJet as the king of Luton

Wizz is now the biggest airline at Luton Airport, taking the crown from easyJet at Britain’s fifth busiest airport. In February 2024, Wizz carried its 70 millionth passenger from Luton Airport.

Wizz Air check-in desks at London Luton Airport, where it is the dominant airline
Wizz Air check-in desks at London Luton Airport, where it is the dominant airline - Alamy

5. Wizz even tried to buy easyJet, during the pandemic

In 2021, amid a drawn-out recovery after the pandemic, easyJet said it had “received an unsolicited preliminary takeover approach” but that it was unanimously rejected by its board. It was widely reported that the bidder was easyJet’s low-cost rival, Wizz Air. The takeover never came to fruition.

6. Wizz has outlived the former Hungarian flag carrier, Malév

After serving as the Hungarian flag carrier for 66 years, in 2012 Malév ceased operations after the European Commission ordered the airline to repay state aid it had received from 2007–2010. In 2012, Malév was responsible for around half of all air traffic going into Budapest Liszt Ferenc Airport.

7. Wizz has one of the youngest fleets in the world

The average age of a Wizz aircraft is 4.2 years, well below the average fleet age of its main low-cost competitors, which is around 10 years. Wizz uses Airbus aircraft only, with more than 200 A320s and A321s in its fleet. British Airways uses a combination of Airbus and Boeing aircraft; easyJet is an Airbus devotee, too, and Ryanair is loyal to the Boeing 737.

Wizz Air uses Airbus craft only, the average age of which in their fleet is just 4.2 years
Wizz Air uses Airbus craft only, and its fleet is relatively new

8. Wizz claims to be the most environmentally friendly low-cost airline

Wizz calls itself the world’s most environmentally friendly airline, thanks largely to its young fleet. In the year to the end of February 2024, Wizz says its passengers’ carbon footprint per kilometre was 52 grams, on average – the lowest CO2 intensity among its competitors. Wizz has also committed to reducing its carbon intensity by another 25 per cent (compared with 2019 levels) by 2030.

9. Wizz paid out £1.2 million to customers for flight disruption

In January 2024, Wizz paid out more than £1.2 million to passengers over flight disruptions. The Civil Aviation Authority intervened after “high volumes” of complaints about Wizz allegedly not paying customers what it owed. The CAA advised Wizz to review 25,000 rejected claim requests, and as a result Wizz issued additional payments to 6,000 customers to cover the cost of things like transfer costs or alternative flights after being left stranded overseas. Wizz has since invested £90 million into launching new initiatives to reduce cancellations and improve performance.

10. Still, Wizz was voted the worst airline in 2024 by Which?

A 2024 Which? survey named Wizz Air the worst short-haul airline. The consumer magazine criticised the Hungarian airline for its delays and poor customer service, with one customer saying it felt “impossible” to communicate with Wizz when they asked for assistance. In response to the survey, Marion Geoffroy, managing director at Wizz Air UK, said: “We do not consider the findings of this report to be representative or the methodology used to be transparent.”

Wizz also came bottom of the Telegraph Travel Awards poll in 2023.

11. Four aircraft were stranded in Ukraine following the Russian invasion

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Wizz had four aircraft stranded in the country – three in Kyiv and one in Lviv. In September that year, despite Ukrainian airspace being closed, Wizz safely flew its aircraft from Danylo Halytskyi International AIrport in Lviv to Katowice Airport in Poland. It is understood that engines from at least two of the remaining aircraft in Kyiv were removed and transported across the border into Poland.

12. Since 2019, Wizz has had a base in the Middle East

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of Wizz Air, was founded in December 2019 and is based at Abu Dhabi International Airport. It serves 31 destinations, including Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Iraq…

13… and even flies to the Maldives

The farthest-flung destination in Wizz’s network is the Maldives, with return flights from as cheap as £162 from Abu Dhabi to the Indian Ocean idyll.

Aerial drone view of adult couple on a sandy beach in the Maldives
Wizz boasts a network in the Maldives –with return flights at rock-bottom prices - Getty

14. Like many airlines, Wizz is no stranger to drama in the air

In 2022 two men, thought to be from south London, were at the centre of an in-flight fracas on a flight from Gatwick to Crete. According to other passengers, the pilot was struck when he attempted to calm down one of the passengers. Meanwhile, footage from a flight from Tel Aviv to Luton in September 2023 showed a passenger attempting to open the emergency door at 30,000ft. Several passengers reportedly restrained the passenger and the plane made an emergency landing in Belgrade.

15. A viral video showed a Wizz plane taking a very low landing

A viral video from 2022 shows a Wizz plane coming into land at Skiathos Airport in Greece. The runway is very close to a beach, where plane spotters frequently stand with cameras to watch planes descending.

16. Wizz operates flights to ‘mystery destinations’

As part of its #LetsGetLostwithWIZZ campaign, Wizz chartered passengers to an unknown destination in March 2024. To (drumroll) Antalya, Turkey. Other airlines and holiday companies have carried out similar stunts in recent years, usually with planes packed with influencers.

17. It has among the fullest planes in the sky

Wizz Air’s average load factor in 2023 was 91.1 per cent, meaning the airline has some of the fullest planes in the sky. Thus contributing, again, to the relative carbon efficiency of the carrier.

18. Three babies have been born on Wizz Air flights

One of the births occurred in March this year. Hassan Khan, a doctor who works at Basildon Hospital in Essex, came to a Jordanian woman’s aid after she went into labour on a flight from Amman, Jordan to Luton. She couldn’t speak English, so another passenger assisted as a translator, and she gave birth to a healthy girl.

“People were saying it was miraculous. I only realised how significant it was after I had the chance to process it all,” said Dr Khan.

19. There have also been three on-board proposals, and a wedding

This is according to the Wizz Air press office. Telegraph Travel awaits confirmation that it isn’t April 1 in Hungary.

20. Wizz has plans to fly from Europe to India

Wizz has received authority from Hungarian, Italian and Austrian authorities to operate direct flights to India, which could start as early as next year.

“We are in discussions with the governments and the regulators on both sides of the equations in Europe and India,” said Váradi, who suggested that ticket prices could start from €200 one-way.

The would-be service has been nicknamed as potentially “bum numbing”. It would be one of the longest low-cost flights on Earth. In a conversation with The Telegraph in 2023, Wizz hinted that there could be flights to other long-haul destinations, like Singapore, by the end of the decade.