Flybe: What are passengers’ rights if the airline collapses?
Essential consumer information about Europe’s biggest regional airline
The partners have pumped in tens of millions of pounds since the takeover in March 2019.
It is an extremely worrying time for staff – and also for travellers with advance bookings.
These are the key consumer questions and answers.
How many passengers have advance bookings on Flybe?
The airline carries about 8 million passengers per year, though that is shrinking as Flybe slims down. The airline currently flies as many people in a year as easyJet carries in a month.
That works out at 22,000 people a day. Normally you would assume that the average passenger books six weeks ahead (some much longer, many rather shorter). That would indicate 920,000 travellers with advance bookings.
But unlike easyJet and other mainstream airlines, many passengers on Flybe are business travellers who typically book late. So a figure of half-a-million is a better estimate.
What could happen to Flybe?
Hopefully the negotiations will be successful and the company will continue with it path to be rebranded as Virgin Connect, with the bright future that the new owners promised.
Conversely, like any business enduring a tricky time, it could shut down overnight. As with the failure of Thomas Cook in September 2019, this would involve the airline ending all operations, the staff losing their jobs and the aircraft returned to the lessors.
But there is another scenario, which is that an administrator is appointed on the basis of keeping the airline aloft as a going concern – with the aim of finding a buyer for parts of the operation. Certainly Flybe has some desirable slots which will be of interest. Many of its operations – connecting Scotland with the southern half of England, linking Belfast with Great Britain – will surely continue to be flown by someone. Since Flybe has planes of the right gauge, as well as vastly experienced pilots, cabin crew and engineers, it makes sense for the basic airline to continue. But it is likely to shed more European routes and cut links that do not serve important hubs.
If there were a shutdown, what would happen to my ticket?
For most leisure travellers, you would claim it back from the issuer of the credit card with which you paid. You will then need to find some other way to make the journey, or cancel it altogether.
For businesses – who make up a lot of Flybe customers – it is trickier because the personal consumer protection rules do not apply in the same way. But there will be fewer business travellers exposed because they do not book very long in advance.
Will the government organise a rescue exercise as it did with Thomas Cook?
No. That very expensive (£100m) operation was laid on to ensure that tens of thousands of British holidaymakers were not left behind in Florida, Cuba or Turkey. Flybe is a very different beast; most of its passengers could make the journey by road or rail, and other flights are available.
Business travellers who find themselves disenfranchised in Dusseldorf can simply find another flight, possibly from nearby Cologne.
Some skiers rely on Flybe – and any collapse would be a problem for them for the rest of the season – but again, Geneva and Chambery are not exactly on the moon in terms of alternative travel.
On a route that has competition, such as Edinburgh-London City or Manchester-Paris, the rival carrier will probably offer a cheap “rescue” fare. You pay this and then claim the cost of the flight back from the card company.
I have a Flybe flight to Amsterdam and have booked a hotel separately. Who do I claim from?
Your travel insurer, assuming you have a good policy. They will want you to reclaim the cost of the air ticket from your credit-card firm, and will then refund any non-refundable hotel costs if there is failure insurance cover.
Those who booked a package comprising flights and accommodation will be able to claim from their tour operator – the firm that put the holiday together.
My long-haul flight depends on a Flybe connection to Paris. Should I book an alternative ticket on easyJet instead to the French capital?
No! If you have an Air France booking and something goes awry with Flybe, then Air France has to sort out your entire journey. That might entail switching you to KLM (its partner) via Amsterdam, or even buying a new ticket on a completely different airline.
But if you just turn up at Paris CDG with a cheery “Look, I’m here,” the ground staff are likely to say: “Sorry monsieur, because you took things into your own hands you have been classed as a no-show and have missed your entire trip.”
In the unfortunate event of a Flybe failure, Air France – and other partner airlines – will do all they can to find an acceptable solution.