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‘Woe betide anyone that tries to stop me from going on holiday’ – Jet2 boss as he launches flights from Liverpool

The departures area of Liverpool John Lennon airport has a new arrival. Alongside the check-in desks of existing airlines easyJet and Ryanair, bright red signs promise “Friendly low fares”. Jet2 has just opened its 11th base, and is going from zero to 25 destinations from the Merseyside airport in a matter of days.

Beneath a life-size bronze statue of John Lennon, check-in is buzzing long before dawn.

The incumbent carriers, with their familiar orange and blue liveries, may be the biggest budget airlines in Europe. But only Jet2 has a red carpet leading to a “welcome arch” at the entrance to the check-in area – with red-uniformed helpers everywhere.

“You know, it’s a daunting thing for people to go on holiday,” says Steve Heapy – chief executive of both Jet2.com and its package provider, Jet2 Holidays.

“Not everyone is a business traveller. For people travelling once a year, once every two years, it’s a big thing. They appreciate the help, and that’s what we’re here to do.

“If you have a happy customer and happy colleagues, then you know you have a good business.”

The first 10 parties of passengers for the inaugural Jet2 departure from Liverpool to Tenerife turned up at around 5am and immediately became even happier: Mr Heapy was on duty to hand out “golden envelopes” containing vouchers for future free flights.

Competition, though, is fierce. Airlines and holiday companies from Liverpool – and every other major UK airports – will be cashing in on the intense demand for Easter travel. On the easyJet flight from John Lennon airport on Easter Monday, only one seat remains at £244 – one way, without baggage. Yet by 20 April the same seat is just £37.

Going places? Steve Heapy and his team at Bristol airport in 2021 (Jet2)
Going places? Steve Heapy and his team at Bristol airport in 2021 (Jet2)

“There’s always room for competition,” Mr Heapy insists. “We’ve had another airline [easyJet] come into Birmingham and replicate some of our routes. This is what happens. Competition is healthy. The person that wins the most when there’s competition is the customer.”

Environmentalists are concerned about the increase in aviation, which this weekend sees at least three UK airports predicting their busiest-ever Easter.

Anna Hughes, director of Flight Free UK, says: “Last summer’s wildfires across the Mediterranean were a potent illustration that our climate situation is fragile and getting worse, and a bumper summer of flying will only exacerbate that.

“There are countless holiday destinations all across Europe that can be reached by boat, coach or train, for a fraction of the emissions of a flight, so not flying doesn’t mean giving up our holidays.”

Yet demand for flights and air-based package holidays appears insatiable, according to the airline boss.

“Since Covid, we’ve seen that people are even more prioritising holidays over anything else,” says Mr Heapy.

“Sales of lottery tickets are down, streaming services like Netflix, etc, meals out – a lot of discretionary items are lower, but holidays are staying very high and understandably so.

“People were prevented from going on holiday for nearly two years. People couldn’t go and see loved ones, go away with family, catch up, relax, get some sun.

“Lots of surveys have shown that travel and holidays are very healthy for people.

“People see it as their absolute right to go on holiday. Woe betide anyone that tries to stop me from going on holiday and I’m sure customers feel the same.”

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, was speaking to Simon Calder’s daily travel podcast