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Business travel on a budget: Easyjet attracts corporate flyers

An EasyJet flight attendant walks down the aisle of the aircraft. © Bloomberg An EasyJet flight attendant walks down the aisle of the aircraft.

EasyJet's success in attracting cost-conscious business travellers helped the no-frills British airline to report a 7.7 per cent rise in first-quarter revenue, though it warned the timing of Easter would hit first-half results overall.

Shares in Europe's second-biggest budget airline by passenger numbers, which have doubled in value over the past year, slipped as much as 3.6 percent on Thursday.

"The negative is that it's exactly as people expected it to be," said Panmure analyst Gert Zonneveld of the results.

"Given the shares have had a phenonmenal run, you would expect a bit of profit-taking."

EasyJet has stolen a march on bigger rival Ryanair by introducing measures such as allocated seating and allowing passengers to change their flights in a bid to appeal to business travellers.

While easyJet posted a 51 per cent rise in profit in its 2012-13 financial year and announced plans for a special dividend for shareholders, Ryanair cut its annual profit target twice in two months late last year.

EasyJet said on Thursday that business passenger numbers rose 8.9 per cent in the three months ended December 31, the first quarter of its financial year, more than double the 4.2 per cent rise in overall passengers.

However, the Luton, England-based firm said the timing of Easter, which this year falls in April and so outside the first half of its financial year, would hit revenues in the six months to March 31. In the first half of last year, revenues got a £25-million ($47.5 million) boost from Easter, it estimated.

As a result the group, which traditionally sees fewer customers fly over the winter season, expects a first-half loss of between £70 million and £90 million, more than the 61 million pounds loss in the same period last year.

"EasyJet has made a good start to the year. The performance in the quarter demonstrates our continued focus on cost, progress against our strategic priorities and easyJet's structural advantage in the European short-haul market," chief executive Carolyn McCall said in a statement.

A focus on costs would help the company continue to deliver sustainable growth, it said, adding it expected first-half revenue per seat to rise slightly on the prior period.

EasyJet said its first-quarter revenue rose 7.7 per cent year-on-year to £897 million.

While in line with expectations, Richard Hunter, head of equities at brokers Hargreaves Landsdown, said the update did not match the "great expectations" to which easyJet investors had become accustomed.

Ryanair, which is in the midst of a drive aimed at improving its image and wooing business travellers, is due to report its third-quarter results on February 3.


British budget carrier EasyJet is increasingly attracting business travellers. © Bloomberg British budget carrier EasyJet is increasingly attracting business travellers.
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