Tens of thousands of British holidaymakers have seen their summer travel plans wrecked by the announcement that the low-cost airline, Bmibaby, is to shut down.
IAG, the parent company of British Airways, acquired the East Midlands-based airline from Lufthansa last month as part of the purchase of BMI. But IAG has always maintained it would ground the carrier if a buyer could not be found.
More than 500 jobs are at risk.
The first tranche of route closures takes effect over the weekend of 9 and 10 June, with all services from Belfast City (except the BMI link to Heathrow) and many from East Midlands ending. Nice, Alicante, Faro and Malaga are among the destinations affected. The links from Birmingham to Knock and Amsterdam will cease on the same weekend.
Routes to and from Heathrow are unaffected.
Passengers holding bookings from Belfast will be worst affected, because of the scarcity of alternative flights.
The closure of Bmibaby will also hit inbound tourism and business travel to Northern Ireland, with links from Amsterdam, Birmingham, East Midlands and Stansted abruptly abandoned.
The airline explained that the decision to close its Belfast base was due to “commercial and operational challenges”. At the time IAG took over the BMI group, it was losing £5 per second.
Bmibaby declined to say how many passengers would see their flights cancelled, describing it as “commercially sensitive information”.
Studying the schedules suggests that between 40,000 and 50,000 forward bookings are affected for the prime holiday months of July and August.
While passengers who have booked for later departures are being contacted and will get full refunds, the process is expected to take three weeks.
At this stage it will be either very expensive or very difficult to find replacement flights. Other airlines, notably easyJet, Jet2 and Ryanair, are studying the details of the closure and considering which new routes they might start, but with their resources heavily committed for the summer there is little slack in the system.
Legally, Bmibaaby is not obliged to provide any alternative flights. Because more than two weeks’ notice has been provided, EU rules on compensation do not apply.
While some passengers who booked their holidays as part of proper package holidays will have the value of the whole booking protected, most holidaymakers have booked flights, accommodation and car rental separately and get no such cover.
Core services to Spain and Portugal from East Midlands and Birmingham will continue. The airline is still selling tickets for flights up to and including 9 September.
Bmibaby was born 10 years ago, just hours after Go – BA’s no-frills offshoot – announced a new base at East Midlands airport, BMI's home. At the time, the executive who masterminded the start-up, said it was an “independent and valuable addition to the BMI family,” adding that it would have a “long and successful future”.