Wizz Air says refund-dodging accusations are 'nonsense'

Hugh Morris
Wizz says it will be back to 80% of pre-coronavirus levels by the end of the year - PA

Wizz Air has dismissed critics of its decision to restart its UK flights in May at the peak of the pandemic as “naysayers”.

Owain Jones, the low-cost airline’s UK managing director, also said accusations that the carrier resumed services early to avoid paying out refunds for cancelled flights are “nonsense”. 

The airline was branded “hugely irresponsible” for launching services from London Luton while the UK was still under lockdown. Consumer group Which? said it was a “cynical cash grab” as Wizz would not need to pay out refunds to services that went ahead. 

“There will always be naysayers,” Jones told Telegraph Travel, adding that Wizz wanted to resume flights as soon as possible to help repatriate stranded foreigners and assist essential workers.

He said the accusations that the airline was trying to avoid paying out refunds was “fanciful thinking from people who might not understand how to run a business”.

“If you fly an airline to avoid making refunds you would probably quite quickly use all your money up. It’s nonsense,” he said. 

“What we did was during April, we were looking very much at how we could get things back in the air as soon as possible, that’s what our customers wanted.”

The airline has been one of the fastest-growing in Europe in recent years, shifting from its focus on eastern and central Europe to more popular leisure destinations in Spain and Portugal. 

Jones said Wizz’s early restart meant it became a blueprint for other carriers in Europe. 

He said his cabin crew and customers have become accustomed to the “new normal” in terms of face masks and social distancing, but he does not believe the guidelines are here to stay.

“We are still having hotspots of Covid-19,” he said. “But hopefully when things improve, I’m not sure these things will be required forever after.”

While many of the world’s airlines grounded their fleets amid the global lockdown, Wizz Air took the opportunity to recalibrate, grow its network and expand its offering. It has launched 170 new UK routes this year.  

Jones said despite the crisis, Wizz remained focussed on growth. “Every single country has had some sort of restrictions in place at one point or another,” he said, “the trick is being nimble enough to adjust your capacity to meet the type of demand there.”

He said he estimates Wizz will be at 80 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger numbers by the end of the year, adding: “[Demand] will be coming back, in some places it will be quicker than others. We have a very different outlook to any airline saying it will take five years to get back to pre-Covid levels.”

While Jones is optimistic for Wizz’s future, he says some airlines may not survive the pandemic. 

“It’s a tough business,” he said. “It’s one thing to stop your aircraft flying, it’s another to get them back in the air.

“You will see some airlines maybe not expanding, and maybe some consolidation in the European market.”