Bigger than BA… and twenty other things you didn’t know about Wizz Air

Tonight there’s a party at a swanky hotel in London. We can only imagine that small packets of pretzels will be served alongside €6.50 cans of San Miguel as Wizz Air celebrates 20 years in the air.

Since the very first flight from Katowice, Poland to Luton Airport in 2004, the pink-splashed Hungarian airline has grown into the seventh largest in Europe. Today Wizz serves 200 destinations in 53 countries and is the largest airline in Central and Eastern Europe.

With an exclamation point replacing the ‘i’ in the logo, Wizz heralds a new era of ultra-cheap in-air services, where everything – from seat selection to carry-on luggage to name changes on tickets – comes at a price.

Passengers board a Wizz Air aircraft 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 finished bottom in various customer satisfaction surveys over the years, but Wizz is happy and has much bigger ambitions than cheap flights between Luton and Eastern Europe. Including perhaps also long-haul flights in the offing. Here are 20 things you didn’t know about the budget-busting airline industry.

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

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

József Váradi, CEO of Wizz Air Holdings Plc, during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, UK, on ​​Thursday, May 23, 2024József Váradi, CEO of Wizz Air Holdings Plc, during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, UK, on ​​Thursday, May 23, 2024

József Váradi has led Wizz Air – Hollie Adams/Bloomberg for the past twenty years

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

In 2022, Váradi caused controversy for appearing to call on the crew to work through fatigue: “I mean, we can’t run this business if every fifth person on a base calls in sick because the person is tired. We are all tired, but sometimes it is necessary to go the extra mile,” he said.

Wizz responded at the time: “The unavailability of our crew has been very low, namely 4 percent. In this context, it was discussed that we needed to make additional efforts to minimize disruption. What this does not mean is that safety is jeopardized.”

Váradi also made headlines after it was revealed he will unlock a £100m bonus if he successfully raises the company’s share price to £120 by 2028. To justify this figure he said against City AM“This is something like a 1 percent commission rate,” insisting that all employees will receive financial rewards if the target is met.

3. Wizz carried more passengers than British Airways last year

Much more even. In 2023, Wizz Air carried 60.3 million passengers. British Airways carried 43 million passengers, although IAG, which includes BA CityFlyer, Iberia, Vueling, Level and Aer Lingus, carried a total of 115 million passengers. By comparison, easyJet flew 82.8 million passengers in 2023 and Ryanair carried 182 million passengers.

4. EasyJet has become the king of Luton

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

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

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

5. Wizz even tried to acquire easyJet during the pandemic

In 2021, amid a lengthy post-pandemic recovery, easyJet said it had “received an unsolicited preliminary takeover approach” but this was unanimously rejected by its board. It was widely reported that the bidder was easyJet’s low-cost rival Wizz Air. The takeover never got off the ground.

6. Wizz has outlasted the former Hungarian airline Malév

After serving as Hungary’s national airline for 66 years, Malév ceased operations in 2012 after the European Commission ordered the airline to repay state aid it received from 2007 to 2010. In 2012, Malév was responsible for about half of all air traffic to 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 the main low-cost competitors, which is around 10 years. Wizz uses exclusively Airbus aircraft, with more than 200 A320s and A321s in its fleet. British Airways uses a combination of Airbus and Boeing aircraft; easyJet is also an Airbus enthusiast and Ryanair is loyal to the Boeing 737.

Wizz Air exclusively uses Airbus vessels, the average age of which in their fleet is only 4.2 yearsWizz Air exclusively uses Airbus vessels, the average age of which in their fleet is only 4.2 years

Wizz Air only uses Airbus vessels and the fleet is relatively new

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

Wizz calls itself the most environmentally friendly airline in the world, largely thanks to its young fleet. Wizz says its passengers’ carbon footprint averaged 52 grams per kilometer in the year to the end of February 2024 – the lowest carbon intensity among its competitors. Wizz has also committed to reducing carbon intensity by a further 25 percent by 2030 (compared to 2019 levels).

9. Wizz paid £1.2 million to customers for flight disruptions

In January 2024, Wizz paid more than £1.2 million to passengers due to flight disruptions. The Civil Aviation Authority intervened after “high volumes” of complaints about Wizz allegedly failing to pay customers what they owed. The CAA advised Wizz to review 25,000 rejected claim applications, and as a result Wizz made additional payments to 6,000 customers to cover the costs of things such as transfer fees or alternative flights after being stranded abroad. Wizz has since invested £90 million in launching new initiatives to reduce cancellations and improve performance.

10. Yet Wizz was named the worst airline in 2024 Which?

A 2024 Which? A survey named Wizz Air the worst short-haul airline. The consumer magazine criticized 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 help. Commenting on the research, Marion Geoffroy, director of Wizz Air UK, said: “We do not consider the findings of this report to be representative and the methodology used is not transparent.”

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

11. Four planes stranded in Ukraine after the Russian invasion

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Wizz stranded four planes in the country: three in Kiev and one in Lviv. In September of that year, despite the closure of Ukrainian airspace, 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 Kiev were removed and transported across the border to Poland.

12. Since 2019, Wizz has 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 most remote destination in Wizz’s network is the Maldives, with return flights from £162 from Abu Dhabi to the idyll of the Indian Ocean.

Aerial drone view of mature couple on a sandy beach in the MaldivesAerial drone view of mature couple on a sandy beach in the Maldives

Wizz has a network in the Maldives – with return flights at rock-bottom prices – Getty

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

In 2022, two men, believed to be from South London, found themselves at the center of an in-flight fight on a flight from Gatwick to Crete. According to other passengers, the pilot was struck while trying to calm one of the passengers. Meanwhile, footage from a flight from Tel Aviv to Luton in September 2023 showed a passenger trying to open the emergency door at an altitude of 30,000 feet. Several passengers allegedly stopped the passenger and the plane made an emergency landing in Belgrade.

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

A viral video from 2022 shows a Wizz plane landing at Skiathos airport in Greece. The runway is very close to a beach, where plane spotters regularly stand with cameras to watch the descending planes.

16. Wizz operates flights to ‘mystery destinations’

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

17. It has one of the most complete aircraft in the sky

Wizz Air’s average load factor in 2023 was 91.1 percent, meaning the airline has some of the fullest planes in the sky. So this again contributes to the relative carbon efficiency of the carrier.

18. Three babies have been born on Wizz Air flights

One of the births took place in March this year. Hassan Khan, a doctor who works at Basildon Hospital in Essex, came to the aid of a Jordanian woman after she gave birth on a flight from Amman, Jordan to Luton. She spoke no English, so another passenger assisted as an interpreter, and she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

“People said it was miraculous. I didn’t realize how important it was until I had a chance to process it all,” said Dr. Khan.

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

This is reported by the Wizz Air news agency. Telegraph Travel is waiting for confirmation that it is not April 1 in Hungary.

20. Wizz has plans to fly from Europe to India

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

“We are in discussions with the governments and regulators on both sides of the equation in Europe and India,” Váradi said, suggesting ticket prices could start from €200 for a single journey.

The so-called service has been nicknamed as potentially “narcotic.” It would be one of the longest cheap flights in the world. Speaking to The Telegraph in 2023, Wizz hinted that there could be flights to other long-haul destinations such as Singapore by the end of the decade.

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