London Southend: Simply Easier

During December of last year, I had the pleasure of passing through London Southend and receiving a tour of the airport’s fantastic facilities. The airport bases everything it does around the simple but effective slogan: ‘simply easier’. The strapline couldn’t be more apt. 

Although the airport in its current form is a new entrant to the aviation scene, Southend Airport has a deep rooted history. It originated as an airfield, in World War I and the airport was officially opened as a municipal airport on 18 September 1935. However, World War II reared its head and the airport was requisitioned by the Government’s Air Ministry – being referred to as RAF Rochford. Fast forward six decades, to 2008, and the airport was bought by the Stobart Group for £21 million. This is where the transformation began to form the best and fastest growing airport in the British capital.  Between 2008 and 2012, the airport underwent a game-changing transformation. As the replacement control tower began to operate, passenger flights returned in March 2011. In 2012, the runway extension was opened – allowing flights to destinations further afield like Lanzarote – an on-site railway station and, ultimately, the new airport terminal was opened by the Transport Secretary in February 2012.

Flybe & EasyJet are the largest clients at the airport.

To understand why Southend Airport is the Which? Best Ranked UK Airport for 4 years in a row, we have to look at its history. Whilst London Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and others have grown rapidly – they have experienced growing pains. After cobbling together new terminal buildings, all of which are now running at full capacity, most major British airports are bursting at the seams. But not Southend. London Southend was designed in 2008 – with the future in mind. It is built around the customer’s needs and conveniences. On the ground floor, you’ll find a land-side café, along with car hire desks and a handful of check-in desks. You then ascend the escalators and reach the security area. No signage is needed, because the process is so simple.

Southend has a rather ambitious target for it’s security checks. Their promise to you; pass through security in under 4 minutes. This is a pledge to customers Gatwick & Heathrow could only dream of. Sure enough, I was through security in not 4, but 2 minutes. As you exit security, you are presented with an airy mezzanine level, looking down on the departure lounge.

The departure lounge at Southend is strategically located next to the departure gates, with the passenger in mind

As if the LSA experience wasn’t relaxing enough, there is also the option to kick back in the SkyLife lounge.  While they don’t offer hot food, if you have a long layover the lounge can’t be beaten for a calm atmosphere and a feeling of exclusivity. The gates are located around the main departure lounge area. Whilst it is small, space has been found for all the necessities of modern travel. The obligatory airport WHSmith shop is present and so is a Duty Free section. The stylishly designed Bourgee (which I’m told is a favourite among TOWIE “stars”!) offers an inventive change from the usual airport eatery.

The swish Bourgee set-up!

Next to this is the Lakers Bar & Restaurant – inspired by the famous aviation entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker, whose Southend Airport connections go back to the 50s and 60s, with operators like Channel Air Bridge, when the airport was the third busiest in the UK. In tribute to Sir Freddie, you’ll find the walls of Lakers lined with images that recall the golden age of flight.

LSA’s biggest asset, though, is the on-site railway station. It is located literally steps from the airport terminal and offers up to eight trains per hour to central London. Liverpool Street is 53 minutes away – and you could reach East London in Stratford in just 44 minutes! From here, you can connect onto the vast TfL network (including Overground & Underground) and step off in central London. Anecdotally, I’ve heard people say “Southend Airport is in Essex – not London”. Firstly, none of the major London airports – apart from London City – are actually in London. Secondly, catching the Tube from Heathrow to Paddington takes as long as the transit from Southend. It is clear that this railway station essentially allowed Southend to call itself a London airport. When I spoke to the Marketing Manager about Southend’s status as a “London Airport”, the railway connection was the first thing he mentioned. The train has certainly been instrumental in Southend’s success.

easyJet on apron (c) London Southend Airport, 2017.jpg
EasyJet begun a 10-year partnership with LSA in 2011.

This year, Southend will welcome even more growth. After launching connections to Manchester, Dublin & Glasgow in October, Flybe will offer a new connection to the Belgian city of Antwerp from March. The new flights to Manchester & Dublin were crucial in allowing the population of the South East to avoid London altogether, instead flying from Southend and connecting to long haul flights from Dublin (using US Border Pre-Clearance) and Manchester. EasyJet will base another aircraft, launching flights to Bordeaux, Prague, Dubrovnik & Pula, and only today three new routes were announced with Air Malta. As London’s capacity crisis only grows, I hope London Southend can realise its potential with even more growth, while keeping it’s gold standard in customer service. I would have no hesitation about recommending Southend to anyone who is exasperated with the chaos of major airports.

Southend continues to attract new airlines, with it’s top-rated customer service

Southend Airport is also experiencing unprecedented growth; it is now considered to be the capital’s fastest growing airport. Flybe, operated by Stobart Air, and easyJet, already cover 34 popular domestic and European destinations including Amsterdam, Groningen, Prague, Budapest, Cologne, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Ibiza – all from London’s most punctual and most customer-friendly airport. However, in the announcement of a new partnership, Southend will offer it’s passengers access to three Mediterranean destinations. Air Malta will launch three destinations from London Southend, beginning this summer.

A new partnership will allow Southend to grow even more.

Specifically, they will operate:

  • Twice-weekly from Southend to Cagliari (Sardinia)
  • Twice-weekly from Southend to Catania (Sicily)
  • Three-weekly from Southend to Valetta (Europe’s 2018 Capital of Culture) on the island of Malta

The flights are already bookable on Air Malta’s website and start from just £35. Dr Charles Mangion, chairman of Air Malta believes these flights will not only benefit British travellers, but also Maltese, Sicilian and Sardinian tourists visiting London. Glyn Jones, the CEO of London Southend,  looks forward to providing an excellent service for it’s new customers. Ultimately, this is a big occasion for London Southend. They are benefitting from the endless capacity crisis amongst London’s larger airports and providing a real alternative – expanding their route portfolio.


Primera Air expand Stansted and cut-back Birmingham

Last year, Primera came to Birmingham’s rescue. At a time when the West Midlands airport had lost American Airlines & United flights to New York, it looked like Primera could both fill the void and stimulate new demand. But, since Primera came to the fold, Air Transat have cut their Birmingham-Toronto services and the airport has lost its Icelandair link to Reykjavik. If you thought Birmingham’s transatlantic woes would stop here – with the introduction of a vibrant, modern brand with low fares – you would be mistaken.

Primera’s onboard product for it’s transatlantic services.

When the services were first announced, Primera Air planned to operate:

  • London Stansted & Birmingham to Boston (4x weekly), New York Newark (daily) and Toronto (3x weekly)

Primera looked to be off to a positive start, with low-fares, a modern on-board product, with brand new equipment – the A321neo. They launched campaigns across Britain, in the effort to fill the seats onboard.

However, it doesn’t seem that Primera’s market research team did their job correctly. In early 2018, the airline decided to cut the Birmingham-Boston route before it even began. The programme was always ambitious – Primera planned to operate year-round flights on this route. Manchester-Boston, a much bigger market, served by both Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic in peak season, does not generate enough demand for service in the winter months. Originally planned to begin in June, the route was shelved, with minimal communication from the airline – leaving them with a tricky PR situation.

Primera is a relatively unknown brand in the UK. Bad experiences being broadcast on social media, wouldn’t help the profile of the company.

Then, just as it seemed things had hit rock bottom, Primera reduced frequencies for their Birmingham-Newark route from daily to just 4x weekly. Compare this to 2016, when in the peak season, Birmingham had Icelandair flights to Reykjavik, Air Transat A330s to Toronto, and double daily legacy operations to New York with American & United. Now, a token operation with an unknown low cost carrier – 4x weekly New York and 3x weekly Toronto.

At Stansted, however, Primera do seem to be succeeding. They have recently announced Stansted-Washington D.C. flights – operating 5x weekly and an increase to their Stansted-Toronto operation to 5x weekly (frequencies made available as a result of the Birmingham cuts).

With Primera Air succeeding in Stansted – and to a lesser extent, Paris – it begs the question: can Birmingham sustain regular transatlantic services? If not, the airport needs to change its focus to get ahead of the game.

Air Belgium: The Belgian Start-Up Flying to Hong Kong

At a time when the amalgamation between Brussels Airlines and Eurowings is an option being considered by the Lufthansa Group, there could be a new poster airline for the Belgian nation. Imaginatively named ‘Air Belgium’ is a new long-haul carrier that hopes to start operations within the next month – between Brussels South/Charleroi and Hong Kong.

Charleroi Airport at present. Not very fitting with Air Belgium’s new business model…

The brand was reborn in 2016, having also been used as a leisure airline in the ’80s and ’90s. This time, it is designed to be a full-service carrier, offering long-haul flights out of what is currently a Ryanair dominated airport. Brussels South Charleroi airport is actually located nearly 70km away from the centre of Brussels and its main purpose is currently to accommodate the majority of Ryanair’s flights to Belgium, along with other low-cost carriers such as Wizz Air and Pegasus. At present, they offer no long haul or premium flights. To accommodate Air Belgium, the airport will be making some important changes to its terminal, and says it will be ‘pulling out all the stops to welcome every passenger in optimal circumstances’. Specifically, the airport will:

  • Create a premium terminal, to meet the needs of Business and Premium Class travellers, which will offer a car to plane transit time of just 20 minutes.
  • Offer a Business Lounge, which will ‘offer extensive comfort options’

However, it is worth remembering that construction on these projects will only be finished by May 2019 – so business customers on the first Air Belgium flight will have to use the low cost terminal, in addition to travelling 70km out of Brussels.

They intend to operate a fleet of four Airbus A340-300 aircraft, all from Finnair – who are retiring the inefficient, unprofitable aircraft in favour for the Airbus A350 XWB.

Air Belgium’s planned livery.

The airline believes they will receive the first A340 (adorned with the national colours of Belgium) at some point during this month, with the ambitious goal of launching these flights between Belgium and Hong Kong from late March. I find Air Belgium’s business model particularly interesting. Recently, most new long-haul airline ventures have focused on the low-cost sector of the market – but Air Belgium will retain similar cabins to Finnair, offering three cabin classes. Economy class will be in the standard 2-4-2 configuration.

The Economy Class onboard.

Premium Economy will be offered (something that Brussels Airlines does not presently offer it’s customers) in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Air Belgium’s Premium Economy

Business Class will offer lie-flat seats, on par with other major airlines across Europe, alternating between 1-2-1 and 2-2-2 in a staggered set-up.

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Ultimately, start-up airlines find it notoriously difficult to be sustainable. Although, more recently, airlines like Cobalt  – the CAPA start-up airline of the year 2017 – have been successful and they too have big ambitions for the future. Crucially, Air Belgium will offer a national brand, with a clear “Belgian” identity and competitive onboard products and this might just give them the home advantage.

Privatisation on the horizon for debt-laden Air India?

During the heydays of privatisation, in Thatcher’s Britain, our national carrier was turned around. Like many nationalised companies in Britain, our national carrier had its focus on their demoralised staff rather than customers, operating without an ounce of consideration for making a profit and wallowing in its losses. Privatisation gave British Airways a new start – shifting its focus, resetting the agenda and ensuring the airline made $284 million in profit within the first year of new management.

With privatisation, BA was given a new lease of life. Could Air India do the same?

Around the world, airlines such as South African, who are owned fully or partly by their respective governments are flailing. Nationalised airlines are forced to operate politically motivated “prestige” routes which don’t make economic sense and simply don’t have the fresh ideas and logical leadership to take them forward.

Since their bailout in 2012, Air India has relied on taxpayer funds to stay afloat. However, in mid-2017, the Indian cabinet agreed that the process to privatise Air India should begin. Whilst Air India remains the largest international carrier in India, they have suffered a collapse in their market share due to the rise of low-cost airlines and the competition from other full-service airlines such as Jet Airways and Vistara whom have more economic competence. They only occupy 14.6% of the domestic travel market and, internationally, competition has come from the Middle Eastern airlines who have attracted customers through their Gulf hubs, travelling to Europe & North America. The bottom line is: under government ownership, Air India has failed to evolve and adapt around the changing dynamics of the aviation industry.

Middle Eastern airlines have adapted much more quickly, and taken much of the international market share from Air India.

Recently, further developments have been made and it is now expected that the Indian government and advisers are to analyse the shareholders’ agreement and other details to ensure that the board and key management personnel are appointed by an Indian entity. The government has also taken steps to ensure that the majority shareholder remains an Indian entity (with a 49% stake being offered to a foreign investor). The decision to allow foreign companies to invest is a marked change of tone from the Indian government, presumably to allow sufficient changes to be carried out in order to turnaround the troubled carrier. It has been reported airlines such as Vistara and SpiceJet (some of Air India’s main competitors) are interested in purchasing, and the former’s parent company Singapore Airlines may also be interested.

Air India does have a more modern flight than airlines such as Jet Airways, with A320NEO and B787 Dreamliner aircraft becoming increasingly prominent. Photo by: FlightGlobal

Ultimately, privatisation looks like the best option for Air India. Its a chance for the national carrier to shred their reputations, put their debt behind them and truly take-off. But with the process already attempted before in 2001, and constant obstacles such as parliamentary panels advising that Air India should be given five years to revive under government ownership and the unions’ holding of anti-privatisation rallies, the process is likely to be pain-staking and drawn out.

What do you think? Will privatisation help Air India rectify its problems? Get in touch with us, we’ll be happy to hear your opinions.

Route Review: January 2018

My first pick of the most important new routes for 2018; from Ryanair to Singapore Airlines, here are the newly developing markets in the aviation industry.

Ryanair – At the end of January, the Irish Low Cost Carrier announced $300 million investment in Manchester airport, with 10 new routes and increased capacity on existing connections. New routes from Manchester include Agadir, Almeria, Barcelona Reus, Cagliari, Palermo, Rhodes (all 2 weekly), Porto, Venice Treviso (both 3 weekly), Ponta Delgada (once weekly) and Belfast International (daily). Throughout the summer season, they will offer more flights on routes to Bologna, Chania, Alicante, Faro, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Ibiza, Malaga, Lisbon, Majorca, Naples, Tenerife and Fuerteventura. The boost for Manchester capacity represents 300,000 extra seats, an extra 9 million customers p.a. and 3,675 new ‘on-site’ jobs.

Ryanair will boost it’s Manchester operations.

Hainan Airlines – Hainan Airlines will be launching direct services from China to the industrial Northern German city – Hamburg. They will move two weekly of the present frequencies between Beijing and Berlin Tegel to Hamburg, from August 2nd. The only direct connection between China and Hamburg will be operated by a mix of Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner equipment.

It is feasible that a combination of 787 and A330 equipment will operate the new route to Hamburg.

Alaska Airlines – As Alaska Airlines pushes Seattle-Tacoma Airport to capacity, they have announced new routes from Everett Paine Field, to begin in autumn 2018. Alaska will operate 13 daily flights to 8 cities from the two gates at the newly constructed passengers terminal. Specifically, Alaska Airlines will fly to San Jose, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego & San Francisco. Alaska’s Chief Commercial Officer said “We’re proud to become the anchor tenant of the new terminal at Paine Field. With so many new possibilities for business and leisure travel, we believe this will bring increased opportunities to our communities.”

Alaska initially plans to operate Embraer 175 aircraft from Everett.

Southwest – Similarly to Alaska & United (who will operate services to Denver and San Francisco), Southwest will also begin to fly to Everett. it will operate five flights daily after the new terminal opens in September. It will fly Boeing 737s, larger than the Embraer E175 regional jets that Alaska Airlines and United plan to operate initially. The Dallas-based low cost airline will be the third to announce flights from the new airport, which will have just two gates. Furthermore, the announcement of these flights pushes Everett’s passenger capacity to the limit, with 24 daily departures (50% above the levels airport officials predicted last year).

Singapore Airlines – The ‘Capital Express’ – a route between Singapore, Canberra & Wellington launched with much fanfare not too long ago, with the concept of connecting the capital cities of Australia and New Zealand. Now, Singapore Airlines will change the routings for these flights, but continue to serve both capital cities. The new routings begin on the 3rd May 2018, operating as SQ247 (with a Boeing 777-200) between Singapore-Melbourne-Wellington and SQ288 in a triangular routing between Singapore-Sydney-Canberra-Singapore – increasing the frequency to daily and operating with a newly refurbished four-class Boeing 777-300ER.

The 777-300ER and daily frequency represents a capacity increase for Canberra.

Cobalt Air – From 27th March 2018, the newly emerging national airline of Cyprus, Cobalt Air, will launch services from their Larnaca hub to a third London airport. Adding to Gatwick & Stansted, Heathrow will become their fourth UK destination and will operate with the new Business Class product Cobalt offer. I will be flying the CAPA Start-Up Airline of the Year in February, from Manchester to Larnaca so stay tuned for my review.

Cobalt already flies from Larnaca to Manchester, Stansted & Gatwick in the UK.

That’s it for this month. Next month we’ll see many more new route opportunities for the upcoming summer season!

Another Lifeline for the A380: Fresh British Airways Order Imminent

Airbus’ grand double-decker plan – in the form of the A380 – never really gained traction as the manufacturer hoped it would. Crucially, it was Boeing who judged the mood of the aviation industry more accurately, with its decision to focus on a mid-size, long range, technologically advanced aircraft that could open ‘long and thin’ routes – tapping in to the increasing propensity to fly from local airports non-stop, rather than connecting via a major hub. Boeing withdrew from the ideological and prestige-driven race for the first double-decker aircraft, but Airbus pressed onwards. From a PR standpoint, the A380 with its luxurious apartments and glamorous feel has personified airlines such as Emirates and Etihad. But, this doesn’t translate into versatility or profitability for the airline company. In fact, Reuters even reported that the A380 programme was on the verge of extinction in December:

“If there is no Emirates deal, Airbus will start the process of ending A380 production,” a person briefed on the plans said. A supplier added such a move was logical due to weak demand.

Luckily for A380 enthusiasts, Emirates signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire up to 36 additional Airbus A380 aircraft. The airline has committed to purchasing an additional 20 Airbus A380s, and has an option for 16 more, with deliveries to start in 2020. John Leahy, Airbus’ COO, said that the order ‘underscores Airbus’ commitment to produce the A380 at least for another ten years’.

Emirates A380 leaving London Gatwick.

In addition to this, last Friday, John Leahy suggested another A380 order would come soon. The industry is never usually this specific, when in open conversation with the media, but it looks like we may have a clearer idea about what this order might be.

British Airways is in talks with Airbus over an order for new Airbus A380 aircraft, according to Bloomberg.

Airbus SE is in talks to sell new A380 superjumbo planes to British Airways this year after securing a program-saving deal from Persian Gulf operator Emirates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.K. carrier, which currently has 12 A380s in its fleet, had said in the past that it was looking for six to seven second-hand A380s. Now it’s considering taking a larger number of new ones, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

BA currently operates A380s to destinations such as Johannesburg, Los Angeles & Vancouver. 

IAG has previously indicated they might be interested in purchasing second-hand A380s from airlines like Singapore Airlines (who began to retire their oldest models in 2017). These aircraft are heavier and perform less well than newer examples of the A380, and would also be costly and time-consuming to reconfigure. When all of this is weighed up, it may make more sense for British Airways to simply buy new aircraft directly.

In my opinion, the A380 was designed for airlines like British Airways – with an almost exclusive ‘hub and spoke’ model at a slot constricted airport like London Heathrow. There is clearly a benefit to eliminating two Boeing 777 flights and replacing it with just one A380 frequency. However, with corporate contracts from the city of London in the hands of British Airways, frequency is key – BA have even held back from rostering the A380 on the London-New York route, instead favouring additional timing options for business travellers. British Airways can also control the majority of the market in London Heathrow, meaning they could increase prices with less capacity on a route. So, although further pursuing the A380 may be of benefit to British Airways, perhaps Airbus didn’t weigh up the other factors of running a route dominated by business passengers.

Is the A380 really the best option for British Airways at Heathrow?

Willie Walsh has also indicated that any new A380s could be devolved to other IAG airlines, like Aer Lingus or Iberia. Dublin Airport is currently without commercial A380 operation and, quite frankly, I don’t see a trunk route with enough demand from the Irish capital. Iberia, on the other hand, could use A380s on routes to Latin America – replacing multiple frequencies on routes where sheer capacity matters more than flexibility.

Time will tell whether any new A380 orders from the International Airlines Group materialise but if and when they do, it will be interesting to see how British Airways deploy the new equipment and whether the group sees some use within Iberia or Aer Lingus.


Flybe Dash-8 Flight Review Manchester-Southampton

Introduction: A new feel for Flybe

Having tried Stobart Air’s regional product, I was keen to sample Flybe’s UK domestic service, under their new philosophy of “Close To You”.  The strapline has several interesting facets. Principally, it revolves around connecting people across Britain, reflecting the extent of Flybe’s strong presence in airports across the regions – meaning they are quite literally ‘close to you’ wherever you are in the UK. However, the new brand is also designed to reflect Flybe’s personable and friendly service and reinforcing previous campaigns such as “One Stop to the World” – connecting seamlessly through metropolitan air hubs such as London or Manchester, from your local airport. So, are Flybe’s plethora of domestic air-links the most convenient, friendly and seamless way to traverse the British Isles?

The Journey: Manchester-Southampton

Transiting from ‘The Station’ at Manchester couldn’t be easier – it was my first time using the train to get to the airport – and it really couldn’t be beaten. With train services from Crewe, Wilmslow, Manchester, Newcastle, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Leeds, York and more – it is also quite convenient. From the main station complex, it takes about 8 minutes to walk through the Skyline to Terminal 3 – even quicker to the other two terminals Although Terminal 3 is often claustrophobic, at less peak times, it’s compact nature makes it pleasant. Unfortunately, for an airport the size of Manchester, the facilities in what was once the domestic terminal, aren’t up to scratch but its encouraging to see that – even in the midst of the redevelopment programme at Terminal 2 – MAG is still making changes for the better at the opposite end from the airport.  My flight was to be operated by G-JECZ; a 10 year-old Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, which had been painted in the revised purple livery just days before.

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All UK domestic flights board from a ground-floor area, and was done in an organised manner. It is astounding how quickly boarding and disembarkation can be carried out with smaller turboprop aircraft, compared to a Boeing 737, for example.

Flybe’s fleet mainly comprises of Dash-8 aircraft, with 56 forming the backbone of their operations. They are configured with one-class, in a 2-2 setup, with the capacity to seat 78 passengers. The cockpit is positioned on a raised-level, with all the modern digital systems you’d expect.

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One immediate difference I noticed between the ATR flights I’d flown on in 2017, and the Bombardier Dash-8, was the width of the cabin. The ATR has a cabin-width of 2.57m, with a minimum seat width of an extremely comfortable 18.6″. On the contrary, the Dash-8 was 0.8m narrower and had a seat width of only 17.3″. Thankfully, Flybe opted for a generous configuration with only 78 seats, meaning what the seats lacked in width, was made up for in legroom. We departed from Manchester’s 23R at around 12:15 and set course for Southampton.

Emma – one of the cabin crew members – was extremely friendly. She personifies Flybe’s campaign to “establish a warm, friendly presence in the faceless hustle and bustle of the aviation industry”. The crew can make a massive difference to how you perceive a flight – especially one as short as this one. She couldn’t have been more accommodating to any of the passengers and I was really lucky to have had such engaging and warm crew on my flight.

The onboard service centres around Flybe’s Café Air onboard bistro service. For a domestic flight, there was a range of snacks and beverages available and its clear to see that Flybe have been more adventurous rather than the stereotypical low-cost airline offering – and that’s something I can really appreciate. At just before 1pm, we touched down in Southampton, 5 minutes ahead of schedule. In January 2017, Flybe topped an OAG punctuality league table – being named the most punctual airline in the UK and coming 6th on a worldwide basis. At least anecdotally, I can clearly see why – both of my flights arrived ahead of schedule and my return journey even departed before our slot!

At the heart of Flybe’s new strapline is people’s desire to fly from their local airport – which offers ease and relaxation. Having travelled through London Southend last year, Southampton Airport drew many similarities. It is clear that they are designed with the passenger in mind from the outset. Landside, the airport felt airy and modern, yet compact – offering a small seating area, check-in desks and a Costa Coffee, centred around the entrance to security. When I passed through the security checks, I was the only passenger doing so and I found myself moving from landside to airside in around 2 minutes – an experience major airports could only dream of offering their customers. Despite its size, all the facilities are readily available to passengers; duty free shopping, WHSmith, an ‘Olive Tree’ Restaurant and yet another Costa Coffee, around which six gates are positioned in a right-angle.

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The experience was infinitely more relaxing, quiet and seamless than many other airports – giving you the sense that flying can be done without the hustle and bustle of our major hubs, which are bursting at the seams in an in-escapable capacity crisis. Its very easy to see why more and more passengers are choosing to make use of their local airport, contributing to the local economy and making flights like Flybe’s (that connect every corner of the UK) more viable every day. Therefore, I applaud Flybe for recognising this in their new campaign.

The Conclusion: Flybe is the way forward

In conclusion, Flybe lives up to all its straplines. It is faster, better value and more relaxing than road or rail and it is ‘closer to you’ in almost every aspect. For most people, Flybe may simply be a means of getting around the nation but many of the benefits of flying go unnoticed. From the warm crew, to the fast journey times and local airports – Flybe is definitely the way forward.

Train VS Plane: Manchester-Southampton

Manchester Piccadilly-Southampton Central by Train – 4hr14mins

Manchester Piccadilly-Southampton Central by Plane – 1hr52mins (approx. 2hrs)

Piccadilly-Manchester Airport-Southampton Airport-Southampton

15mins               45mins               45mins                           7mins

Aer Lingus Flagship Dublin Lounge Review

After arriving in Dublin from Southend at around 16:00, I had around 2 hours before boarding began for my connecting flight to Manchester. Unfortunately, although my previous flight was operated by Stobart Air (which uses Terminal 2 under the ‘Aer Lingus Regional’ brand), this flight used the older Terminal 1. Prior to my flight, I had seen conflicting reviews about the terminal transit process in Dublin, but I found the whole experience very smooth.

To connect between terminals, you do have to pass through the Irish Border at passport control. After exiting into the Baggage Reclaim area, simply continue to walk through the hall, following signs for ‘flight connections’. At this point you will take a flight of stairs and arrive at a small passageway into the Terminal 2 Security area. This process seemed almost too simple, but you must have your onward boarding pass with you to use this system.

Whilst Terminal 1 at Dublin airport is claustrophobic, chaotic and in dire need of refurbishment, the relatively new Terminal 2 has a completely different feel. Terminal 2 is where you’ll find Aer Lingus, Etihad and most other long-haul carriers at Dublin – so it has a more premium and modern feel. To access the lounge from the connections security area, I simply turned left and followed a corridor down to the premium lounges at Dublin – these included the Etihad lounge, a generic Dublin Airport lounge (used by a variety of airlines) and the Aer Lingus flagship lounge.

The entrance to the lounge is extremely modest and understated for its size.

Entrance to the Aer Lingus Lounge at Dublin.

After a warm welcome into the lounge, I was met with a surprisingly spacious expanse, with a feature wall paying tribute to important Irish figures, such as the first female President – Mary Robinson. The lounge is full of natural light and, thus, has a fantastic view of the apron for us aviation enthusiasts. iMacs were available for guests’ use – along with a communal desk area –  and there was fast and quick Wi-Fi – something that I value greatly in a lounge. All showers to the lounge are located on the upper mezzanine level (one of the lounge attendants will guide you to an available room, should you want to access the facilities). Whilst I didn’t make use of the shower, this could well be a useful facility.

On the ground floor, the furnishings were tasteful – with a colour scheme of green and warming mahogany, which gave the lounge a homely feel – despite its size. There was a relaxing mezzanine level with an additional mini self-service bar and large seating area – which was completely unoccupied during my time here. The main self-service bar area offered scones, pastries and a selection of hot drinks – whereas the upstairs bar only had a limited offering. The evening’s hot food offering was Beef Goulash – which tasted superb – but I was rather disappointed with the lack of hot food available. I can only suggest that there is a more plentiful food offering at different times of the day.

What really impressed me about the lounge was the amount of power ports available and the positioning. Close to every seat, a power port was available, which is obviously an imperative feature for business travellers.

Although this lounge has big plusses (such as the tranquil and unpretentious atmosphere) and was an inherently positive experience, for a flagship lounge, I wish more food options could be available throughout the day.  Otherwise, I’d have no hesitations using the lounge facility again.

Featured photo courtesy of Aer Lingus

December 2017: Route Review

As we edge closer to the beginning of the Summer Season, airlines are getting prepared with their route portfolio for the peak season of 2018. Here is my pick of the month’s route development highlights.

BMI Regional – Launching on the 22nd January 2018, BMI Regional will operate a twice-weekly connection between Bristol and Gothenburg, bringing the number of cities served by BMI from Bristol up to nine. Bristol is BMI’s biggest UK hub, but Gothenburg is already served from neighbouring UK airport,  Birmingham, by the airline. The route faces no direct competition and marks Bristol’s only direct connection to Sweden.

Norwegian – Expanding its transatlantic network to 61 routes, Norwegian announced new flights from the US to Amsterdam, Milan and Madrid. The airline will use its Boeing 787 Dreamliner equipment on all of the new routes. Four-weekly services will be launched between New York JFK-Amsterdam & Milan and Los Angeles-Madrid, in addition to a less frequent New York JFK-Madrid service – operating three-weekly.

Norwegian’s transatlantic network now consists of 61 routes.

Wizz Air – In a further move to bolster its position in the UK market, Wizz announced even more expansion from London Luton next summer. Flights will be launched from London Luton to Athens, Reykjavik & Bari throughout Spring. Furthermore, the newly announced Luton-Larnaca connection will be increased to a ten-weekly frequency before the flight has even launched. These new routes will give passengers the choice of 78 routes from nine UK airports with Wizz Air.

Wizz Air is the second largest carrier at London Luton Airport.

Cathay Pacific – Cathay Pacific has announced it will be the first airline to connect the US Capital and its Hong Kong base, from autumn 2018. Being the longest flight across Cathay’s network, the new flight will take over 17 hours to complete and will complement existing services to the East Coast of the USA, which operate to New York Newark, JFK and Boston. The airline has announced that the service will be operated by the new A350-1000 aircraft, the first of which is due to be delivered in Spring.

Meridiana – This Italian leisure airline – has long been known for its unique VFR and leisure-orientated routes across the atlantic from Naples and Palermo, with outdated 767 equipment. However, this may all be about to change, following the recent acquisition of the Italian carrier by Qatar Airways. In a move which sees the airline join five more established airlines on Italy’s prime long haul business route, Meridiana will launch regular services between Milan Malpensa and New York JFK – using Qatar Airways’ Airbus A330-200 equipment. It will also launch services from Milan to  Miami, again competing against American Airlines. Unlike other airlines on the route, Meridiana will add feeder flights from five domestic destinations in Italy including Rome, Naples, Palermo, Catania and Lamezia Terme. More details of the onboard product that will be offered on these new routes, will be revealed in the unveiling of the airline’s new business plan.

Meridiana uses Boeing 737 aircraft to operate its extensive network of internal Italian flights.

Scoot – The Singapore Airlines subsidiary recently launched services to Athens, and in December, they set their eyes on yet another European destination: Berlin. The four-weekly service will be operated with Boeing 787 Dreamliner equipment, and will take up to thirteen hours. Singapore Airlines currently flies to Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Munich in Germany – so it is likely business travellers to the German capital may still choose to travel with mainline Star Alliance carriers.

Scoot already serves Athens in Europe, Jeddah in the Middle East and Honolulu in North America – all with Boeing 787 equipment.

Fly Dubai – The Dubai based low-cost airline, whom recently increased their ties with Emirates – are expanding their flights across the European continent.  From April, they will launch flights with their Boeing 737 MAX from Dubai to Krakow – then, in June, to Catania. The new services will feed onto Emirates’ vast network of onward destinations from Dubai. The new flights to Krakow in Southern Poland will give Polish travellers the ease of flying to Asia without travelling to Poland and give overseas visitors easier access to one of the most visited destinations in the country. Fly Dubai is using its narrowbody aircraft to serve smaller, more niche, European destinations to account for Emirates’ lack of suitable equipment – essentially giving the Middle Eastern giant more leverage over its competitors.

That’s all for this month! If you want to receive our monthly newsletter and know when new articles are published then sign up below! In the meantime, if you’d like any specific routes to be covered here, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Our Most Read Moments of 2017

2017 has been a massive year for all of the team here at LondonSpotter. Firstly, and most importantly, in February 2017 myself and Raj launched what you now know as Since then, we’ve added two new team members (James and Callum) who both contribute massively to the content we give you. Other initiatives included a new ‘guest review’ scheme. Throughout the year we have broken exclusive news, reviewed many airline products, posted several of our unique monthly reports on routes, deliveries and fares and missed flights (well, some of us did, I’m looking at you – Raj & James). But crucially, our site has gone from strength to strength and its all down to your support – so thank you all.

What a year 2017 has been for us.

Looking back on our year, here are our ten most-read moments of 2017.

1. Stewart Airport: The Airport that Could Change How we Travel

Our most read moment comes from September, after Raj experienced New York like no other aviation enthusiast has ever done before. After flying on the Norwegian 737MAX, staying with the flight crew and enjoying a helicopter tour over New York City, this in-depth analysis of the trends we see in transatlantic travel today shot to the top of our statistics.

2. BA Customer Service Shambles

Raj did get to review BA’s 767 – 2 months later than originally planned

In May, James and Raj planned a trip to Edinburgh to review the British Airways Boeing 767. Unfortunately, saying it didn’t go to plan is an understatement. Missing their flight meant Raj wrote about the shambolic experience with British Airways’ customer services. Whether out of humour or concern, this post became one of our most read in 2017.

3. Norwegian 737 MAX Review

Norwegian 737MAX on Raj’s trip from Edinburgh to Stewart

In early Summer 2017, Norwegian made its 737 transatlantic debut with brand new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Raj flew the new aircraft to New York in August and produced a thorough review. Being a new flight meant this post attracted a lot of interest and was a key moment in the growth of our blog. The article still reaches the top of many google searches and attracts more views every day!

4. The Demise of Monarch

A Monarch Airbus A320 at Birmingham International

On the morning of one of the most significant happenings in the aviation world this year, Raj wrote a detailed report of what happened. After flying Britons abroad since 1967, this news came as a shock to the UK and the wider industry in Britain.

In November, we were lucky enough to welcome Callum Johnson to the LondonSpotter team –  a former Monarch cabin crew member – who shared his thoughts in this article. 

5. EasyJet launching flights to Volos

Taking delivery of new aircraft such as the Airbus A320NEO (above), enables EasyJet to expand into new markets with exisiting equipment

In December, I broke the news of a brand new flight with EasyJet from London Gatwick to Volos. It would become Volos’ first and only scheduled flight to the UK – starting in June. As the local community had lobbied for this flight, my news break was shared on their pages – becoming our 4th most viewed post of the year.

6. Norwegian 787 Dreamliner Review

Norwegian’s 787-9 taxiing at Gatwick

Flying home from what was probably one of the most exciting trips reported on LondonSpotter this year, Raj flew in Norwegian’s Premium Cabin aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This is another post that reached new heights in our statistics, with many of you interested in whether paying for Premium was worth it.

7. JOON Unveiled

JOON’s Fleet will initially comprise of the A320 and A340, before expanding to the A350

Air France unveiled their new brand this year, aimed at millennials on a budget, named JOON. I wrote about my thoughts on the new scheme, and reported on the launch of two new destinations with the airline; Fortaleza and the Seychelles. Since then, JOON has launched its short haul operations and announced new destinations such as Tehran and Cape Town for 2018.

8. Virgin 787 Dreamliner Review

In October, James made his way to California to attend United’s 747 Farewell event in San Francisco. To get there, he flew on Virgin’s newest aircraft type – the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. After writing a report on the service, many were interested in Virgin’s quirky and trendy experience.

9. The Inaugural Flight of JL42 – Japan Airlines B787

In October, Raj was invited by Japan Airlines to attend the inaugural ceremony and fly onboard the the first 787 service between London and Tokyo. The trip was an amazing experience as he got to spend some time in Tokyo, too. The trip reports were shared widely on social media, thus putting it in our top 10.

10. Inaugural LOT B737 MAX

In early December, James was lucky enough to be onboard the first ever trip of LOT’s 737 MAX from London to Warsaw. This trip had the added bonus of being filmed for the show Britain’s Busiest Airport. You can see his experience live on TV in March! Yet another MAX trip climbed up the statistics soon after posting.

Personal Highlights

For me, my personal highlight had to be my airside inspection of Aer Lingus’ ATR-72 aircraft in Dublin. As an aviation enthusiast, to be out on the apron, get up close and personal with the aircraft and spend an hour talking to the Captain was a superb experience – even if it was just a turboprop.

Up close and personal!

Raj’s highlight was the helicopter tour of New York that was organised for him by Stewart Airport. The 2.5 hour trip included flying over New York JFK, LaGuardia and the city itself. He hopes to be invited back soon (hint, hint).

New York LaGuardia underneath – Spot Trump’s 757.

James’ highlight was his trip to America in October, where he attended United’s Farewell 747 event and got to take a helicopter tour over LAX.

The cockpit of United’s 747.

Seeing as Callum only joined the team recently, we’ll be seeing his highlights appear over the coming months with lots of cool stuff planned.

What can you look forward to in 2018?

As we move forward into 2018, our readers can expect more than ever from the LondonSpotter blog.

In January, I’ll be putting your questions to the Jet Airways UK Manager – Lydia Nazareth and finish writing up the last of my articles on my recent Southend trip. On January 13th, Raj will travel to Madrid on British Airways’ 787-9 (hopefully he won’t miss this flight) and Callum will conclude his transatlantic game-changer series as he reviews the hopes and chances of new airlines trying to break their way into our packed market.

In February, I’ll be reviewing the new start up in the Cypriot market – Cobalt Air – whom have ambitious expansion plans and in May, I’ll travel on Air Transat (a major player between Canada and Europe), seeing how their service compares to full-service carriers. James will be trying out Air Baltic’s flagship aircraft, aboard the Bombardier CS300 and its going to be another travel-filled year for Raj, too, as he plans trips to China, Italy, Greece and Germany before going to University. It doesn’t stop there, with so much more being organised day by day for our readers, I have lots more plans to reveal for next year – including the upcoming foray into travel blogging in 2018 as aviation and travel come hand in hand.

We’d like to thank you for all the support we have received this year in starting up this website. It is moments like landing in New York to see a message from Brian Kelly (ThePointsGuy) on Instagram that really made Raj and all of us at realise what we’d made over the past year.

If you want to stay up-to-date with what’s to come at then add your name and email to our subscriber list below and you’ll never miss a beat.