It’s Time to Ditch the label ‘Independent Travel Agent’

I have been a travel agent for getting towards twenty years, and over that time we have seen a dramatic change in both how people travel, and the way we’re able to work. Yes, change happens and the industry is great at adapting to new challenges and there the disconnect begins. 

The rise of the ‘independent travel agent’ voice really started in the 1980’s, up against the big names of the industry. Heading into the 90’s you had Lunn Poly aligned to Thomson, Going Places with Airtours, Thomas Cook and First Choice. Their sole intention to sell you a holiday from their parent tour operator, really before the start of the internet revolution. 

Back then, it was a point of difference that an independent would be able to sell a much wider range of holidays, from a vast number of different tour operators. Many, with commercial agreements formed through consortiums, aimed at pooling resources, offering better financial terms and support. Even then belonging to an association or consortium you have financial incentives to sell particular products, so even ‘independents’ are directionally selling! 

Since then, we have seen the internet thrive with both integrated tour operators, airlines and ‘online travel agents’ (which are not travel agencies by definition, take market share from traditional travel agencies on the ‘easy’ selling. Booking a flight, booking a hotel, maybe a beach holiday – all became easier to do online. 

However, things have changed, the market has changed and the consumer has changed. The pandemic has taught us that we can work differently if we put our mind to it. People now expect different things and therefore we have to think, act and look different as well. 

Just how many non-independent travel agencies do you know? There are very few, of the big four only one is left – TUI. Even Kuoni who have their own shops sell a wide selection of other tour operators in addition to their programme. 

There is often talk about charging for our services, but when you’re pulled down by an umbrella term which is thirty years out of date, based on a completely different business model, how can you change? 

We’re also stuck in a world where the industry has to put everyone in a box. You’re either a ‘high street agency’, ‘online’ or a ‘homeworker’. What if I work on the high street a couple of days a week, and work from home the rest of the time – what exactly am I then? 

It’s time for travel agencies to be reinvented. We’re no longer stuck in the 80’s, even though some older people may still think in that way, but we’re a modern, forward-thinking industry with our clients and potential clients at the focus of our business. That’s everything from how we communicate, whom we choose to work with, abolishing ‘opening hours’, and embracing new technology.

Yes, a highly professional service industry that elevates us beyond the gutter of ‘just selling holidays’, to advising, nurturing, and reassuring. It’s time for us to be seen as the professionals we are and not a dodgy salespeople. 

To those in the industry who are not on the front line and are out of touch with the pressures and new realities we face, get a grip, we have moved on. It’s no longer a case of independents vs vertical integration, the independents won – we now need to make sure we win the next battle, the generation who doesn’t know what a travel agency is…(let alone independent!)

Luxury Holidays

FlyBe to start 23 routes this Summer – bases in Birmingham and Belfast

flyBe, today has revealed its schedule for the summer, with its first services taking place on the 13th and 14th April. As more aircraft are delivered through the summer, more points to the network are added, included East Midlands, Leeds Bradford and London Heathrow.

Belfast City (BHD) to Birmingham (BHX) From 13th April up to 4x Daily

Belfast City (BHD) to Glasgow (GLA From 14th April up to 4x Daily

Amsterdam (AMS) to Birmingham (BHX) From 28th April Daily

Amsterdam (AMS) to East Midlands (EMA) From 28th April Daily

Belfast City (BHD) to Leeds Bradford (LBA) From 28th April up to 3x Daily

Belfast City (BHD) to London Heathrow (LHR) From 28th April up to 2x Daily

Leeds Bradford (LBA) to London Heathrow (LHR) From 28th April Up to 3x Daily

Amsterdam (AMS) to Belfast City (BHD) From 28th May Daily

Amsterdam (AMS) to London Heathrow (LHR) From 29th May up to 2x Daily

Belfast City (BHD) to Edinburgh (EDI) From 23rd June up to 3x Daily

Belfast City (BHD) to East Midlands (EMA) From 7th July up to 2x Daily

Belfast City (BHD) to Manchester (MAN) From 7th July up to 4x Daily

Avignon Provence (AVN) to Birmingham (BHX) From 9th July Weekly

Brest Bretagne (BES) to Birmingham (BHX) From 9th July Weekly

Avignon Provence (AVN) to Southampton (SOU) From 23rd July Weekly

Southampton (SOU) to Toulon Hyères (TLN) From 24th July Weekly

Belfast City (BHD) to Southampton (SOU) From 28th July up to 2x Daily

Birmingham (BHX) to Edinburgh (EDI) From 28th July up to 4x Daily

Birmingham (BHX) to Glasgow (GLA) From 28th July up to 3x Daily

Aberdeen (ABZ) to Birmingham (BHX) From 18th August Daily

Aberdeen (ABZ) to Belfast City (BHD) From 25th August up to 4x Weekly

Belfast City (BHD) to Inverness (INV) From 25th August up to 4x Weekly

Belfast City (BHD) to Newcastle (NCL) From 25th August Daily

Airlines Luxury Holidays

BA’s Gatwick solution should start in Manchester

Gatwick has long been a problem for British Airways. It would dearly love to become Heathrow Airways, if there were the space and the slots to do so. However, Gatwick is actually strategically important for them and especially with keeping their loyal executive club members happy.

Although a new deal, aimed at ‘reducing cost’ at Gatwick didn’t make it past the pilots union, we have to remember this is a step further than the last message which came out of the airline even questioning the existence of keeping it operational.

Therefore, there is intent by British Airways at keeping a short haul operation at Gatwick as long as the costs are right. The first attempt at trying to keep the operation ‘in house’ seems to have fallen flat, but that isn’t their only option.

Any fanciful idea of British Airways buying a rival or ‘strategic’ partner can instantly be ruled out. This is an exercise in reducing cost and overhead, not one of capital expenditure or possibly increasing costs. Its an exercise in doing more with less money.

One idea long rumoured and thrown about is the possibility of Vueling taking over Gatwick. However, with a patchy reputation and lack of brand recognition in the UK (something they tried to combat unsuccessfully in Europe with Level) it doesn’t sound like a good alternative.

Aer Lingus also tried to set up their own base at Gatwick, initially with good intentions to the sun and slopes – but ended up falling away once again to brand recognition. Would you seriously think about Aer Lingus when booking a flight from Gatwick to Malaga?

Therefore I think their best solution is actually being set up in Manchester, and the new UK arm of Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus has a reputation of a good control of costs, its had to in Dublin in order to compete with Ryanair over the last 30 years, and it also has the added attraction of a UK AOC (Air Operators Certificate).

However, it wouldn’t be branded as Aer Lingus, even if they were the operating airline. It would be branded as British Airways, with BA uniform, BA interior, BA food, BA service, BA everything – just as GB Airways used to do the sun routes from Gatwick 15 years ago. Essentially returning to the franchise model British Airways started to move away from (although Sun Air in Denmark, and Comair in South Africa remain).

This has a two fold advantage for BA, Aer Lingus has low costs and contracts would be technically with a brand new carrier – and they get to keep the brand recognition with most people not being able to tell the difference.

A Manchester base shouldn’t be ruled out either, something which British Airways has been flirting with for quite a while…

Airlines British Airways Luxury Holidays

The British Airways Short Haul Identity Problem

British Airways has a reputation for quality, and rightly or wrongly one expects certain level of service. Therein lies the problem, trying to appease and appeal all – trying to be everything to all people, and that historically that has never ended well.

This week, the airline announced a shake-up of its short haul base at Gatwick, with the plan of a subsidiary to lower costs in order to compete against its low cost competitors. It’s interesting to note that this is driven by British Airways, and not a plan by its owner IAG – and therefore a yellow invasion of Vueling, or the blue and green of Level isn’t going to happen.

Gatwick as long been a problem for British Airways, a base inherited through a miss-mash of different acquisitions through the 80’s and 90’s – including British Caledonian, Dan Air and the original CityFlyer (a brand reborn at London City). They have tried a mini-hub, promising more efficient connections, point-to-point, and the hybrid hub of the moment with a focus on leisure services. It already has lower costs, the original Gatwick mixed-fleet style contracts and now outsourcing much of the ground, so where could they start?

Arguably, this is an ideal chance for British Airways to reimagine and reposition the entire airline from what is essentially a complete reset. Repeatably through the pandemic, the airline has stated that Gatwick could be sacrificed in order to protect their position at Heathrow (their prised possession), but that now seems to have been more of a warning to the unions than anything else. In order for British Airways to substantially rethink Gatwick and the cost base, its going to need to substantially change the contracts and historically that is not something that comes to easy. A threat to have no base at all, entirely possible given the situation, is exactly what the airline needed to push it though.

The initial reports have suggested this is British Airways’ attempt at creating a ‘low cost’ airline at Gatwick. There are two or three obvious avenues this could lead.

The most simple is that everything remains the same and this is just an accounting exercise in order to reduce costs. So, Club Europe stays and the network stays very similar to what was on offer pre-pandemic. With economy (Euro Traveller), already some might say a low-cost product any way, there wouldn’t be too much obvious to the public that there was any difference. The brand would remain the same of ‘British Airways’, maybe just with the very small wording of ‘operated by British Airways Gatwick’ or something very similar to that.

Another option would be to mirror what we know as a low cost airline today, and its biggest competitor at Gatwick, easyJet and thus taking it away from what we would know as the standard British Airways European product, possibly with an all-economy cabin to create further efficiencies. We have seen this style operated before, on domestic services, before all short haul flights were brought in line to have a full business class service. To annex Gatwick retaining the British Airways branding but only offering an all-economy service could very well be confusing to the public though.

Therefore, creating a brand which is very close to British Airways, but not quite might be a good solution. think back to the 80’s and 90’s again when British Airtours (which was later rebranded as Caledonian) operated from Gatwick and Manchester as a leisure-orientated product which looked almost identical to the mainline airline. However, if you’re going to offer a low cost service, it has to be different – I like the name Speedbird, going back to the airlines roots.

If there were a distinction between Heathrow and Gatwick based upon the service, we could see a more substantial shifting of flights between the airports – even competing on different services depending on the time of year (something that Go was very conscious of doing when they stated in the late 90’s). Business class on leisure services are naturally popular with those redeeming miles, so sometimes you have to look at the overall value of it, rather than the specific earning on a flight.

We do already see some division between the two. Heathrow has many of the ‘premium’ and trendy leisure destinations like Ibiza, Mykonos, Santorini – with Gatwick serving those less so like Alicante and Malta. It could very well be the case that popular destinations like Malaga, Palma, Tenerife and Faro could be operated from both airports, with slightly different products.

For those who think a new brand will cost – the aircraft could have the same colour scheme – just with a different name at the front. If it needed a separate website, they could call upon Vueling to provide a low-cost option – along with reusing uniform and other BA branded merchandise. It doesn’t need to cost a lot.

With it due to be up and running for next summer, we should know the plan by Christmas. This is nothing new for Gatwick, British Airways has been trying to find the solution for years.


It’s our risk, and it always has been

Life is risky, there are always obstacles in our way, they are ready and waiting for us. It could be our health, our career, our education, our relationships and sadly in some cases ourselves.

In life there is always risk. It’s there when I walk to my local shops and doctors surgery where I have to walk across a busy road, at the moment there is risk when I take a late booking, there is risk making sure you have the right group of friends around you, and yes, risk in believing to do the right thing.

However much governments want to try, you cant remove risk from a pandemic. As Australia has demonstrated, even having a closed border with the most extreme of entry requirement still hasn’t stopped the virus from entering the country and causing multiple lockdowns (and they too have the Delta variant). There too is risk in a country like Sweden having a more relaxed approach, or India where large populations make it easier to spread.

We were told last year, vaccines would be the way out, a way to mitigate that risk – risk of the NHS not being able to cope with the number who need hospital treatment. First it was the vulnerable groups, then the over 50’s, now it seems the plan to be most adults. Unless the vaccines are completely ineffective, or there has to be an element of risk – or we will just never reopen.

Tomorrow, the travel and aviation industries unite. Government needs to understand that there will always be challenges when coming out of a pandemic – yes, there are always going to be variants, some countries will have more cases than us, and yes, it may mean that more cases are imported into the country. Doing nothing is not an option, as there will likely be nothing left of the industry.

The industries know the risks involved, and are ready to deal with those as they come – as long as the government is prepared to spend a bit of money to keep travel and aviation on life support with sector specific support in order to bridge the divide, we can make sure that people have safe and happy journeys abroad.

It has always been our personal risk, we decide if its a risk we are able to take. Why Coronavirus should be a special case where it is decided on our behalf the government should take the approach of being risk adverse goes against everything our country believes in.

Airlines easyJet

easyJet expanding UK Domestic

easyJet’s life started as a small start-up airline from Luton in 1995, with two routes to Glasgow and Edinburgh, before expanding overseas to become the airline we know today.

It’s ‘roots’ have always been set in the UK domestic market, having the most number of flights and routes from London to Scotland, and an extensive network from Belfast. Yes, we have seen links come and go – the base at Southend didn’t survive, and neither did the original Go base at East Midlands – and the long-forgotten Luton to Liverpool service in the early 2000’s.

easyJet is now the UK’s largest domestic carrier (in terms of the number of seats), and after expending their offering last summer following the collapse of flyBe – with additional services from Birmingham and Manchester, easyJet is expanding its reach further again with border restrictions continuing.

In it’s most recent round of additions are some returnees to the network, along with time-specific services and those which would appeal to those looking for a British seaside holiday:

London Gatwick – Belfast City
Belfast International – Leeds Bradford
Belfast International – East Midlands
Newcastle – Jersey (returning)
Liverpool – Bournemouth
Bristol – Aberdeen
Bristol – Jersey
Newquay – Inverness
Birmingham – Newquay
Birmingham – Jersey
Manchester – Aberdeen
Manchester – Edinburgh

Some are quite easy to see which would appeal to the holiday market, and have been operated by other airlines in the past. Birmingham to Jersey and Newquay were operated by flyBe (and Newquay was one of bmibaby’s more successful routes from Birmingham), while Newcastle to Jersey returns – despite being one of Jet2’s seasonal offerings with competition also from Loganair.

More core regional connectivity has also been added. Gatwick to Belfast City was a former flyBe route before they sold the slots to easyJet, along with Manchester to Edinburgh and Aberdeen, which follow a similar path instigated at Birmingham.

There are some which may seem surprising. Liverpool to Bournemouth for example – however with so many cruises travelling around the UK this summer, the ports of Southampton/Portsmouth, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh (as long as restrictions are lifted), and the cruises not always starting and ending in the same place, there is a possibility that a flight would be beneficial over a train.

Some might not last the season, although given the situation we find ourselves in that shouldn’t be surprising. However, this is easyJet further flexing their muscle in a market they have historically enjoyed and prospered in.

Airlines Luxury Holidays

FlyBe – What’s left on the table?

A flyBe v2 looks to be on the horizon, and with confirmation of an Operating Licence and the bmi slots at Heathrow there are pieces falling back into place.

However, taking a snapshot over the last 15 years there are a considerable number of routes no longer operated (by any airline), which flyBe previously vacated – not withstanding further possible services which may have been vacated by other airlines.

An airline which specialises in regional services from secondary and tertiary cities could be a compelling plan, serving communities too small for the larger low cost airlines, with smaller efficient aircraft.

Of course, there are some airports which are not open (Waterford in Ireland for example, or Angers in France) – these are just a collection from the past

Newcastle – Rennes, London Stansted, London City, Cardiff, Limoges

Birmingham – Waterford, Hamburg, Newquay, Brest, Limoges, Florence, Rotterdam, Knock, Luxembourg, Deauville, Bastia, Biarritz, Cologne, Oslo, Lyon, Rennes, Avignon, Stuttgart

Leeds Bradford – Knock, Exeter, Dusseldorf

London Heathrow – Guernsey

Southampton – Tours, Avignon, Milan Malpensa, Bastia, Barcelona, Verona, Inverness, Hamburg, Pau, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Beziers, Clermont Ferrand, Hannover, Brussels, Perpignan, Bordeaux, Brest, Cherbourg, Angers, Chambery, La Rochelle, Murcia, Lyon, Paris CDG

Doncaster Sheffield – Paris CDG, Jersey, Newquay, Amsterdam, Chambery, Belfast City, Dublin, Dusseldorf

Cardiff – Berlin, Verona, Paris CDG, Edinburgh, Dublin, Glasgow, Newcastle, Cork

Bournemouth – Amsterdam, Biarritz, Deauville, Dublin, Jersey, Manchester, Paris CDG, Toulon

London Stansted – Isle of Man, Newquay

Inverness – Dublin, Jersey

Exeter – Nice, Barcelona, Avignon, Bergerac, Rennes, Dusseldorf, Newcastle, Brussels, Geneva, Inverness, Murcia

Norwich – Chambery, Isle of Man, Geneva, Guernsey, Alicante, Paris CDG, Murcia, Bordeaux

East Midlands – Amsterdam, Glasgow, Paris CDG

Newquay – Reus, Isle of Man, Southampton, Liverpool, London Stansted, Amsterdam

Manchester – Rennes, Luxembourg, Rotterdam, Waterford, Hannover, Friedrichshafen, Stuttgart

Dundee – Amsterdam

Jersey – Glasgow Prestwick, Belfast City, Dundee, Inverness, Paris CDG, Geneva, London Southend

Guernsey – Edinburgh, Belfast City, Cardiff

Isle of Man – London Luton, Geneva

Belfast City – Paris CDG, Eindhoven, Bristol, Liverpool

Edinburgh – Rennes, Liverpool

Glasgow – La Rochelle, Shannon

London City – Aberdeen, Guernsey, Inverness, Exeter, Cardiff


Can a FlyBe rebirth work?

It has been a year since the failure of flyBe, the first casualty of the pandemic, although a carrier which had got caught in a cycle of bad decision making which had manifested over a long time. It’s planned ‘rebirth’ under the Virgin Connect banner lay in tatters, as the industry headed into hibernation.

One of the investors of the ‘Virgin Connect’ project stayed around, Cyrus Capital and have stayed around, with a purchase of the assets confirmed by the administrators EY. The new owners planning to be up and running in the summer, although there are still question marks at their motives.

As has rightly been reported, many of their former domestic services have been replaced. In some cases by easyJet (which is the largest domestic airline based on the number of seats flown), or regional carriers Loganair, Eastern or Blueislands.

So, it looks difficult on the domestic front at the moment. However, this will be a debtless airline, essentially starting from scratch – a big advantage over those who have struggled financially through the crisis and have been weakened as a result. It could in effect undercut on price and potentially value, and knock others out of the market as a result.

While correctly reported that many of the domestic routes had been replaced, flyBe wasn’t just a domestic carrier and carried the reputation as being ‘Europe’s biggest regional carrier’. They particularly had a close connection to nearby France, with many connections which came and went over the years.

None more so than at Southampton, which has seen its fair share of French connections over the years, including to airports which don’t currently have an air service. Airports included Cherbourg, Angers, Avignon, Rennes, Bordeaux, Brest, La Rochelle, Perpignan, Toulon and Chambery in the winter. Some haven’t be replaced yet, and neither has the 10th busiest route in 2019 – Paris, ad the 14th in Dusseldorf.

Other airports in a similar situation include Norwich. That lost its Paris connection, but flyBe had previously flown to Bordeaux which is also unserved. Exeter, again lost Paris and they also served Bergerac.

You can see many of the cities which could be possible within the range of a Dash-8, those French regional connections – maybe adding Pau or Biarritz, along with places like Berne or Lucerne in Switzerland during the winter. More business orientated services could include Hannover or Stuttgart, Milan, Strasbourg, Luxembourg and regional services to Ireland (possible even reopening services from Waterford).

Still, much is theoretical, although once you look beyond a ‘domestic’ carrier, there are many more opportunities available.

Aviation Archive

Aviation Archive: Go – 2002

In the early 2000’s, low cost airlines didn’t have the scale of what we see today. More often or not they would only have a handful of bases, and therefore smaller fleets and a much smaller route portfolio. At the the height of its success in 2002, GO was already operating from three UK bases – the main base at London Stansted, Bristol and East Midlands (all of which were later taken over by easyJet).

At London Stansted, Go operated to:
Belfast International
Milan Linate
Rome Ciampino
Venice (Marco Polo)

In the smaller base at Bristol, they offered similar destinations:

Belfast International

The same could be said at East Midlands, a base easyJet later closed down:


There were also flights from Belfast International to both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Aviation Archive

Aviation Archive: Summer 2006 – Norwich

Although similar to other regional airports in the UK, with a mix of city and leisure routes, Norwich had the benefit of flyBe and their attempt at becoming a ‘low cost airline’, with their fleet of 737-300’s and Avro/146’s.

It meant that it had a diverse, and intriguing network spanning across Europe, especially to the popular beach destinations.

flyBe’s network included:
Paris CdG

In addition, Eastern had three routes to Groningen, Aberdeen and Manchester, with bmi (British Midland) also flying to Aberdeen.

Other airlines included:
Air Southwest – Bristol
KLM – Amsterdam
First Choice – Mahon
TUI/Thomson – Corfu, Palma, Ibiza
Pegasus – Dalaman
Air Malta – Malta
LTE International – Lanzarote
Eurocypria – Paphos, Heraklion
Air Europa – Tenerife South, Gran Canaria, Palma