Inside Travel: One-way flight to oblivion for Bmibaby

Once in the top three of Britain's budget airlines, Bmibaby is about to close down. Simon Calder waves goodbye...

Sunday 9 September is the last day in the short, sad life of Bmibaby. Since the no-frills airline was born a decade ago, millions have flown from its East Midlands base, as well as Birmingham, Belfast, Cardiff and Teesside. But the arrival of flight WW5330 from Malaga to East Midlands airport at 10.45pm marks the airline's final touchdown. An awful time for the 450 excellent staff who now face redundancy – and an event that signals less choice and higher fares.

A quick history lesson?

The roots of low-cost aviation in Europe go back to the early 1980s, when British Midland (as was) pioneered cut-price domestic flights from Heathrow. Its boss, Michael Bishop, built a profitable domestic and European network in competition with such flag carriers as British Airways and KLM. The benefits to travellers of "open skies" soon became clear. Bishop was knighted in 1991 (and is now Lord Glendonbrook). His groundwork enabled easyJet and Ryanair to flourish in the 1990s and take market share from British Midland – or BMI, as it had become. Then BA joined the fray with Go, its low-cost offshoot.

In March 2002 Go's chief executive, Barbara Cassani, revealed plans for a new base at East Midlands. BMI, which had ruled the roost for years, responded immediately to the encroachment. Within hours, the birth of Bmibaby was announced, with a route network serving domestic and European destinations, plus the Czech capital Prague –remarkably similar to Go's plans. BMI's director of corporate affairs, Tony Davis, was appointed chief executive of the new airline. "I'll always be grateful to Barbara Cassani for giving me the fastest promotion in airline history," he later told me.

Where did it all go right?

Bmibaby enjoyed a spell in the sun as Britain's third-largest low-cost airline, but from the start life was never easy. East Midlands became the location for a proxy war between BA and BMI. Travellers from East Midlands found themselves in the odd position of being able to reach Prague for next to nothing as a fares war intensified between the two airlines low-cost subsidiaries. Then easyJet took over Go, and Bmibaby found itself pitched against Britain's biggest low-cost airline. Expansion was constrained, with intense competition in London, and easyJet and Ryanair colonising the north of England and Scotland. Bmibaby settled on Cardiff, but later abandoned the Welsh capital – partly because of easyJet's thriving network from Bristol. Birmingham was more successful, though many questioned the wisdom of having two bases just 40 miles apart.

When did it all go wrong?

As long as the UK economy remained in good shape, BMI as a whole was profitable. Three years ago, though, the firm moved from profit to loss. Sir Michael Bishop had sold to Lufthansa, a reluctant buyer under an agreement signed in 1999 when times were good. The German airline became desperate to offload the heavily loss-making BMI.

Eventually BA bought BMI, but made clear it did not want Bmibaby. No buyer could be found. Routes from Belfast City were axed almost immediately, while some services from East Midlands and Birmingham were kept for the summer.

"It's been 10 fun-filled years," says the airline on its website, "but it's time to hang up our wings." Bmibaby follows Buzz, MyTravelLite and Thomsonfly into no-frills airline oblivion .

What will it mean for travellers?

Jet2 and Monarch have moved in to cherry-pick the most lucrative routes at East Midlands, and Flybe and Ryanair may expand. BMI Regional, now a separate company, will continue to serve Brussels and Frankfurt from East Midlands. But travellers may need to go further to fly – perhaps Birmingham, Luton or Doncaster. As with any diminution of competition, fares will rise. Yet anyone who has flown on Bmibaby recently should thank the shareholders of Lufthansa who subsidised each trip by an average of £10 per passenger.

What about claims against Bmibaby?

One reader asks: "I'm in dispute with Bmibaby about a flight earlier this summer. Does the airline simply disappear, leaving me helpless?" No. When British Airways took over BMI, and with it Bmibaby, it also took over the airline's liabilities. Your claim can take its normal course.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering