Death of a Salesman

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The infamous Sir Freddie Laker in front of one of his Laker Airways planes. Pictured at Gatwick in 1996.

Last year budget airlines carried almost 70 million passengers to and from the UK but thirty years ago things were very different. While “well off” passengers were being pampered by the likes of British Caledonian, British Airways and Pan American, the rest could only dream of joining the jet-set until Sir Freddie Laker revolutionized the skies with the first “no-frills” airline, Laker Airways.

I first heard of Laker Airways when I was just a kid; my parents flew with them on their first holiday together to Ibiza in the early 1970s. Laker Airways’ long-haul arm Skytrain however, was launched in the autumn of 1977 and it had just one route; London Gatwick to New York-JFK. There were no advanced bookings and most certainly no “online” bookings/check-in’s/apps back then, passengers had to queue up at the airport for their ticket. The low-priced fares to cross the Atlantic made Sir Freddie one of the first “celebrity entrepreneurs” of our time. Skytrain made a profit within its first year and Sir Freddie placed orders for more wide-bodied DC-10 planes which were the preferred option for Skytrain plus more routes were soon added to Florida and California.

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Laker Airways Skytrain DC-10. Photo Credit: Adrian Bridges

As Sir Freddie’s airline grew, so did his confidence but not everyone was impressed; namely the “big boy” airlines. Skytrain launched well and was operating successfully but Sir Freddie didn’t want to stop there, he could see opportunities with an outlook of launching Skytrain into a global “no frills” airline. But it was that sky-high ambition that would take his business in to turbulence.

Laker Airways doubled in size in just five short years, adding more planes and carrying over two million passengers – this put Laker Airways on a collision course with it’s competitors. As the eighties arrived and recession hit Britain, Skytrain looked dangerously over stretched. The worsen exchange rate and fuel prices rising meant that Laker faced spiraling costs at the same time as revenues were falling and being an airline built on low fares this made it particularly hard to rise prices to make up the difference.

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Skytrain Ticket

Sir Freddie had ploughed money in to the airline’s expansion that meant it had very little left in reserve. Laker’s competitors had cut their prices on all of Sir Freddie’s routes. By 1982, the bank called in its multi-million pound overdraft. The airline went bankrupt on 5 February 1982 and Sir Freddie’s dreams were shattered as so were those of his staff and passengers. Laker Airways collapsed with debts of over £270 million – at the time – making it the biggest corporate failure in British history. Sir Freddie soon waged war against the likes of British Airways, BCAL, United, Lufthansa, KLM and Pan Am calling his demise as a “dirty tricks campaign” by his competitors who clubbed together to put him out of business. He settled out of court in the mid-Eighties but the fearsome dog-eat-dog war of the airlines was felt far and wide especially by Virgin Atlantic who would face a similar “dirty tricks” battle with BA in their early years as well.

First class entrepreneurs raise the bar to drive things forward every time, which is good, that’s why they are first class but it does come at a cost; it makes them the worst people at judging their own limits and those of their businesses. So when things do go well it can be fantastic. When things go badly it can be tragic.

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Sir Freddie Laker 1922-2006

Laker Airways operated from 1966 to 1982 and for a brief period again in the UK from 1996 to 1998.

References:-

Eglin, Roger; Ritchie, Berry (1980). Fly me, I’m Freddie. London, UK: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Airliner World – The Laker Airways Skytrain, July 2005. Avenel, NJ, USA: Key Publishing. (Airliner World online)

 

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

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