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 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.

dan_newcastle1
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