British low-cost giant easyJet is celebrating a big birthday at London/Gatwick (LGW). On February 1, 2002, the airline launched its first based flight from the West Sussex gateway.
Flight EZY813 to Barcelona/El Prat holds the honours of being the inaugural departure, with a Boeing 737 taking off at 1115hrs with 137 passengers onboard.
The fledgling base had just a single aircraft and locally-based crew but yielded big ambitions. Within the month of its maiden sortie, Edinburgh, Zurich, Malaga and Palma were all added to the LGW route map. While the budget carrier had operated to Gatwick before 2002, all of its previous flying programme had been inbound from overseas bases in Geneva, Nice and Amsterdam.
In the two decades since then, the company has carried more than 200 million passengers to and from the airport and grown to become its largest airline client. Despite having its origins and corporate headquarters at London/Luton, Gatwick is now officially the largest base anywhere in the easyJet network.
Commenting on the milestone, Stephanie Wear, vice president of airline development at Gatwick Airport said: “easyJet and Gatwick have grown together over the last 20 years and, since that first flight to Barcelona, we have helped millions of passengers go on holiday, visit friends and family or take an important business trip. The events of the last two years make this 20th anniversary even more poignant and it feels fantastic that together we can once again offer our passengers the opportunity to enjoy the delights of so many destinations across Europe and beyond.”
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the budget carrier is forecasting a strong summer at Gatwick, with an impressive 79 aircraft based at the airport during the coming peak holiday season. This represents growth of 1.1 million available seats versus a year earlier. More than 120 routes are now served from the site with destinations reaching into North Africa and the Middle East alongside more traditional European links.
While 2021’s shaky start is unlikely to make it a record-beater, the airline will be hoping to get as close as possible to the 19 million passengers it carried to and from LGW in 2019. To put the importance of Gatwick in context, easyJet carried around 96 million passengers overall in the pre-pandemic year, meaning almost one in every five easyJet passengers in 2019 passed through the airport.
Ali Gayward, easyJet’s UK country manager added: “Over the last two decades we have remained committed to providing even more choice for our customers travelling to and from the airport, growing our operation to become Gatwick’s largest airline. We remain focussed on growth at Gatwick… with new routes such as our new flights to Krk [Rijeka] off the coast of Croatia, continuing to provide passengers with an ever-greater range of destinations.”
Particularly sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that the first flight from the Gatwick base was a Boeing 737 example. The company is now fields an all-Airbus A320 family fleet including the newest neo variants. Alongside its core A319 and A320 roster, easyJet added its first-ever A321neo into the fleet in 2018 which is also based at the south London gateway.