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.

easyJet
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.

Air Europe
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.

Air Europe
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.

easyJet
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.

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.

IMG_5443
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