English Corner

Flybe2.jpg

We’ve had ‘pop-up’ restaurants and galleries — why not air routes too?

Von Ben West

Flybe has launched ‘pop-up’ ultra-short flight routes for train line closures, sporting fixtures and other special events. Will this start a new trend amongst airlines?

‘Pop-up’ temporary shops, cafes and galleries that last just hours, days or months are really trendy these days. So perhaps, inevitably, an airline was going to get in on the act at some point too. And so we find that Flybe, the UKs biggest regional airline, has started operating ‘pop-up’ air routes.

Boosted by its first profits after tax for six years - of £6.8m (9.37m CHF) in 2015-16 compared with a £35.7m (49.2m CHF) loss the year before - as part of it’s plans to expand its network Flybe is introducing short-term routes especially for certain sporting fixtures, other big events and to fill the gap when engineering works cause train cancellations.

It has already capitalised on Euro 2016, offering Welsh football fans time-saving travel to watch their national team play in France, with new routes from Cardiff to Bordeaux and Toulouse plus extra Paris flights during the Euro 2016 matches. Flights were scheduled so that fans did not need to stay overnight in France, vitally important when the few hotel rooms left available had been given a hefty price hike. The one hour 45 minute flights meant that round-trips on land taking 24 hours or more were not necessary.

With some there could be monumental difficulties

Flybe will also provide an alternative to the railways when engineering work causes line closures and therefore great disruption to rail passengers. It will be operating an eight-week service from Cardiff to London City while the Severn Tunnel is closed to trains for around six weeks from September so that electrification of the rail route between London and south Wales can be completed.

The airline has noticed an emerging trend with UK domestic travellers realising that it is quicker and easier to fly from city to city within the UK, especially during peak holiday periods. Compounding the problem is the immense range of engineering projects. During Easter this year, for example, 450 engineering projects severely affected all of Britain’s main line train routes and 10,000 miles of roadworks across the UK blighted many more travel plans.

The airline has also launched some pop-up routes out of Belfast City to several French destinations and intends to put in place more such initiatives when there are special events.

So, shouldn’t all airlines do the same? Well, it depends on the route and the airport. With some there could be monumental difficulties. Landing slots can be intensely guarded by airlines, with slots changing hands for huge sums. Many airlines have long, protracted discussions for months with airports, tourist boards and other connected parties before embarking on any new destination.

However, if private jets can work on a pop-up basis, why can’t more commercial airlines, at least as a sideline?