Europe’s largest regional airline Flybe has been sold to a consortium led by Virgin Atlantic for a little over £2 million in a deal which secures the future of at least some of its services to and from UK airports.
Flybe operates mainly from smaller airports, including Cardiff, Doncaster Sheffield, Southampton, Durham, Norwich and Southend, carrying about 8 million passengers a year, but it has been struggling to make money in recent years.
Following its sale, its 78 aircraft will be re-branded Virgin, probably by the spring, but in the meantime, Flybe insists that it’s business as usual.
The Exeter-based airline, which flies to 85 airports in nine countries in Europe, said in an announcement on Twitter: “Flights will continue to operate as per our published schedule and you can continue to book flights with us at Flybe.com”.
Flights, will there be more or less?
In the future, the airline is expected to offer more flights to and from Heathrow and Manchester to feed more passengers on to Virgin’s long-haul flights from both airports.
As the consortium that bought Flybe also includes Stobart, which owns Southend and Carlisle airports, it seems likely that it will add more flights from Southend (but probably not Carlisle, which doesn’t have any commercial passenger flights at the moment).
However, at this earlier stage the consortium hasn’t made any promises about retaining all of Flybe’s routes, and it’s likely that some of its loss-making services – especially “thinner” routes from small, regional airports – will be axed.
As the airline has said, all of its flights are operating as per its schedule for the time being, but changes are likely from as early as the end of March when airlines start their summer programmes.
Fares, will they go up or down?
One of the reasons Flybe has been struggling is its seeming inability to compete with the low-cost airlines like Ryanair and easyJet, which have larger, more fuel-efficient aircraft. Rather than booking Flybe flights from their local airport, passengers have chosen to travel further to other airports to take cheaper flights with rival airlines. It’s possible that with Virgin’s fire-power behind it, Flybe might offer more competitive fares, albeit on fewer routes, possibly.
Avios, what will happen to your loyalty points?
One change that seems almost certain, and one that will affect Flybe’s most frequent flyers, is its membership of the Avios loyalty scheme. Rob Burgess, who runs the frequent flyer website Headforpoints, told Mirror Online: “At the moment, Flybe buys Avios [rewards] from BA’s parent company to give to its customers. With the airline taking on the Virgin Atlantic branding, it will be offering Virgin Flying Club frequent flyer miles.
“I would also expect it to offer status points in Virgin Flying Club which will, for the first time, allow Flybe customers to earn a shiny status card,” Burgess added.
The re-brand to Virgin will be the second re-incarnation for Flybe, which started as Jersey European in 1979. It will also be Virgin’s second attempt at operating domestic flights in the UK, following its failed venture with Little Red.