A cabin crew member’s insight into the final days of Monarch Airlines.
10am, alarm goes off, just as it does everyday when I’m on afternoons. I get ready, then run through a mental checklist ensuring I have everything I will need for the day ahead. After a quick debate as to whether I should bring my rain coat or not, I start up the car and make my way to the airport. On my way into work, my phone notifies me that Andrew Swaffield has sent an e-mail to all Monarch staff. The contents advising us to ignore the ongoing press speculation, and congratulating us for getting 67% of the previous days flights away on time. Only 20 minutes after leaving the house, I find myself a parking space and head towards the crew room. All too soon it’s time for the pre-flight brief and the dreaded SEP (Safety and Emergency Procedures) and immediate medical care questions. We were asked these before reporting for every duty, they were designed to ensure that our knowledge of everything we are trained to know and carry out during an emergency situation is up to date.
The day goes without a hitch… well almost. We have to wait for our Airbus A320 to land from Dalaman, so we can prep it to head down to Gibraltar and back. This did give me an opportunity to get up close and personal to G-ZBAV, our sole Boeing 737-800 aircraft which was brought in to assist crew being converted from Airbus to the brand new fleet of Boeing 737-Max8s arriving from March 2018.
Apart from the delay, the day goes by as normal. Take off, complete all in-flight services, grab a bite to eat, prepare for landing and repeat. As with any trip to Gibraltar, the obligatory photo of the Rock is taken.
After landing back into Birmingham I sense something is not right. All of our aircraft are parked on remote stands. Thinking nothing of it, I wait for the double knock on the R4 door, signalling it is safe for me to open it and disembark the passengers. It was only on the minibus back to the terminal building the dispatcher broke the news that the night Ibiza flights from both Birmingham and London Gatwick had been cancelled.
I ask my self “Why?”, at 3.26am, I got my answer…
“This is the update I hoped I would never have to write. Despite our best efforts, today Monarch Airlines Limited and Monarch Travel Group (Monarch Holidays) are ceasing operations and going into administration.” – Andrew Swaffield, Monarch Airlines Chief Executive Officer, in an email sent to staff during the early hours of 2nd October 2017.
Wow. How do you process news like that? It was only two hours prior that I was leaving the crew room after having operated the Gibraltar. How had such a brilliant day turned into a nightmare almost instantaneously? It couldn’t be true, could it?
Unfortunately for myself, my 2,500 former colleagues and the 110,000 passengers now stranded abroad, it was true. With a whirlwind of emotions swirling around inside, I pick up the phone and dial the number for one of my friends. The response, a deafening silence broken intermittently by the sobbing of my friend at the end of the phone. Damn… this is real. This is happening.
Being called to an airport hotel function room to be formally made redundant isn’t a nice feeling. I could see this on the hundreds of faces around the room, each and every one of them must have dozens of thoughts whirling around their heads at supersonic speeds. Tears were shed, but there was always a shoulder to cry on. For me that reinforced something that I was told right at the very start of my Monarch journey. “Monarch isn’t like any other airline, it has that real family feel to it.” Right from my very first day up until my last, those words stayed with me (they still do, even now), but it was only at that moment it hit me like a tonne of bricks. This is what they meant. Even in the face of adversity, we still had each other and no one or nothing was going to change that.
Suddenly having an abundance of free time on my hands meant there was only one thing I could do to fill the giant aviation shaped hole left In my life. I grabbed my trusty camera and my radio scanner and headed to Birmingham Airport to try and spot the various different aircraft being operated on behalf of the CAA. Alternating between different spotting points, I managed to speak to other spotters who had the same Idea as me, all of which asked the one same question, “How does this happen overnight?”. The truth is this doesn’t just happen overnight, as we later found out the company had tried to pivot from our substantial loss making short haul routes to a long haul network serviced by our soon to be delivered Boeing 737-Max8 fleet and leased wide body aircraft (As many staff will tell you, JFK was supposed to be served from Birmingham as of 15th May 2018). However, despite all attempts, Monarch Airlines Limited was predicted to make a loss of £100million pounds during the next financial year, thus making it unfeasible for the airline to continue operations.
I have seen many people take to social media with their views on the situation, some of them I agree with, some of them I don’t. What I haven’t seen a great deal of though is thanks. Thanks to the Civil Aviation Authority and the staff and the airlines that have stepped in to fill the void that has been left by Monarch’s collapse. In the days that followed, at the request of the CAA, many airlines were repositioning aircraft to former Monarch bases and destinations. One of these was Qatar Airways, within hours of the news breaking Qatar Airways Airbus A320 jets were on their way from Doha to the United Kingdom, with only one mission, get as many people as possible home. Operating under British Airways callsigns, the crews of these Airbus aircraft worked tirelessly, completing multiple sectors per day to bring home stranded holiday makers. So to all of the crews, who helped repatriate our passengers when we couldn’t, I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone reading this article when I say this, Thank You.
I will always have many happy memories whenever I think of the Spotty M, as I’m sure you reading this will too. Next year would have been the airlines 50th anniversary. To look back and think of how far we have come and what we have achieved is fantastic. Ever since the airlines first flight from London Luton to Madrid using a sole turboprop Bristol Britannia, Monarch has been a household name in the British aviation Industry. To think that an airline of our stature can just disappear overnight is a scary thought indeed.
The Monarch name does live on though, through the many happy memories of the millions of passengers we have flown over the years. Through the men and women who work for Monarch Aircraft Engineering Limited. I’m sure that they will continue to do us proud, as they always have done.
Want to know more about the history of Monarch’s collapse? Click here.