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

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