EasyJet has declined to comment on a claim that chief executive, Carolyn McCall, held secret talks about becoming the new boss of Marks & Spencer before the retailer appointed a leading internal candidate to the job last week.

Sky News said it understood that McCall was in discussions with M&S’s board, led by its chairman Robert Swannell, until shortly before the announcement that chief executive Marc Bolland would step down in April after six years.

It is unclear whether McCall withdrew from her discussions with M&S or whether the retailer’s board ultimately decided to opt for continuity.

M&S said last week that Steve Rowe, the executive director of M&S’s key general merchandise division – which includes clothing – would replace Bolland in April.

One City source suggested on Tuesday that the talks with McCall got as far as a contract being drawn up, although the accuracy of that claim was unclear, Sky News reported.

Swannell said last week that Rowe had only discovered that he would be appointed to succeed Bolland less than 48 hours before the announcement.

Swannell declined to say whether he had approached external candidates but said the process had been “the most rigorous succession planning” he had been involved in.

“Steve has a deep knowledge of Marks & Spencer and a proven track record of delivering results in key parts of the business,” he said.

“The nomination committee was unanimous in supporting Steve’s appointment in the light of his considerable knowledge of the business and its people, his appetite to continue the process of change, particularly in general merchandise, his perceptive and effective problem-solving, his values and his observed leadership.”

One person close to McCall, who was made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours, said that she remained fully committed to her job at the airline, according to Sky News.