EasyJet drops Amman, favours Tel Aviv

easyjettailfinEasyJet is pulling out of the Jordanian capital Amman. The route, which launched in March 2011 with flights from London Gatwick, will be withdrawn in May 2014, with the last flight departing Amman on Sunday 4th May. It was the only route easyJet maintained to Jordan.

On the other hand, easyJet is continuing its policy of going big into Israel. It already flies to Tel Aviv from Manchester and Luton (as well as Geneva and Basel). As news of the Gatwick-Amman cancellation slipped out, easyJet announced that from April 2014 it will be adding a new route to Tel Aviv… from Gatwick.

Then it announced another new route to Tel Aviv from Berlin, lauching February 2014. Then another, from Milan (starting March 2014), to add to Rome-Tel Aviv (launched September 2013). There are rumours of Paris launching in summer 2014.

Why? Well, easyJet has published figures on its website – from a survey of easyJet passengers to TLV done in July 2013 – talking about how “Tel Aviv’s appeal as a popular leisure destination has been growing”. That’s undoubtedly true. Good for Tel Aviv – it’s a great city, they have great beaches, great food. And (more to the point) great PR, the kind of shiny, happy PR that turns heads away from bad stuff. Holidaymakers’ heads. Travel writers’ heads.

Tel Aviv also has a rock-solid base of two-way VFR. Airlines like VFR.

For Jordan, this is an unmitigated disaster. I’ve been hearing that easyJet may have pulled out because of a hike in taxes imposed by the Jordanian government on air travel. Everyone departing Amman’s Queen Alia airport now pays JOD40 (£35/US$56) in ’embarkation tax’, plus another JOD6 (£5/US$8) in ‘terminal usage fee’ – with both charges hidden in the total cost of an airfare. Maybe easyJet felt that these were pushing its fares too high for its own comfort. Maybe the sweeteners, financial breaks and enticements that many airlines seek from governments, public authorities and airports to serve their destination weren’t forthcoming from Amman – but were from Tel Aviv. I’m not an aviation analyst. I don’t know.

One thing’s for sure. After 3 years of flying London-Amman, easyJet couldn’t make the numbers work in their favour. They have no sentimentality. They pulled out. And the chitchat that says they’re considering launching into Aqaba instead sounds to me like the callowest, straw-clutchingest kind of wishful thinking.

I’ve heard rumours that the palace was furious that Jordan lost easyJet. Who knows what the truth of that is. But you could hardly blame HM if he blew his top.

With Jordan’s tourism industry – like its whole economy – in desperate stagnation, the last thing the country needed was this kind of withdrawal of international business confidence.

And travellers are now forced back to a 1990-style duopoly, controlled by the dead hands and high fares of the legacy carriers. Low-cost connections to European markets are essential. Arguably more essential for Jordan, at this stage, than a short-term gain in tax receipts at the expense of throttling medium- & long-term economic growth.

Easy came. Easy went.