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Flybe: Passenger frustration after airline cancels all flights - BBC

JANUARY 28, 2023

By Rebecca McGirr


Flybe passengers are facing chaos and frustration after the airline went into administration.

Flybe had only restarted operations last April after collapsing in 2020, and now passengers have been left forking out for alternative travel.

Flybe's administrator confirmed 277 of its 321 staff are being made redundant.

Dozens of Flybe staff work at Belfast City Airport. The airport's chief executive said the news was disappointing and unexpected.

Most of the employees have been made redundant, with 45 retained to assist the administrators.

News of the collapse came in the early hours of Saturday morning - the first flight out of Belfast City Airport was for Newcastle and it was due to leave at 07:00 GMT.

Natalie Punshon, from Darlington in England, had been visiting Belfast after her mother died a few weeks ago.

"The last couple of days has just been sorting myself out, going round and just taking a bit of time to gather myself a bit," she told BBC NI.

Confusion and stress

Ms Punshon had been due to fly back to Newcastle on Sunday but woke up to two emails from Flybe on Saturday morning.

She said one email stated that Flybe had gone into administration and the flight was cancelled, the second requested that she check in for her flight.

"I was a bit confused, went online checked the news websites, checked Flybe and saw that, yes, it actually had been cancelled," she told BBC News NI.

Ms Punshon booked a flight for Sunday with another airline for an additional cost of £100.

Her mother's funeral is next week.

"I know I am lucky I have the flight booked back but at the back of my mind it is kind of: 'What if I hadn't been able to get a flight back?'" she said.

Chris Donnelly was scheduled to fly from Belfast City to Heathrow at 07:25.

At 03:07 he received an email from Flybe which said the company had gone into administration and his flight had been cancelled - it also advised passengers not to travel to the airport.

Mr Donnelly, a school principal and political commentator, was on his way to the airport when he saw the email.

He was able to book an alternative flight from Belfast to Gatwick, but doing so at short notice was inconvenient.

Mr Donnelly added he had booked train tickets from Heathrow into central London costing £50, which were of no use to him now.

Lucy Buller, 23, was due to start her journey to Australia on Saturday afternoon, beginning with a flight from Belfast City to Amsterdam.

The Holywood woman, who is going to Melbourne to work, said her mum heard about Flybe on the radio and it had all been very stressful.

She has now booked an alternative but more expensive flight from Dublin on Saturday evening.

This version of Flybe only began operating in April last year, it had been bought out of administration after collapsing under previous owners at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Then it was a potentially existential event for the City Airport.

Flybe was its biggest operator and with pandemic restrictions taking a grip it was unclear when or if Flybe would be replaced.

This time is different. IAG, with its Aer Lingus and BA brands, is now the main customer of the airport.

And on eight of Flybe's 10 routes the airport already offers an alternative carrier.

However there must now be a question whether an independent UK regional airline in the Flybe mould is now viable.

If not it could mean less competition and ultimately higher prices for customers.

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David Rea, from Lisburn, booked flights two days ago for himself and 10 friends to attend a stag do in Leeds at the end of April.

The 28-year-old area sales manager spent £1,200 on the flights from Belfast City to Leeds Bradford and is unsure how long it will take to get his money back.

"I found out this morning from a WhatsApp message - one of my friends asked if our flights were with Flybe and then I saw the news," he said.

"I still haven't had any contact from Flybe.

"I phoned my bank to ask if I could cancel the payment and they said no, but it is still pending so it may come back into my account - otherwise I have to speak to the disputes team."

They have already booked a hotel in Leeds, so they are now looking at their flight options.

The Independent's travel correspondent Simon Calder said it should be straightforward for customers to get their money back from their card issuer or travel agent.

He also told BBC Radio Ulster's On Your Behalf show that help might be at hand for those trying to find alternative and usually more expensive flights.

"I fully expect other airlines to come in with so-called rescue fares," he said.

"They will be offering a very good deal for people who were on Flybe to be able to continue their journeys."

On the wider implications, Mr Calder said since Flybe's previous collapse, other airlines had moved in and picked up the profitable routes from Belfast.

While there was no room for Flybe, he added, Northern Ireland probably had "just about the connectivity it needed and deserved".

Flybe operated 10 routes from Belfast City including services to Heathrow, Manchester, Glasgow and Amsterdam.

When Flybe collapsed in 2020, it was responsible for about 80% of Belfast City's flights. More recently Flybe made up about 14% of flights at the airport.

'Surprise to everyone'

Matthew Hall, chief executive of Belfast City Airport, said their thoughts were with Flybe employees and passengers affected by the "disappointing and unexpected" news.

"Passengers booked on Flybe flights should not travel to the airport and should seek further advice from the Civil Aviation Authority," he said.

"Flybe operated 10 flights to and from Belfast City, eight of which are currently served by other carriers from our airport."

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said the collapse of Flybe had come as a shock to the airport's management.

"I understand that news of Flybe's announcement came as much as a surprise to them as it did to the pilots, cabin crew and members of the travelling public," he said.

"Already the airport are engaged in discussions about ensuring the routes continue through other airlines."

For the latest advice, Flybe customers should visit the Civil Aviation Authority's website.

The Consumer Council said it was important passengers knew their rights with regards to compensation and assistance, and pointed people to their website.


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