Flybe customers have been told not to travel to the airport today in texts sent in the middle of the night after the airline collapsed putting 2,000-plus jobs at risk and leaving thousands of passengers stranded across the UK.
All the regional airline’s flights from 12 UK airports including hubs at Birmingham, Manchester and Exeter have been immediately cancelled with planes grounded and the company’s blue and white check-in hoardings already torn down in many now-deserted terminals.
The airline went to the wall in chaotic circumstances last night with its final flights either grounded minutes before take-off or diverted to the nearest airport in mid-air so the planes could be impounded.
Flybe, which is owned by Virgin Atlantic, Stobart and Cyrus Capital, an American hedge fund, has blamed the coronavirus crisis for hastening their collapse because of a drop in sales that has also hit easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways – but customers called it a ‘b***s**t excuse’ for years of poor management.
The airline, which carried eight million passengers a year mainly in Britain, almost went bust last year but appeared to get a lifeline from the Government who pledges to forgo an £106million air passenger duty bill if the owners promised to pump in more cash. But the agreement imploded amid confusion over whether EU competition rules Britain has signed up to until January 2021 made it impossible.
Many pilots and air crew were completely in the dark and only learned the company had gone bust from airport staff waiting with administrators after all planes were on the ground at 11pm last night.
Frank McCready, of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, was on Flybe’s final flight – a trip from Birmingham to Glasgow, diverted to Manchester in mid-air last night.
He said: ‘The staff were a bit confused getting mixed messages. They were told it was a refuelling issue. Then they found out from Manchester Airport staff that Flybe had been placed into administration. It was quite emotional and tough times as you can imagine.
‘The passengers were very patient and a collection was done among everyone on the plane for those affected. We were patient because I think we realised a delay for us is nothing compared to potential job losses. Everyone’s thoughts are with all the Flybe staff affected. Everyone’s main concerns are for them’.
As Britain’s biggest regional airline went bust after years of financial troubles, it has emerged:
- Flybe’s bosses, which includes Virgin Atlantic, blame coronavirus crisis for sudden collapse – but unhappy customers brand it a ‘b***s**t excuse’ for poor management;
- Exeter-based airline is dominant at many of Britain’s regional airports, some of which also face uncertain futures. Customers in the West Country, Highlands of Scotland and Channel Islands say they relied on their flights;
- The Government will not help home customers dumped at the wrong airport as Flybe planes were diverted last night when the company went under;
- EasyJet says it will fly Flybe staff home for free today and tomorrow. Launches ‘rescue fee’ for flybe customers until end of May – £65 on presentation of a future Flybe ticket or booking email;
- Staff were not told that the company had collapsed until all the planes were grounded and seized by administrators;
- Passengers due to fly today sent texts between 2am and 5am warning them that all flights were cancelled and not to travel to the airport. Thousands more have seats booked and not all will get their money back;
Unmanned check-in desks at Belfast City Airport today as Flybe, Europe’s biggest regional airline, collapsed into administration
Grounded Flybe planes at Birmingham Airport today as the airline cancelled all flights with immediate effect and its jets were impounded
Flybe customers heading to Scotland from Birmingham but diverted to Manchester are loaded on to coaches last night
Flybe workers take home boxes and tool cabinets from the Exeter headquarters of Flybe as it went to the wall
Customers were sent texts at after 2am today telling them not to travel to the airport because all flights have been cancelled. The decimated departure boards at Belfast today (right)
This is the moment passengers on the Tarmac at Manchester Airport learned they were going nowhere and the airline was no more
Seizure notices slapped on planes at Glasgow Airport and Manchester Airport last night as Flybe went under
Captain Adam Stafford (left) and first officer Jonathan Smith (right) put on a brave face after it was revealed they would lose their jobs. Both were told the bad news as they waited to take off to fly to Southampton from Manchester
Flybe’s website has been pulled down and replaced with a message from administrators to staff and customers
Passengers on the low-cost carrier have told how they were kicked off planes after hours waiting on the tarmac for take-off.
Have you been affected?
Email [email protected] or call 020 3615 2221
Thousands have been left stranded in the wrong city with no means of getting home as seizure notices were placed on planes across the country.
Tens of thousands more customers who had flights booked with the airline this year are also facing uncertainty because they are not guaranteed refunds unless they paid by credit card or can claim on their insurance. The airline’s website has been shut down and an error message appears upon loading stating the link is ‘no longer live’.
What does the FlyBe collapse mean for you?
Flybe, the largest regional airline in Europe, has gone bust.
But what does this mean for travellers?
– How many people are affected by the collapse?
Flybe carried about eight million passengers a year between 71 airports across the UK and Europe.
The collapse could leave thousands of people stranded across the UK and Europe.
The company also has around 2,000 staff who have lost their jobs.
– What happens to customers already on holiday?
When previous airlines such as Monarch Airlines and Thomas Cook collapsed, the Civil Aviation Authority was ordered by the Department for Transport to launch a major repatriation operation to fly them home.
It is not yet clear whether the Government will order a widespread repatriation of stranded passengers.
– Who would pay for this?
When Monarch Airlines went bust in October 2017, the Government spent £60 million hiring planes to get passengers home while bringing back Thomas Cook passengers has been estimated to have cost even more.
– Will travellers get a refund?
Some travel insurance companies will cover cancelled flights if they are the result of an airline collapse, but not all policies provide this coverage.
Holidaymakers can apply to their credit or debit card provider to be reimbursed.
Flights bought directly from airlines such as Flybe are not generally Atol protected but those bought through a separate travel company may be covered.
– What is the Atol scheme?
Atol provides protection to holidaymakers when travel firms collapse.
– What type of bookings are protected?
The scheme protects most trips booked as a package, such as flights and accommodation, or flights and car hire. It also applies to some flight-only bookings, particularly when the tickets are not received immediately.
– What protection does it offer?
If a business collapses while you are on holiday, the scheme will make sure you can finish your holiday and return home.
Customers who have not yet left home will be given a refund or replacement holiday.
The airline’s demise could also devastate the UK’s regional airports because its flights dominated departures and arrivals at the UK’s smaller hubs including Belfast City, Southampton, Newquay, Inverness, Jersey and the Isle of Man.
At the time of Flybe’s potential rescue last year, rival airlines complained that they should not be penalised for their own success and should also be given a tax holiday. British Airways owner International Airlines Group claimed the arrangements breached state aid rules.
A drop in demand caused by the coronavirus ‘made a difficult situation worse’ for Flybe, an airline source said, but customers have accused them of using it as an ‘excuse’.
One said: ‘I do think that flybe using the coronavirus as an excuse for partly going into administration is a load of b******t’. Another wrote: ‘Flybe the no frills airline has been losing money for years the latest excuse is coronavirus if it isn’t making money its not viable to continue’ while yet another critic said: ‘They’ve had financial difficulties for ages. Covid-19 is just a convenient excuse to bury their financial woes. Spare thoughts for the staff who have just had their livelihoods devastated – they went to work yesterday, but won’t be going today’.
Crisis talks were held throughout the day on Wednesday to try to secure a rescue package, but no deal was agreed.
The airline’s advertising hoardings and branding has already been torn down at Exeter airport this morning – where the failed business was also headquartered
The Civil Aviation Authority said it has not been commissioned by the Government to operate flights to repatriate stranded travellers – as happened when airlines Monarch and Thomas Cook failed – because there is ‘enough capacity in the market for people to travel via alternative airlines, rail and coach operations’.
A Government spokesman said it has asked coach and train operators to accept Flybe tickets and airlines to offer reduced fares ‘to ensure passengers can make their journeys as smoothly as possible’.
At Glasgow Airport there was no sign of any Flybe passengers.
The departure board showed a raft of Flybe cancellations including the 6.50am flight to Birmingham, 7am flight to Belfast City and 7.10am service to Southampton, along with others later in the morning.
Simon Pritchard, an IT consultant from South Wales, said the collapse of Flybe meant he was unable to get a flight to his intended destination of Manchester.
‘EasyJet flights from (Belfast) international to Manchester are all sold out until Monday. So the alternative is a seven-hour ferry, or fly to Liverpool then get a bus or train back to Manchester.
‘I chose Manchester as the flights for business are timed well – early evening and early morning. I then have a four-hour drive home to South Wales.’
He added that he previously used Flybe direct from Cardiff, but a recent reduction in service of late meant there was only one flight a day, at an unsuitable time.
‘Have also got more business flights booked with Flybe in the coming weeks, to Isle of Man and back to Northern Ireland, not sure what I’ll do with those now,’ Mr Pritchard said.
But he added: ‘Hotels can be booked, alternatives can be arranged. More worried about those who have woken up with no job today.’
Speaking to Sky News, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘We’re all a bit gutted – Flybe is a household name, we’ve been flying with them for 40 years and we really tried to do everything we could back at the turn of the year.
‘Unfortunately, with the situation that has developed with [coronavirus], an already weak company, I’m afraid, just hasn’t been able to survive.’
He added: ‘The concern is for people who have found themselves stranded and we’ve got people at the airport to be able to assist and we’re writing to all the other companies – coach companies, train companies – and asking them to assist.
‘Then, of course, the people who worked for Flybe, a couple of thousand staff, we will be right alongside them to try and help them get into their next employment’.
2,000 workers are set to lose their jobs and crew shared poignant memories and their photos from their time there today
One passenger at Manchester Airport said they had been waiting on tarmac for an hour and a half (pictured during the wait). They said anxiety had started kicking in from passengers and that a whip-round was being held for staff
Workers and mechanics at the Engineering HQ and workshops in Exeter take their tools home as Flybe is expected to announce its collapse tonight
Timeline: Troubled Flybe’s path to collapse
Airline Flybe has collapsed into administration after ongoing concerns about its finances and despite a government bailout.
Here is a timeline of the airline’s difficulties since November 2018.
– 14 November 2018
Following falling demand and a £29 million loss from rising fuel costs and the weak pound, Flybe puts itself up for sale.
The Exeter-based carrier engages in talks with a number of “strategic operators” about a potential sale.
It hires investment banking advisory firm, Evercore, to help with the review and sale process.
– 11 January 2019
Flybe is purchased by Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Group, in conjunction with Cyrus Capital Partners, for £2.2 million.
The companies agree to pay just 1p per share and the airline is combined with Stobart Air in a joint venture called Connect Airways.
– 15 January 2019
The planned takeover is overhauled after Flybe fails to meet crucial financing terms.
The carrier says it failed to meet the conditions for receiving a promised £20 million bridge loan as credit card banks clamped down amid fears over its financial security.
– 24 January 2019
Flybe reports it has received the first £10 million in crucial funding as part of its takeover amid shareholder unrest over the deal.
– 20 February 2019
The airline snubs rival rescue proposals from US investors, including Mesa Air Group of Arizona and New York-based investment group Bateleur Capital.
Despite its shares almost doubling due to the “highly conditional” approaches Flybe continues to back the existing takeover by the Connect Airways consortium.
– 3 April 2019
Dozens of Flybe flights are cancelled and the airline announces it will stop flying jets from four airports.
– 28 May 2019
Christine Ourmieres-Widener announces she will step down from her role as chief executive of Flybe Limited in July.
– 15 October 2019
Flybe is rebranded to Virgin Connect after the completion of its sale to Connect Airways.
– 12 January 2020
A government report reveals that the airline is at risk of collapse after further losses, endangering around 2,000 jobs.
Crisis talks are held with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Transport (DfT).
– 14 January 2020
A collapse is averted after the Government says it will review air passenger duty (APD) and shareholders agreed to inject additional investment.
– 15/16 January 2020
British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) files a complaint with the European Union over the Government’s decision to rescue Flybe.
The IAG claims the rescue deal breaches state aid rules and gives the struggling airline an unfair advantage.
Ryanair owner Michael O’Leary also writes to the government asking it to explain the decision and threatens legal action.
– 17 January 2020
Flybe confirms that it agreed a financial arrangement to defer tax payments of “less than £10 million” with HM Revenue and Customs.
It is understood that the airline was allowed to defer its monthly air passenger duty (APD), which is paid by customers and collected by airlines to then be passed on to HMRC.
– 4 March 2020
Unions express fears that the airline is again on the verge of administration, threatening thousands of jobs and the future of a number of regional airports.
Crisis talks are held to try to secure a rescue package, but no deal is agreed.
– 5 March 2020
Flybe announces it has ceased trading with immediate effect, with all flights grounded an administrators appointed.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, whose constituency contains Exeter Airport, tweeted: ‘A devastating day for @flybe staff, uncertainty for passengers & a big blow to our local & regional economy.
‘Why did the Government say £flybe was vital to regional connectivity last month & promise to reform Air Passenger Duty in next week’s budget … to apparently break that promise, which was the last straw for the company.’
He added: ‘Johnson’s mantra of ‘levelling up’ our left behind regions lies in tatters. Lost connectivity & the future of many regional airlines at risk.’
Brian Ambrose, chief executive of Belfast City Airport, has told the PA news agency he is confident the airport can fill the routes vacated by Flybe, as he revealed multiple other carriers had already expressed an interest.
‘Our immediate feelings are with the staff of Flybe and our customers,’ he said.
‘It’s been a long relationship with Flybe, they are wonderful people.
‘We were meeting a lot of them coming off shift last night to discover they had lost their jobs, so our commitment to them is to rebuild this business and, as we do so, hopefully there will be opportunities for them with other airlines as we get the business back to where it should be.’
Avanti West Coast said Flybe passengers can travel for free on its flights on to help them reach their destinations. The free travel offer is also extended to Flybe staff.
Phil Whittingham, managing director of Avanti West Coast, said: ‘This is a very difficult time for Flybe staff and passengers. If we can help make it a bit easier, we’re happy to do so.’
The airline announced in the early hours of Thursday it had ceased trading with immediate effect and that administrators had been appointed.
Crisis talks were held throughout Wednesday to try to secure a rescue package, but no deal was agreed.
All Flybe flights and those operated by sister airline Stobart Air have been cancelled, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. Flybe was bought by a consortium of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital in February 2019, after running into earlier financial problems.
In a statement, chief executive Mark Anderson said the company had made ‘every possible attempt’ to avoid collapse but had been ‘unable to overcome significant funding challenges’.
‘The UK has lost one of its greatest regional assets,’ Mr Anderson said.
‘Flybe has been a key part of the UK aviation industry for four decades, connecting regional communities, people and businesses across the entire nation.
‘I thank all our partners and the communities we have been privileged to serve. Above all I would like to thank the Flybe team for their incredible commitment and dedication.’
The company said all Flybe flights were immediately grounded and advised all passengers not to travel to airports unless alternative flight arrangements had been made.
Unions and politicians have reacted angrily over the collapse of Flybe – which had a staff of around 2,000 – just weeks after the company narrowly avoided going under.
Oliver Richardson, national officer for major airline industry union Unite, told the PA news agency: ‘Unite members and the entire staff at Flybe, will be feeling angry and confused about how and why the airline has been allowed to collapse.
‘It is simply outrageous that the government has not learned the lessons following the collapse of both Monarch and Thomas Cook that the much promised airline insolvency review has still not materialised.
‘While other European countries are able to introduce measures to keep airlines flying when they enter administration, the UK remains unable or unwilling to do so.’
Andy McDonald, Shadow Transport Secretary, said the loss of Flybe would cause ‘real anxiety’ throughout the country.
He said: ‘The Civil Aviation Authority is sadly very well practised, following the collapse of Monarch and Thomas Cook, at responding to airline failure and looking after passengers. No doubt they will do that once more.
‘Yet again more airline workers face an anxious future and the Government has to respond and provide them with all necessary support.’
UK Civil Aviation Authority chief Richard Moriarty said: ‘This is a sad day for UK aviation and we know that Flybe’s decision to stop trading will be very distressing for all of its employees and customers.
‘We urge passengers planning to fly with this airline not to go to the airport as all Flybe flights are cancelled.
‘For the latest advice, Flybe customers should visit the CAA website or the CAA’s Twitter feed for more information.
‘Flybe also operated a number of codeshare partnerships with international airlines. If you have an international ticket you should make contact with that airline to confirm your travel arrangements.’
A spokesman from the Department for Transport said government staff would be on hand at all affected UK airports to assist Flybe passengers in making alternative arrangements.
‘The vast majority of Flybe routes are served by different transport options, and we have asked bus and train operators to accept Flybe tickets and other airlines to offer reduced rescue fares to ensure passengers can make their journeys as smoothly as possible,’ the spokesman said.
‘We know this will be a worrying time for Flybe staff and our Jobcentre Plus Rapid Response Service stands ready to help them find a new job as soon as possible.
‘We are working closely with industry to minimise any disruption to routes operated by Flybe, including by looking urgently at how routes not already covered by other airlines can be re-established by the industry.’
Passengers were taken off a plane at Manchester after hours of waiting on the tarmac as the company went bust
Flybe aircraft at airports including Edinburgh were not being refuelled as engineers were laid off last night.
There is expected to be a big knock-on effect among airport staff such as baggage handlers.
Last night, passengers reported being turned away from their flights as staff informed them there would be no more flights having no idea the company was going under until then.
Peter Smith, an ITV journalist, tweeted: ‘Has FlyBe just ceased operating in front of my eyes?
‘Waiting to board a FlyBe flight to Birmingham and all of their flights have just been cancelled.
‘Advice from staff is FlyBe ‘definitely will not be flying out tomorrow either.”
CEO of Flybe Mark Anderson tells of his ‘enormous sadness’ as he tells staff of closure
Mark Anderson, the CEO of Flybe, last night told of his ‘enormous sadness’ in a letter to staff in which he said Ernst & Young are expected to be appointed as administrators for the company
It’s with enormous sadness and a deep feeling of sorrow that I share the upsetting news that Flybe is shortly being put into Administration.
Despite every effort, we now have no alternative – having failed to find a feasible solution to allow us to keep trading. I expect Ernst & Young (EY) to be appointed as Administrators and once official they will be in contact to explain the situation and next steps.
I do appreciate how distressing this news is and the shock and numbness that you will be feeling. Despite your hard work, commitment and some amazing results which we have delivered, and have been achieving up to the last day of operation – particularly for our customers who depend on us across the country, we have come to the end of the road.
While our shareholders and the Leadership Team have worked with the Government and key suppliers to try to get the funding and support needed, this has not materialised.
The coronavirus has impacted both our shareholders and ourselves and has put additional pressure on an already difficult situation. I am very sorry that we have not been able to secure the funding needed to continue to deliver our turnaround plan.
Although I have only had the honour of being your CEO for 8 months, it’s been an incredible privilege to lead such an amazing team of people and the Flybe family. I could not have asked for more – your unwavering commitment, support and resilience to deliver for our customers has been truly inspiring.
I am just so sorry that we have not been able to see this through. I feel so proud of you and want to take this opportunity to thank you and wish you the very best for the future.
Flybe blamed the disruption to flights at Glasgow Airport on ‘miscommunication’ over refuelling of two services to Birmingham.
But it later emerged that the airline had gone bust with its final airborne flights touching down just before midnight.
Passengers told of how they were left stranded on planes on Wednesday evening. A flight bound for Devon was among those grounded.
One of those on board a plane sat on the runway at Manchester Airport was Phil Hoult, who spoke to Devon Live.
Mr Hoult, who lives in Exeter, said: ‘I’m stuck on a plane at Manchester Airport. The captain has told us we won’t be flying anywhere and I think we’re going to be kicked out with nowhere to go.
‘We think it’s because of Flybe not being able to pay the airport fees but there’s no regard for any passengers.
‘The flight is full, maybe 200 people and it’s very hot. It’s not good and nobody knows what’s going to happen.’
Jeff Morton, works in property, also spoke of being trapped on a plane.
He told MailOnline: ‘Sad day that Flybe has collapsed. I boarded the 8.40pm at Manchester headed for Southampton but at 10.50pm we are told we will be getting off the plane and not flying anywhere.
‘The captain and crew have been marvellous considering what this event means to them personally and all the Flybe staff.
‘It’s very quiet on the plane we have sat here for some hours earlier we were actually moving going for take off quite close to the scheduled departure time but suddenly engines were off and we were called back to the stand.’
Others told of how they had been left ‘stranded’ at airports including Manchester after the collapse of the low-cost airline.
‘Just off Flybe flight and stranded at Manchester Airport,’ one said. While another said: ‘My daughter is due to fly home with Flybe tomorrow night. She’s stranded on her own. All said and done though, I really feel for the staff. Sad day.’
Kind-hearted Britons offered lifts to those affected. One said: ‘Flybe crew I know this won’t get you to where you want to be, but if you end up stranded and it gets you closer, I am driving from Glasgow to Leeds tomorrow around 12 noon tomorrow.
‘I will be driving from Leeds back to Glasgow on Friday, again around noon. Space for three.’
Jodie Lynch told of how she was taken off the Birmingham to Edinburgh flight at Manchester. She and fellow passengers were worried about being left stranded.
But Flybe ended up putting on coaches back to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
‘Mood very positive on plane,’ she said. ‘Staff provided us with as much information as they could and were lovely on Edinburgh flight.
‘They didn’t seem to have been given much information whatsoever. Passengers were in very good spirits considering and all rallying together.
‘Lots of people asking the staff if they were ok and offering support. Staff tried to keep spirits high making jokes with everyone. It’s a credit to them’.
Passengers caught up in the chaos have shared images of planes being taken away following the suspected collapse of the airline
Others shared their sympathies with those affected by the suspected collapse
Flybe planes were grounded yesterday evening as passengers were told there would be no more flights
Devastated passengers have spoken of how their flights were cancelled at the last minute (above and below)
Yesterday evening, passengers reported being turned away from their flights as staff allegedly informed them there would be no more flights. Peter Smith, an ITV journalist (pictured), tweeted: ‘Has FlyBe just ceased operating in front of my eyes?’
Other passengers spoke of how they would lose out financially as a result of the collapse.
One said: ‘Just had to face time American friend who is meant to be coming to us 14th then going to Paris on Flybe 17th. The Louvre already cancelled their tour group because of Covid 19 and now it looks like they wont get to Paris.’
While another added: ‘I have flights booked from Jersey to Birmingham in June for my sister’s hen weekend.
‘Then I also have flights booked for my sister’s wedding for myself and my husband in July from Jersey to Birmingham and I will be devastated as I have already spent over £400 on flights.’
Wizz Air slashes routes and cuts costs in face of coronavirus slump
Wizz Air – which focuses on the central and eastern European markets – said it will reduce flights from March 11 to countries affected by the virus – mostly to Italy - and is looking at cutting capacity by about another 10 per cent between April and June.
The airline said a task force has been set up to ‘address the financial implications of Covid-19’ since the start of the outbreak.
Measures taken include ‘significant’ cutting of cost overheads and discretionary spending, pausing recruitment and non-essential travel, and working with suppliers to make further savings.
The London-listed Hungarian company did not estimate the size of the hit from the outbreak in the year to March 31, adding that it is ‘difficult to predict the extent and the duration of the outbreak and the impact on the next financial year’.
Chief executive Jozsef Varadi said: ‘Our ever-disciplined attitude to cost enables Wizz Air to partly offset some of the headwinds due to the Covid-19 outbreak, which have driven a temporary decline in demand and an increase in the cost of disruption as we put the well-being of passengers and crew first.’
It comes after rivals have also cancelled flights and reined in routes in response to coronavirus.
Lesley Gibb told MailOnline: ‘My 92 year old father just arrived on a flight from Edinburgh to Southampton to arttend a family Christening on Sunday. He is due to fly back to his home on Tuesday next week. We have heard nothing from Flybe!
‘They seemed to still taking advance bookings a couple odays ago. How do they expect my father to return home if we are not given information to enable us to book for another airline.
‘He will now have to travel from Gatwick which will increase his journey home by at least 4 hours!’
Caroline Fairhurst said she was ‘devastated’ by the collapse. She said
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