Britain's biggest regional airline Flybe triggers fares war with dramatic expansion of domestic flights

  • @SimonCalder

Stay in bed in Devon an hour longer, arrive in London 40 minutes earlier and save £83 on the train fare: that's how Britain's biggest regional airline is seeking to tempt the citizens of Exeter.

Flybe has signalled an autumn fares war on domestic travel, against rival airlines and train operators. The Exeter-based airline has launched a new network of flights connecting cities in Britain and Ireland with London City airport (LCY). One-way fares start at £35.

Each weekday from 27 October, 30 flights will operate to or from the Docklands airport on five routes, using 78-seat Bombardier turboprops.

Flybe will launch four daily flights to Edinburgh and Dublin. They will compete with British Airways and CityJet respectively, both of which use jet aircraft.

There are currently no air links between Exeter and London, but Flybe claims its first flight of the day – departing Devon at 6.40am, arriving in the capital at 8am – will entice business travellers from First Great Western trains. Seats on Exeter-London flights are currently being sold for £35 one-way, compared with £118 for an “Anytime” ticket on the first train of the day. “Advance” rail tickets as low as £19 are sold on the route, but are difficult to find on the earliest departure.

A spokesman for First Great Western said: “This is good news for the South West, providing those travelling with greater choices. However, with the time taken to check-in at London City and the distance Exeter airport is to Exeter city centre, rail remains a strong, viable alternative.”

The fastest trains between Exeter St David’s and London Paddington take just over two hours, compared with Flybe’s flight time of 80 minutes. Wi-Fi is being fitted to all First Great Western’s high-speed services over the coming months.

Flybe is also launching three flights a day to London City from Belfast, and two from Inverness. All flights come with a timekeeping promise: “If you arrive more than 60 minutes late, due to reasons within our control, we’ll give you a £60 flight credit.”

Flybe’s chief executive, Saad Hammad, rejected the suggestion that the move could lead to an all-out fares war. He told The Independent: “I’m not expecting kamikaze behaviour from the competitors. Our sense is that there is enough demand on these routes. We are the champion of the regions.”

The Belfast, Edinburgh and Inverness flights serve destinations that easyJet already offers from other London airports. An easyJet spokeswoman said: “Other airlines have a tough job to compete with our well-known low fares and friendly service.”

A spokeswoman for British Airways said: “We always welcome competition and believe that we offer our customers travelling from London City airport a great service and value for money.”

London City’s chief executive, Declan Collier, said: “Flybe will bring an immediate uplift of up to half a million new passengers to the airport. In addition, Flybe’s selection of routes serves to cement further LCY’s status as the business traveller’s airport of choice.”

Flybe plans to launch off-peak leisure flights from London City to ski airports in the Alps, provincial cities in France and destinations in northern Spain.

Train vs Plane

Prices quoted are return fares for travel to London on Friday evening, back on Monday morning (Inverness train: Friday night/Sunday night, including a berth both ways). Rail fares are for July; later dates are not yet available. Return air fares are for November; luggage excluded.

  • Exeter: Plane £75, train £58
  • Edinburgh: Plane £130, train £63
  • Inverness: Plane £115, train £227