Inside Travel - Flights of fancy?

Despite falling passenger numbers, many new air services from the UK are taking off this spring, writes Simon Calder

Anyone who still believes the stock-market mantra of "Sell in May and go away" will have plenty of options for new international flights.

A year is a long time in aviation. Last spring, Britain's airlines were in the midst of unprecedented expansion, with 100 new routes launched for the summer. This year, that growth has turned into overall decline, with most airports reporting a year-on-year slump in passenger numbers. Yet in this eternally optimistic industry, airlines are launching a couple of dozen new routes next month.

May is when the charter airlines, such as Thomson and Thomas Cook, step up their operations from dozens of UK airports to hundreds of Mediterranean destinations. This year, charter capacity is sharply down – but some of the slack is being taken up by the low-cost airlines, notably Jet2.

From its Leeds Bradford hub, Jet2 is launching services to Croatia's greatest city, Dubrovnik (23 May), to the main airport on Cyprus, Larnaca (20 May), to the easternmost Greek island of Rhodes (27 May) and to Dalaman in southern Turkey (18 May).

Manchester sees a sharp increase in destinations on Jet2, starting with Olbia in Sardinia (2 May), Dalaman (1 May), Crete's largest city, Heraklion (19 May), Rhodes (20 May) and Tel Aviv (21 May). Newcastle's new links serve Split, in the middle of the Croatian coast, from 2 May, and Ibiza from 23 May. And the Scottish capital benefits from new links to Düsseldorf, Olbia (16 May), Ibiza and Menorca (both 21 May), and Venice (22 May). From Northern Ireland, Jet2 has a new flight to Dubrovnik, starting next Saturday, 2 May. Croatia is also the main international focus for Flybe from Southampton, which gets connections to Dubrovnik and Split from 2 May. The Hampshire port also gets a link to Salzburg from 23 May.

On 4 May, easyJet's Manchester-Corfu link begins. Bristol also gets direct flights to the second-largest of the Ionian Islands, from 22 May. And on 24 May, Bristol gets connected to the pretty Corsican port of Bastia, a destination pioneered by the much-missed GB Airways before it was swallowed up by easyJet. Bmibaby is focusing on the Balearic island of Menorca, with a new link from Cardiff (starting 21 May) and East Midlands (22 May).

At these regional airports, the main effect of the new routes is to give travellers more choice. The London area, as always, is different. While there are relatively few new services, they could lead to lower fares. A couple of key routes provide evidence of the intense battle between easyJet and British Airways at Gatwick.

Last summer, BA was replaced as the leading airline at the Sussex airport by its low-cost rival. Since then, something of a turf war has been going on. This will intensify from this Friday, when easyJet launches new routes against the existing BA services to a pair of historic Mediterranean port cities: Naples and Dubrovnik. The Greek island of Santorini, though, has no scheduled competition; easyJet flights from Gatwick start on 3 May.

Ryanair, which now carries more passengers internationally than any other airline, launches only two new routes from the UK next month. Luton gets connected to the Limousin with a new route from the Bedfordshire airport to Limoges (3 May). And the people of the small Bavarian town of Memmingen will wake next Friday (1 May) to discover they now reside in "Munich West", linked with Stansted by Ryanair.

Additional research by Laura Lindsay

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