Budget airline easyJet posted a smaller-than-expected winter loss today as the carrier benefited from flying a record number of business passengers.

The Luton-based airline reported a total of 27.6 million passengers in the six months to the end of March, a rise of 4%, as revenues lifted 6.3% to £1.7 billion and losses narrowed to £53 million. This was better than last year's £61 million deficit and ahead of upgraded guidance given to the City in April.

The business, which has courted more lucrative business customers through seat allocation and priority boarding, said it flew a record 12 million business passengers in the year to March.

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When it first began to target business passengers in 2010 it carried 8.4 million passengers, a rise of 44%.

EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall said: "Recession and austerity has also encouraged business passengers across Europe to sample easyJet and when they do so they like the experience."

The business said over the last six months it managed to cut costs, boost margins and increase capacity.

EasyJet said its total revenue per seat rose 1.5% to £54.80, while the business expanded its capacity 3.6% to 31.1 million seats.