EasyJet today reported “robust” passenger demand in a strong start to 2020 trading.

The UK budget carrier admitted to have benefited from the collapse of Thomas Cook in September.

The airline also revealed that easyJet Holidays had been successfully relaunched in November with 700 directly contracted hotels accounting for around half of bookings.  

The budget airline’s holidays business is expected to be “at least breakeven” for the financial year ending September 30, 2020.  

In a trading statement for the three months to December 31, the airline reported a 2.8% rise in passenger carryings to 22.2 million with total revenue up by almost 10% to £1.425 billion year-on-year as capacity rose by 1% to 24.3 million seats.

Total revenue per seat increased by 8.8% in the period, outperforming expectations following the Thomas Cook failure together with robust demand due to low growth from rivals and improved ancillary revenue, according to the airline.

More: EasyJet Holidays brings forward trade launch date

EasyJet Holidays targets more than one million passengers

However, costs excluding fuel rose by 4.3% in the three months including 813 flight cancellations in December due to national strikes in France.

EasyJet suffered a total of 1,274 cancellations in the quarter, although delays of more than three hours dropped by 21% over the same period a year earlier.

EasyJet expects first half pre-tax winter losses to be better than last year’s £275 million figure.

Chief executive Johan Lundgren revealed that Peter Bellew has now joined easyJet from rival Ryanair as chief operating officer.

Lundgren said: “I’m pleased that we have made a strong start to the year with continued positive momentum.  

“The improvement in our revenue per seat has been driven by our self-help revenue initiatives combined with robust customer demand and a lower capacity growth market.

“Cost per seat is in line with expectations, helped by our operational resilience programme which has not only improved overall customer satisfaction in the quarter but also enabled us to manage our costs.  

“EasyJet holidays launched successfully with customers looking to benefit from our unrivalled flexibility, great value and handpicked hotels.   

“Being an industry leader in sustainability is important to us, and since our announcement in November we have offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all our flights.

“This means nine million customers have flown net-zero carbon flights with us and our offsetting programme has been received very positively by customers, staff and other stakeholders.

“We, of course, recognise offsetting is only an interim measure and we continue to work on reducing our carbon footprint in the short term, coupled with long-term work to support the development of new technology, including hybrid and electric planes, to reinvent aviation for the long-term.”