“…and their café con leche. Then make everything together 8,80 euros please.”
It's late Saturday afternoon when the waiter brings me the coffee I've ordered along with the bill. Another mild, summery day on the beach of Maspalomas, on the third largest Canary Island of Gran Canaria, is coming to an end.
Since I no longer have work-related night flights to Germany across the North Atlantic on my roster, I rarely drink coffee after 17 p.m. However, today is different. My flight back to the metropolitan area of London is unusually late and already late at night.
Three flights on Saturday afternoon to the greater London area were shown to me in the advance planning. easyJet to London-Luton, Jet2 to London-Stansted and Wizz Air UK also with destination airport Luton. Since I had already flown Jet2 in the past and EasyJet crosses my flight plan from time to time anyway, I found the variant with the British subsidiary of the rapidly growing Wizz Air Group by far the most interesting.
With over 40 bases in 21 European and Middle Eastern countries, 1140 routes and currently around 150 Airbus aircraft of the types A320ceo, 320neo, 321ceo and 321neo, Wizz Air is one of the fastest growing airlines in European airspace in recent years. The main business model as a low-cost carrier in Eastern Europe worked out completely, Wizz Air often flies to destinations where I have to look for the 3-letter code myself.
But alongside growing VFR traffic and a multitude of bases in Eastern Europe, Wizz Air is trying to grow aggressively in other markets, with mixed success. The station in Dortmund was closed again after a short time and the trip to Norway was also to be short-lived. Shortly before the corona pandemic, Wizz Air provocatively celebrated itself as the largest airline at London Luton Airport, the headquarters of rival EasyJet. An announcement which, due to the number of stationed 321neo and the resulting number of seats offered, was also mathematically completely correct. However, numerous British media reportedly made fun of the fact that an airline, whose destinations were 1/3 completely unknown and difficult to pronounce, described itself as the largest airline in "LTN". Now that some time has passed on the British market, it was time to get a closer look at the airline with the code "W9".
Wizz Air generally offers three different fares. In the "Basic" fare, only a small rucksack is included in the fare. The Wizz Air "Go" tariff also includes a trolley case as hand luggage and a standard seat selection free of charge. Wizz Air “Plus&Flex”, the most expensive tariff in the range, includes checked baggage of 32 kilos (!), a second larger piece of hand baggage and free seat booking for all seats available on the plane.
If you only book the cheapest Wizz Air "Basic" fare, you should really only start the journey with the most necessary things. The test booking showed that hefty prices (already online) would have been due if checked baggage had been used at short notice: 10 kilos = €45, 20 kilos = €81 and €32 for 89 kilos would have been due, with the price at the airport of course spontaneously would have been even more expensive.
With such an additional and subsequent booking of 20 kilos of luggage alone, the total price would have been higher than if I had chosen the most expensive “Plus&Flex” tariff when booking.
On the test flight, however, I decided about 8 weeks before departure for the basic tariff at a price of €14,99, plus the seat reservation on 1A for €12, making it all inclusive – €26,99. For the EasyJet flight that took off 4 hours earlier, they wanted around €8 120 weeks before departure.
To my delight, the still new A321neo "G-WUKN" MSN 10333, which was delivered brand new to the British subsidiary Wizz Air UK in March 2021, was used that evening. The aircraft, which offers space for 239 passengers in classic low-cost, all-economy seating, arrived at the airport on the Canary Island on time.
The seats in the Wizz Air A321neo all come in light blue leather with pink stitching. Surprisingly, the seat was still ok to sit on even after more than 3 hours of flight time. With foresight, I usually book an XL seat with more legroom for all flights over 2,5 hours flight time, including this one, where I opted for a seat in the first row, as well as a fellow passenger in row 1DEF.
When I took a seat in one of the numerous empty rows of seats in the back of the cabin after going to the toilet, it was - as expected - cramped, which is really not surprising given the 239 seats. Otherwise, the seat does not have any features, nor does Wizz Air offer any form of WiFi or entertainment, preparation is everything here.
The catering on board
Due to a lack of digitization, Wizz Air relies on a printed magazine, a mixture of inflight magazine and on-board sales brochure. In the so-called "You+" café and boutique area there is a selection of sandwiches and a few instant soups, otherwise hot dishes are not offered.
The selection of non-alcoholic drinks starts from €2,50 for water on board, regular coffee is offered from €3, the cooperation with “Starbucks” starts for another euro more, from €4. Alcoholic beverages and a few snacks are also available for purchase, all in all a manageable selection on 7 pages, while the inflight sale comes in at 15 pages.
Since I got into conversation with a fellow passenger in row 2 in the first third of the flight, I overheard both his order for food and his conclusion. The roll I ordered, which he also offered me as a sample, was borderline dry and anything but appealing, he aptly shortened it and summed it up with "oh man, hunger drives it in". Luckily I had a little something to eat at the hotel before the flight.
Wizz Air clearly continues to have significant difficulties in positioning the brand outside of CEE (Central Eastern Europe). It is becoming more and more apparent that Wizz, with its own statement of being an "ultra-low-cost carrier - ULCC", is almost exclusively perceived as a kind of faster long-distance bus - just with wings.
In the past few months, the stations opened in Dortmund or Doncaster, which came with a large number of destinations in Greece, Spain or Italy, were not immediately crowned with success.
The Norway experiment, including Norwegian domestic flights, was quickly completed after just a few months and the subsidiary Wizz Air Abu Dhabi still flies around with unusually low loads for Wizz Air.
The test flight also showed that Wizz Air UK is obviously still not seen by British guests as a full-fledged alternative to classic holiday destinations. When asked about this, the purserette confirmed this thesis on the flight when she announced that the planes on the LTN flights to Eastern Europe were usually full, and that “not that many guests” were often booked on the flights to Spain or Greece . With just 96 of 239 possible passengers on board my flight, this can be easily confirmed. It was particularly astonishing because just 4 hours before my Wizz Air UK flight, an A320neo from easyJet, which was fully booked days before, took off from the competition.
All in all, it remains to be said that the flight was absolutely fine for the price paid of around 27 euros. What I booked was offered and complied with 1:1. All around, this flight was weak when viewed as a whole. I have rarely seen such a dirty plane from the inside.
The carpet in particular, but also some of the seats and armrests, were in a frightening condition in an airplane that was just under a year old, not old. The somewhat older British crew also seemed very annoyed, listless and absent from the start. A little surprising, considering the actually relaxed time in the evening and the low occupancy on both flights (the outbound flight had 118 guests on board).
At least the light was dimmed fairly quickly after the first service and any form of announcements in the late evening were largely dispensed with and the landing in Luton was also on time after around 3 hours 45 in the air.
For me, Wizz Air will stay with me in the future, just that better “long-distance bus”, an airline (group) that I and my daughters only use when there aren’t any good alternatives or my travel destination doesn’t allow any other way to get there. Wizz Air would be well advised to first consolidate the business model in Eastern Europe before plunging into further daring projects. But also in the field of F&B, a fresher, more sustainable alternative would be absolutely desirable in some areas. At the moment, as the fellow passenger in the row of seats behind me unfortunately aptly described, “hunger drives us in”.