Travel: Come fly with me

Aphra Evans, June 5, 2017

There were already enough reasons to fly from Bristol this summer before British Airways announced they will return to the airport after a 10 year hiatus.

Flyers are spoiled for choice: take Tui’s long haul flights to Orlando and Cancun, or EasyJet’s new route to Kefalonia, Greece? Not forgetting Thomson and First Choice’s new routes to Funchal, Madeira and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Oh, and Thomas Cooke added Hurghada, Egypt, Bourgas, Bulgaria and Spain’s Costa Brava to the list.

Now, on top of these, British Airways is offering weekend flights from Bristol to Florence, a first-time route, and to Ibiza, Palma and Mallorca.

Fares start at a wallet-friendly £45 to Palma, begging the question of how much free food and drink can be consumed on board within a flight time of just 3 hours 25 minutes.

Bristol Airport and the UK’s flagship airline were in discussion for a year before the new programme was announced. Seats have been flying off the shelves ever since, which means BA may look at opening more routes, given the current programme is summer-only.

BA had been flying from Bristol for over 10 years before it sold its regional operation to Flybe in 2007, leaving the only regional aircraft in London.

“At the time, British Airways leaving did have an impact on Bristol Airport,” comments Robert Sinclair, CEO of Bristol Airport. “It did leave a gap in some of the routes.”

But the airline’s departure has not hampered Bristol Airport’s long-term growth. “In 2006, we were a four or five million passenger airport,” says Sinclair. “Now we’re double that. 2017 is our most successful year ever in terms of passenger numbers and new routes.”

Now, the airport’s main concern is the possible implications of Brexit, which it says it is monitoring very closely. But it seems the uncertainty is not enough to dampen spirits, as business and leisure travel from the South West increases.

This has been complimented by a significant rise in inbound tourism to Bristol, mainly from France, Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. An additional influx of flyers is also expected due to the Hinkley Point C development.

Overall, the airport’s impressive growth in the last ten years is in line with an underlying trend for air travel, as it becomes increasingly affordable. Indeed, this may also be the reason behind British Airways expanding their regional services, not only to Bristol but also to Birmingham and Manchester.

Luke Hayhoe, general manager (consumer and commercial) at British Airways, hails from Midsomer Norton, and has worked for British Airways since he began in customer service at Bristol Airport.

“British Airways has focused on London over the last 10 years, but then, when our expansion to Stansted this year proved so popular, we decided to expand even further,” he explains.

“At the moment, as it’s the first step back into Bristol, we are only offering weekend flights to holiday destinations. But we’ll continue to look at new opportunities, and are talking about them with Bristol Airport.”

It is certainly a welcome, if somewhat limited, return. “British Airways is an excellent addition to Bristol and we couldn’t be happier to see them return,” Bristol Airport CEO Robert Sinclair says. “It’s really good news for our passengers, who get some additional choice, and those who want to fly using their points and miles can now do so from Bristol, instead of having to travel up to London.

“We would love to see the programme go well. We think that’s going to be very successful. The key thing is that there’s absolutely a position in the Bristol market for a British Airways. So at the end of the summer season, we’ll re-evaluate and keep re-evaluating periodically.”

 

Read more: Bristol Airport serves 7 million in 12 months