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.

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