To Flybe or not to Flybe: A review of Flybe, the airline that will become Virgin Connect
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British regional airline Flybe may not be well known to many people outside the United Kingdom, but there’s a reason you should care about this small carrier. Recently, Virgin Atlantic announced that it (in the form of a consortium of several groups) had purchased the airline, and will be rebranding it as Virgin Connect. This new relationship will provide passengers who previously had no connecting options with Virgin Atlantic beyond London many new possibilities for getting to destinations further afield in the U.K.
I needed to get to Aberdeen, and options from London to the Scottish city included car, rail and air. Driving or taking a bus would have taken around 12 hours or more, so that wasn’t really an option. The train, while relaxing, would also have taken many hours, though honestly, I was quite tempted by the Caledonian Sleeper Train, which runs every night from London.
As an AvGeek, though, the only real option was flying. There are five airlines flying from various London airports to Aberdeen: British Airways from Heathrow and Gatwick (LGW); BA CityFlyer from City Airport (LCY); EasyJet from Gatwick, Luton (LTN) and Stansted (STN); Flybe from Heathrow and finally Loganair from Southend (SEN). As much as I’d have loved to have flown BA and make the most of my lounge access through my Silver status, BA has been reviewed to death. So it was decided that I would fly the smallest aircraft to use Heathrow Airport: the de Havilland Dash 8 operated by Flybe.
The booking process was simple and I found Flybe to be user-friendly. The total for the one-way flight came to around $80. Seat selection for exit-row Seat 2D cost $20 and I took it, for an all-in cost of about $100. We paid for the ticket with The Platinum Card® from American Express, in order to take advantage of the card’s 5x bonus category on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel.
Presumably, thanks to the airline’s new relationship with Virgin Atlantic, you should be able to use Flying Club miles to book flights in the future, but no details have been released yet with regards to earning and burning those miles.
Flybe operates out of Heathrow’s Terminal 2. As I live in West London, the quickest option for me was to get the Heathrow Express from Paddington Station, and in under 15 minutes I was at the terminal ready for my little adventure. The terminal itself was quite a walk from where the train arrived, so keep this in mind if you’re in a hurry.
On entering the Queen’s Terminal, I saw plenty of signs to the Flybe check-in desks.
There were only two desks open and no designated self-check-in area. Old school. The whole check-in process took less than five minutes. The friendly agent let me know that bad weather was wreaking havoc at Heathrow and my new departure time would be 10:31 a.m. rather than 9:45 a.m.
Terminal 2 was bright and airy, with plenty of shops, restaurants and places to grab a quick coffee. I saved myself money and took advantage of my Priority Pass membership to set up camp and wait for my flight in Flybe’s lounge. While this is probably my least favorite Priority Pass lounge (full review coming soon), it certainly beat hanging around in the terminal.
No sooner did I enter the lounge than I received a text from Flybe, once again advising me of the delay.
This is perfect example of why you should always keep an eye on the departure boards even if you’ve been told otherwise. It was only around 9:15 a.m., and the board was displaying “Go to Gate” despite me having been told in person and via text that my flight would be delayed until around 10:30 a.m.
When I got to the gate, there were already two quite orderly lines formed. As Flybe has no specific boarding system, it’s every person for themselves, which can mean chaos, though in this case the passengers of BE2122 were rather civilized. The boarding area itself was bleak, downstairs on the tarmac level of the terminal with about a dozen seats littered around the place and not a power outlet in sight.
We were left standing around on the other side of the boarding-pass check for a good 15 minutes before the bus drove us the short length to the aircraft, which was parked at a remote stand. This aircraft is the smallest commercial plane to fly in and out of Heathrow, meaning that you will always board and deplane at a remote stand because the plane is too small to fit an air bridge.
Warning: Do not attempt to take pictures of the bus, as you will get shouted at angrily by at least three members of staff.
shark plane for the first flight of the day was the 13-year-old G-JECN Dash 8, the aircraft that makes up 54 of Flybe’s 75-strong fleet.
Boarding was via the aircraft’s built-in stairs. Thankfully, the rain had eased.
I was on board by 9:45 a.m., but we didn’t push back until around 10:20 a.m. The pilot kept us updated throughout, explaining again that the small delay was caused by weather. In the meantime, I sat back in my seat and watched the planes taking off.
Cabin and Seat
The tiny plane has 21 rows of only economy in a 2-2 configuration.
I selected Seat 1D, a window seat with extra legroom.
This might not be the best seat if you like to have a window right next to your head, but it is a great seat for those who need to rest their head on something to sleep.
The headrests had clean, branded Flybe covers. I say “headrest,” but it was merely the top of the seat. No special folding or adjustable features for extra comfort to be found here. Is that even necessary for a short flight of an hour? If it is, bring a neck pillow if you’re flying Flybe.
I had more than enough space in front of me to kick my legs around. Don’t worry, my feet aren’t actually touching the bulkhead in this picture.
While flailing my legs to demonstrate my rather unnecessary amount of legroom, I noticed quite a lot of stuff in the pouch in front. The usual stuff was there: inflight magazine, safety card and sick bag. But there was also unusual stuff there: a dirty napkin, a lounge voucher and the previous fella’s boarding card right next to my right knee on the escape door. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not the end of the world, but someone obviously rushed cleaning the cabin, or it didn’t even happen at all.
Another thing to note about this seat is that the armrest was fixed, which meant I felt kind of blocked into my seat. There was also no recline.
The armrest also featured my favorite thing, the foldaway tray table. No matter the airline or cabin class, I can never extract the table, and end up fumbling around looking confused until a member of the crew politely (usually trying not to laugh) shows me how easy it actually is. And this was no exception.
The tray table was bifold, which made it easy to get in and out of the seat, even while there were drinks or other objects on it.T his was only the case for Row 1, as the other rows featured the usual fold-down tray table found in the majority of economy cabins.
My 15-inch laptop took up the entire tray, leaving little to no space for anything else, but that’s not the tray table’s fault.
Amenities and IFE
Well this section is easy: Amenities and IFE didn’t exist. There was absolutely nothing in the way of entertainment other than the inflight magazine. To be fair, the airline operates really short routes, and the majority of short-haul economy flights these days don’t offer any IFE either, so we can’t really be too harsh here.
The bathroom, though absolutely tiny even for me, was perfectly clean and tidy.
It was so small, in fact, that there was just enough room to stand!
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
As with most short-haul flights in Europe, there was no free inflight meal service. There was a rather extensive menu of paid food and drink, though.
There were plenty of light bites and snacks available, too, often a better value if combined with a drink.
There was also a gin bar. Not as good as the one EasyJet offers on board its aircraft, but still, it’s a great idea for the ever-growing gin-drinking population.
As it was early and the takeoff made me feel really nauseous, I wouldn’t have been able to stomach any booze, so I just settled for a water and a Diet Coke.
Paying was like going back in time. The receipt was written out partly by hand and required a signature from me rather than chip-and-PIN or contactless pay.
The all-male crew were very friendly and professional and had no issues with me taking pictures or asking questions.
When the crew finished the service, I went to the back galley and had a chat with them, as I usually do.
They passed the call button test with flying colors: It was less than a minute after I pressed it before someone was at my seat.
Nothing bad, nothing great is probably how I’d rate this experience. The rather clunky and disjointed boarding process took almost as long as the flight did, and the inside of the cabin definitely had not been cleaned properly after the previous flight. I liked the choices on the menu and the prices were very reasonable. The crew were really friendly chaps. Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful, short hop up to Scotland. It will no doubt be interesting to see how Flybe fits into the Virgin Atlantic network, but loyal Virgin flyers should be excited to have a whole host of new options for connections opening up to them in the near future.
All photos by the author.
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