In a last-ditch attempt to keep crews and planes in the air, easyJet has responded to the latest government crackdown on international travel by introducing very short domestic flights.
With no indication of when overseas holidays at scale may be possible, Britain’s biggest budget airline has shifted capacity from the UK to Germany.
But easyJet still has far more resources than needed to run its current skeleton UK service commensurate with government restrictions.
So the airline will operate Airbus A320 aircraft, with a range of over 2,500 miles, on a pair of English domestic routes that are each below 200 miles: Liverpool to Bournemouth (182 miles) and Birmingham to Newquay (198 miles). The links begin on 10 July, and one-way fares on both start at £23.
The connection between Merseyside and Dorset is reminiscent of air links in the 1960s, when road and rail connections were far worse.
AA Route Planner gives a driving time between the centres of Liverpool and Bournemouth of four-and-a-half hours via Birmingham, Oxford and Southampton.
Previously the shortest easyJet flight that did not include a water crossing linked Luton with Liverpool, a distance of 145 miles, in 2000-2001. At the time, the west coast main line was in extremely poor shape, making the three daily flights attractive to travellers.
Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, has been vocal in calling for fewer travel restrictions for people flying to the UK.
Some relaxation was expected in the first review of the “green list” on 3 June. But instead the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, moved Portugal – the only mainstream holiday destination on the quarantine-free green list – to the amber list, triggering a rush back as holidaymakers attempted to avoid self-isolation.
Mr Lundgren said at the time: “The government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing people’s plans into chaos, with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK. This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world.”
Having been given no indication that ministers were listening, the easyJet CEO has approved a programme to keep aircraft and staff in the air.
Anglo-Scottish links from easyJet are extended, with a Manchester-Edinburgh flight (185 miles) that replaces a service lost when Flybe went bust in March 2020.
Unlike Flybe, however, easyJet will not have transfer arrangements with overseas flights at Manchester airport.
TransPennine Express trains link central Manchester with Edinburgh in as little as three hours, with services running from Manchester airport.
Manchester will also get an easyJet link with Aberdeen (266 miles).
By far the most extreme easyJet domestic route will connect Inverness with Newquay in Cornwall – an air distance of 493 miles.
The 110-minute flight provides an alternative to a 14-hour train journey with five changes required, and the first northbound flight is selling for just £33.
It is unclear, however, how strong demand will be for a connection between two relatively sparsely populated parts of the UK.
One more Anglo-Scottish link will connect Aberdeen with Bristol.
Jersey will be more accessible, with easyJet flights from Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle.
Northern Ireland was badly hit by the collapse of Stobart Air, which provided connections to and from Belfast City. A new easyJet route will link Belfast International with Leeds Bradford.
The airline schedule analyst Sean Moulton said: “EasyJet adding new domestic routes will attract customers wanting staycations this year.
“However, this expansion could lead to other airlines pulling out of routes which they have served throughout the pandemic – which could mean a loss in connectivity beyond the peak summer.”
On Wednesday, British Airways’ CityFlyer subsidiary announced links from Belfast City to Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford and Newquay.
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