The Orange Ocean

Air Europe, Boeing 737-400

When we think of air travel in the UK now days, we think of “no frills”, “buy on board”, “pre-paid seats”, “hold baggage” and more notably, “easyJet”. Starting from humble beginnings out of London Luton Airport, easyJet has expanded dramatically since it’s inception in 1995, having grown out of a number acquisitions and consumer demand for low-cost air travel. The colour orange has been synonymous with easyJet’s brand identity and livery from day one and that sea of orange continues to spread across Gatwick’s apron like an open ocean as new routes are continuously added and the aircraft fleet is updated and expanded, making Gatwick the airline’s largest base.

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easyJet. Photo Credit: Traveloution

However, easyJet was not the first orange bird to grace Gatwick with their presence, if anything easyJet follows a legacy of expansion and development from a predecessor whose orange tails dominated Gatwick’s South Terminal by the early nineties and set the tone of what air travel was to become by the twenty-first century. It’s hard to know where to begin with this now legendary airline, its name itself has come to represent a whole industry that has since tried to match its excellence, so it’s probably best to simply start there – Air Europe.

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Air Europe at Gatwick in the late 1980s. Photo Credit: Unknown

Like easyJet, Air Europe started out in humble beginnings with three Boeing 737-200 aircraft (the same aircraft type easyJet set up with) in May 1979. The airline’s main supplier of charter seats was for package holiday tour operator, Intasun which grew and expanded in the eighties. And just like easyJet, Air Europe soon grew to become Gatwick’s dominate scheduled short-haul operator (along with Dan-Air, following British Caledonian’s take-over). Air Europe acquired 45% of Gatwick’s take-off and landing slots, not bad for an airline still in its infancy. Once again, just like easyJet, Air Europe became a pan-European airline, setting up subsidiaries elsewhere in Europe: Air Europa of Spain (which still lives on today) and Air Europe Italy. Air Europe also acquired two smaller domestic airlines, which in turn formed the nucleus of a new Air Europe Express regional airline subsidiary and by the end of the eighties, having over taken stalwart Dan-Air, Air Europe became Gatwick’s largest operator.

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Air Europe Boarding Pass. Photo Credit: Cupojuices

Sadly, Air Europe’s success was to come to an abrupt end. The airline’s parent company, International Leisure Group (ILG) ran in to financial difficulties and this was heightened more by the Gulf War and the recession of the early nineties. Air Europe went bankrupt in March 1991, ending just 12 short years of rapid success.

Air Europe, Boeing 757-200
Air Europe dominated Gatwick. Photo Credit: Unknown

It would be a further 11 years before Gatwick would see any drop of orange again. Already slowly rising over the past 7 years, 2002 saw easyJet move in to Gatwick to test out the “no-frills” concept of air travel in one of the airline’s biggest moves. Having acquired GO (a low-cost airline set up by British Airways) and later GB Airways, easyJet quickly grew in the noughties; dominating both North and South Terminals; the sea of orange was back in a new form. No longer an ocean spreading, this was a tsunami hurdling towards its competition. Where Air Europe failed, easyJet was to succeed; adopting a cost-cutting measure such as not selling connecting flights or providing complimentary snacks on board. The key points of this business model are quick turnaround times, charging for extras such as priority boarding, hold baggage, and of course, food and drink.

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The Orange Ocean: easyJet

And so, as another decade draws to a close, its easyJet that now carries the torch as Gatwick’s dominate airline. Flying to over 100 destinations and carrying more than 16 million passengers per year, it’s hard not to think of Air Europe and what they started almost forty years ago, for if it wasn’t for Air Europe would easyJet even exist today? One thing is for certain, the sea of orange is not going anywhere anytime soon and although troubled waters have swept ashore this past year with the demise of Monarch Airlines and Air Berlin, the Orange Ocean continues to deepen.

Easyjet A321neo Farnborough
easyJet Airbus A321neo

Air Europe was founded in May 1979 and ceased operations in March 1991. easyJet began operations in March 1995 and continues to fly today.

Writer’s BLOC

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Me, completely glued to the view from our suite at the BLOC Hotel, Gatwick

With a holiday booked to Malta in the late summer of 2017 and a very early morning flight (6:30am to be precise) with British Airways from London’s Gatwick Airport, I was dreading that 3am wake up call that I’ve never been accustomed to. Imagine my amazement getting a phone call from my other half to say that he’s arranged a little treat; a night at the BLOC Hotel, located slap bang on the top of the South Terminal Gatwick. Okay, so it might not be everyone’s idea of a romantic evening in a plush hotel but for any plane geek like me, this was just what the doctor ordered.

Having first opened it’s doors in 2014, the hotel is a renovated office block, with four floors and 245 rooms – and we were booked into the “Runway Suite”. With it’s stunning views across the airport’s apron and single-runway, I was in my element. The interior of this quirky modern hotel is also cutting edge for the everyday traveler passing through the airport.

As soon as we arrived, I was glued to the window of our room – a panoramic view – watching the comings and goings of the variety of aircraft carriers that Gatwick hosts. While the other half cracked open the beers from the mini-bar and bedded down for the evening (he’s not a plane geek), I could not tear myself away from the view. I was transfixed at seeing British Airways, Norwegian, Thomas Cook Airlines and Monarch (RIP) to name a few lined up.

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“The Runway Suite” at the BLOC Hotel, Gatwick. Photo Credit: helloworldtravel_rob

This exact same view I had not seen for at least twenty years and it would send me straight back to my childhood. For as long as I can remember my dad took me to Gatwick’s then spectators viewing platform and there walking out on that deck I could smell the jet fumes, the vibrating sounds of the different aircraft types and seeing the tails of the likes of British Caledonian, Dan-Air, Air Europe, Air New Zealand lined up. This was Gatwick in the eighties and I loved it.

Looking out at the view from our room and slightly below us, I could see the now defunct viewing platform. Having closed down almost 18 years ago, the canteen and plane enthusiast shop were both boarded up and the deck that was once jammed packed full of spectators was sadly empty and looking abandoned. As I peered down at the platform, images of the past came back; my dad picking me up and putting me on his shoulders, pointing at the various aircraft: “Look Bob, British Caledonian”, he would say. Or “Cover your ears, it’s going to get noisy”. Although slightly tinged with sadness, I loved the memories flooding back and it is thanks to my dad that I have this life-long obsession of planes.

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1980’s Gatwick, the Viewing Platform. Photo Credit: Longreach

Living, working and breathing in London can at times, be stressful and hectic to say the least. The majority that live and ride the violent jolt of the capital will no doubt say the same, so for me thinking about planes, seeing planes keeps me grounded (if you excuse the pun). They calm my nerves and help with my anxieties – just a simple thing like that. I recently told a friend this and her advice was: “If this helps, then keep doing what you’re doing, keep collecting the model planes, keep traveling on planes and going to airports, it’s the tonic you need”. Those words have now stuck.

And so back to the BLOC; watching a Norwegian 787 push back, an Azores Airlines A320 land, an Emirates A380 take-off, I was able to forget; forget about the stresses of what life can sometimes bring. So really this is a huge thank you to my dad for what he started back then and to my other half (even though planes are not his thing) – for what he continues to do, he knew what he was doing when he booked the BLOC.

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The view from “The Runway Suite” at BLOC Hotel, Gatwick. Photo Credit: Simon Kent

Prices at the BLOC Hotel Gatwick can start at around £100 per night depending on which room/suite you intend to book. 

For further details please visit:- BLOC Hotels Gatwick

The Dan-Air Stewardess

Lorraine at Dan Air
Lorraine with Dan-Air at Newcastle Airport

As I have said previously, I have been lucky enough to come across some great people that have or are currently still working in the aviation industry, thanks to the modern medium of certain social media platforms. One person who I’ve had the fortunate pleasure of connecting with is a former Dan-Air stewardess, Lorraine. Lorraine and I share a mutual passion for this once great British airline. I was lucky enough to fly with Dan-Air myself when the airline was at the top of it’s game; first in 1985 to Majorca, Spain and once again in 1987 to Zakynthos, Greece. Although I was very young at the time, being a plane geek I can remember both journey’s so vividly well. Lorraine has even more memories to share having worked for the airline from 1976 to 1992 and based at Newcastle Airport. She has been kind enough to take some time out to give an insight on the different types of aircraft she worked on, some really scary moments while in the air and what it was like being “The Dan-Air Stewardess”.

What made you want to be an air stewardess? My first flight as a pax [passengers] I was nine years old and it was from LGW/LUX [London Gatwick/Luxembourg] on a BAC1-11 with British Eagle and I think that gave me an interest in flying as a career, I thought it was so glamorous, the girls I noticed were so smart, never would have believed then that my dream would come true and I actually worked on that aircraft as British Eagle folded and Dan Air purchased that aircraft from them.

How did the role at Dan-Air come about? The role came about when I was working as a junior secretary in an office for a telecommunications firm, my mother who worked there also, rang me and said that there was an advert in The Newcastle Journal for Air Hostesses and I should apply for the job, I did and the rest is history.

Can you remember how you felt during the interview process? The interview process I remember very well, it was at the Airport Hotel, I was rather nervous and was interviewed by Dan Air’s Chief Stewardess and NCL’s [Newcastle Airport] base stewardesses. The questions that were asked “if I was married”? That time they did not employ you if you were married, then mostly about how I dealt with situations and how I coped with people, and obviously what qualifications I had, I felt that the interview had gone well.

What are the most important parts of being an air stewardess? The main thing was to make the pax feel comfortable and safe.

What were the stages of recruitment at Dan-Air? I only had one interview, I know other airlines had a process to go through, but not for Dan Air.

Can you give us a brief about the area/team you worked with at NCL? My typical roster was given a fortnight in advance and it would be around eight flights and two standby days per fortnight.

What was the best thing about working for Dan-Air? I can honestly say that working for Dan Air were the best years of my life, when I meet up with my Dan friends they all say exactly the same, that we were very lucky to have had the pleasure of working for them,  they were a great company to work for. Newcastle Airport was such a small and intimate airport that everybody knew each other from the ground staff to the customs, and other airline staff. A lot of our pilots were ex RAF very old school and so gentlemanly and great great characters.

Can you name the type of aircraft you trained and worked on? The aircraft that I worked on were: DeHavilland Comet first commercial jet, and it was my favourite. Such a beautiful aircraft, but rather noisy down at the back especially when taking off! I also worked on the following: HS748, BAC 1-11 all series, B-727, B-737 and the BAE 146.

What was the best place you visited during your time flying? And can you recommend anywhere? Most of our flights from NCL were flown to the destination (all European or internal) and then return on the same day, there was no long haul from NCL then, so we were back home after our flights, we did have night-stops in Bournemouth, and in the latter years Berlin which at the time the Berlin Wall was being taken down and that was fascinating. We were also now and again sent to different bases if there was a shortage of staff.

Tell us about any scary moments when up in the air (or on the ground) that you experienced when working? Two flights that I remember, one was on the HS 748 and we were flying from LGW, as I was serving drinks (on a tray, no trolleys on this aircraft), there was a small jolt, I looked to my right and noticed the propeller was slowly stopping, the captain called me into the flight deck and said that we were making an emergency landing at Dijon and to clear the cabin. Thankfully the aircraft landed safely.
The other time I was on the BAE146, the First Officer brought the aircraft down too steeply banging it down on the runway, all the oxygen masks fell from the cabin ceiling, unfortunately some of the wheels burst and the smell from the rubber filled the cabin, no pax were hurt just rather shocked. I was then sent to LGW to help with enquiries, that for me was the most terrifying!

Do you still keep in touch with any of your ex-colleagues from Dan-Air? I still keep in touch with a lot of the girls that I few with, we have a bond and go a long way back.

If you could, is there anything you’d like to ask Dan-Air? I can’t think what I’d like to ask them, I wish they hadn’t have gone under, but I would like to thank them for the happy years they gave me and for employing me, again the best years of my life loved every minute flying with them.

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The Dan-Air crew at Newcastle Airport in 1992. Photo Credit: Dan-Air Remembered & Martin Gascoigne

Thanks so much Lorraine for taking the time and sharing your memories of Dan-Air! IMG_2936 2

Dan-Air was founded in 1953 and ceased operations in 1992 when it merged with British Airways. The airline’s main hubs were London Gatwick, Manchester and Berlin-Tegel as well as focusing on operations at Newcastle.

For more memories please visit:- Dan-Air Remembered

The Extra Smile

One flight I had been looking forward to this year was traveling from London’s Heathrow Terminal 2 – The Queen’s Terminal and Brussels Airlines, a member of Star Alliance. This made a welcome change from my usual London Gatwick and easyJet combo.

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Brussels Airlines at LHR. Photo Credit: LHR_MARK

Arriving at the spacious, contemporary, Luis Vidal designed airport terminal, with its natural light roofing, fantastic architecture and plush eateries and shops – this is a modern airport for the modern traveler. The easyJet crowds, queues and fiasco of Gatwick’s North Terminal were no where to be seen. The Queen’s Terminal had a great mixture of holiday makers, weekend getaway travelers, long-haul back-packers and your average businessman – but then for a terminal that houses the likes of Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, Air Canada, THAI Airways and Brussels Airlines to name a few, of course there was going to be a good mix of travelers alike.  I was in my element, taking the whole experience in.

I had only flown once before from Heathrow T2 with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul in 2016 but it was such an early flight (6:35am take off), I was half asleep and unable to appreciate the full experience of traveling through an airport designed for the 21st century.

After a short delay (problems with off loading disabled passengers from the inbound flight), we started to board the airbus A320 Brussels Airlines bound for Brussels International Airport. As I took to my seat, a member of the cabin crew asked me “are you 25A?”. Completely unsuspecting that anything was amiss, I said yes and scurried to take my window seat. Almost an hour after our departure time and behind a Singapore Airlines airbus A380, we turbulently took off from Heathrow, heading out over London – with great views of the city; Hyde Park, The London Eye and Southbank, The Shard, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, The O2 Arena and the coast line. The short 45 minute flight to Brussels meant that the cabin crew had to do a quick turnaround for the in-flight service. Before they commenced, two cabin crew members headed towards my direction with a tray. They were both looking directly at me and smiling and before I knew it, presented me with two snap-fit Brussels Airlines icon model aircraft; Magritte (an ode to the famous surrealist artist René Magritte) and Amare (Tomorrowland Festival theme) – compliments of Brussels Airlines. I was completely blown away by the kindness and generosity of Brussels Airlines and their crew – as their company slogan states – “We go the extra smile” – and they really did. It was something I never expected at all.

Since I began theplanecollector.com, I have been so fortune to connect with some great people across the aviation world via social media. None other than @brubhx and @route_72 both of whom work for Brussels Airlines respectively. I cannot thank them enough for their top class assistance (with seat allocations – sorry brubhx I was a pain), up to date flight information and arranging this little on-board surprise with the help of Brussels Airlines’ commerical team. The experience was over-whelming and fantastic at the same time.

As I disembarked, I stopped off by the exit to have a quick chat with the crew who had presented me the aircraft models earlier and to take a selfie with them (of course)! Both of whom were very friendly, welcoming and happy to talk – although short – it was a sweet and an excellent service – I enjoyed my time on Brussels Airlines, a taste of Belgium in the air – all added with that extra smile!

For more details please visit:- Brussels Airlines

After Berlin

Next to Paris and London, Berlin is the most frequently visited city in Europe. However, more tears have shed here and more admiration expressed than anywhere else, not only by the city’s 3.8 million inhabitants, who still continue to discover their city, but also by over 13 million annual visitors who flock to Berlin – myself being one of them.

Steeped in history, I learned more in one weekend during my visit to Berlin than I ever did studying for five years in the subject of History at secondary school. Drummed in to me was post-war Britain; the VE Day celebrations, rations continued, the East End was a rubble and a new young Queen took to the throne bringing in a new Elizabethan era. As for Germany; sure I knew there was “a wall” that ripped through Berlin. I understood that West Germany’s citizens drove around in Mercedes Benz and BMW’s while East Germany had to make do with that “old banger” the Trabant, I grasped that there was a rich and poor divide and of course, I hadn’t forgotten, witnessing as a child, those flashing news images of German citizens climbing “The Wall” celebrating and taking hammers, pick axes, anything they could get their hands on to bring it down in 1989 however, shamefully that was as far as my IQ went on post-war Germany.

“There is a tipping point at which unmitigated evil is no longer visible” (Tom Buchwald)

As I headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial, the actual physical monstrosity was still visible, albeit just a small section for “keepsakes” purposes. I imagined what if this was London; a huge wall ripping through the middle – separating the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing in the West from Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Barking and Dagenham in the East. I soon became fascinated by the ideology behind this “Wall” and why was it put up in the first place?! Stretching back to the end of World War II with the Americans, British, French and Russians marching victoriously in and splitting Germany up for their own control, the penny finally dropped. I suddenly discovered the GDR (German Democratic Republic), mass emigration from east to west Germany, Soviet occupation Zones, FRG (Federal Republic of Germany), Allied Zones of occupation, the Cold War and “The Wall”. I completely got it. The news images I remember in the 1980s of Germany; the West Germany and East Germany football teams in the World Cup, the classy Mercedes Benz and BMWs in the West and the tatty Trabant car in the East – I suddenly worked it all out. Checkpoint Charlie – tick, Brandenburg Gate – tick, Alexanderplatz – tick. Germany I got you and I felt bad for you.

Besides being a world-city of culture, politics, media, science, universities, museums and an infamous nightlife scene, Berlin is the place to go, see and do. As I came away from this beauty I could not help but ask myself why? All this history; Nazi occupation, Soviet and Allied occupation, The Wall from 1961-1989, full sovereignty from as late as 1994, what was it all for? Generations have suffered post-war and for what?

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that neither the United Kingdom nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany.

“We defeated the Germans twice! And now they’re back!” (Margaret Thatcher, 1989)

The fear was still there, long after World War II had ended. A stark reminder that what shaped this city, or rather, destroyed this city, can never happen again. Germany was not the only state that had been separated through the aftermaths of World War II. For example, Korea as well as Vietnam have been separated through the occupation of “Western-Capitalistic” and “Eastern-Communistic” forces, after the defeat of the Japanese Empire. However, Germany is the only one of these countries that has managed to achieve a peaceful reunification.

Pulled from the monstrous product of war and the humdrum of divide and communism, Berlin offers a magnitude of creativity and the success of this has been the catalyst for the city’s thriving music scene, active nightlife, and bustling street scene all of which have become important attractions for the German capital.

For details please visit:- visitBerlin

A Crown Service

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Mum, me, aunt & uncle having just landed on a Monarch Airlines’ flight to Heraklion, Crete in 1989

On the morning of 2nd October 2017, I woke up to the news that I had been dreading all weekend – Monarch Airlines had ceased to operate and went into administration. Just one week earlier I had flown in to London Gatwick after holidaying in Malta and there, as usual, lined up on the main pier at Gatwick’s South Terminal was at least a dozen Airbus A320 and A321 Monarch aircraft parked next to an assortment of British Airways, Norwegian and Thomas Cook Airlines. As I was taxing past them (on board a British Airways flight), little did I know then that the airline was already heavily in the “red” and that this would be the last time I would ever see the “Spotty M” make it’s appearance at Gatwick.

1989 was the year that I first flew on a Monarch Airlines aircraft myself from LGW to Heraklion, Crete. I was so excited to be acquainted with this bird, a Boeing 757-200; we boarded via the steps on a remote stand at Gatwick’s shiny brand-new North Terminal. I can still remember us being parked next to an identical B757 Monarch aircraft which was also boarding a hoard of passengers heading for sunnier climes – this was one airline that was doing so well in Thatcher’s Britain. I managed to persuade my dad to buy me the snap-fit model aircraft on board (along with a baseball cap with “GATWICK” sprawled across the front in the airport earlier). When we landed at Heraklion Airport, stepping out on to the hot tarmac, I was too shy to ask a Monarch stewardess for a photograph, who was saying her goodbyes to passengers (they did this on the tarmac in the 80s) – having managed to take a sneaky pic instead, her head was unfortunately cut out  – nonetheless, I loved the whole experience.

My next encounter with Monarch would be in the summer of 1994 to Antayla, Turkey. Again, a Boeing 757-200, this time from Gatwick’s South Terminal (they switched from North to South around 1991/92) and boarding this time was from the Satellite gate. Still in love with this airline, I bought another snap-fit model aircraft and my passion grew. By the mid-90s they had surpassed their great piers; Dan-Air, British Caledonian and Air Europe. As the years past, other airlines such as Excalibur Airways, Ambassador, Air 2000 and XL Airways came and went but Monarch however, kept on going. 2012 would be the final time that I would fly with Monarch; an Airbus A300 from Manchester Airport to Sharm el Shiek, Egypt – what a great experience to get the opportunity to fly this old bird there and back. Unbeknown to me then, this would be the beginning of the end for Monarch and me.

And so, two days before their collapse, I was working out in the gym and the TV screen above my head had the BBC News switched on with the headline: “Breaking News – Monarch Airlines Facing Administration”. A constant loop of film footage showing the aircraft landing at Gatwick, I was in disbelief, suddenly I had forgotten all about my workout and kept asking myself lots of questions: they were saved by Greybull a year ago, they have ordered new Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft, the cabin crew will be getting new uniforms, I saw them lined up a week ago at Gatwick without a hint of trouble – this cannot possibly be happening right? A cousin of mine was due to fly with Monarch to Dalaman, Turkey on that very fateful morning of 2nd October – I reassured him that his flight would be fine and it was just media hype, just like the response he got from Monarch via Facebook.

Then, at 03:19am, Monarch Airlines’ final flight from Tel Aviv, Israel to Manchester Airport touched down. Shortly afterwards at approximately 04:00am, the CAA confirmed that Monarch Airlines had ceased operations with immediate effect and had entered administration. As I was fast asleep when Monarch was taking it’s last breath, my poor cousin had already arrived at Gatwick expecting to board his flight. As soon as I saw the notification on my phone that morning I was glued to the breakfast news. This was an airline I had known my entire 36 years of existence, it was like a friend had died, grief set in but the wonderful memories of those years traveling with Monarch came flooding back.

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Photo Credit: Ray Woodman & the Facebook Group – “Monarch Airlines”

The airline’s demise; competing in a growing market of low-fares, no frills travel, set them apart from the rest but sadly Monarch’s turnaround to follow suit was too little and too late. While the likes of easyJet now dominating flights to and across Europe, Monarch began to struggle; hit hard by the rising cost of fuel prices, a weakened pound and terrorist attacks on prime holiday hot-spots such as Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey, the writing was on the wall for “Spotty M”. And while I’m still sad at their demise, the memories live on forever; great experiences both on the ground and in the air, all of which will never be forgotten. Sleep tight Monarch, you reigned supreme longer than any other charter airline in the UK and for that, I salute you.

Monarch Airlines was founded on 5 June 1967 and ceased operations on 2 October 2017