BUDGET airline Flybe has announced that it is removing baggage charges on flights between Shetland and the Scottish mainland – while rival Loganair has announced increased capacity on flights over the festive period.
Flybe, which went into competition with former partner Loganair in September, will offer customers a free 15kg or 23kg hold bag on all ticket types for flights booked within Scotland.
The policy will apply to flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow under Flybe’s franchise arrangement with its new partners and flight operators Eastern Airways.
Flybe’s interim chief commercial officer Ronnie Matheson said: “Following overwhelming customer feedback received during previous visits to the Highlands and Islands, I am pleased to announce Flybe is removing charges on the most popular hold luggage choices on these selected routes within Scotland.
“Flybe is committed to listening to our customers and we will always do our best to action wherever possible any changes that will enhance their overall experience of travelling with us.”
Loganair responded later on Thursday by saying it would offer passengers the added flexibility of carrying two separate bags with a combined weight of up to 20kg free of charge on its flights, which "will be easier to carry to the airport and reclaim on arrial at their destination".
Flybe has flatly denied ongoing suggestions within the industry that it will withdraw its Embraer jets from the Northern Isles routes in favour of smaller, lower cost planes.
Many have also questioned how long Flybe’s operation will be able to continue with poor booking figures. One source said Flybe filled only one in ten of its seats between Aberdeen and Sumburgh on Monday, with the final flight south in the evening having just a single passenger on board.
Meanwhile, Loganair will deploy its larger aircraft on Sunday flights between Aberdeen and Shetland from 3 December and is also adding extra seats on peak-demand festive period dates.
The Saab 2000 will operate both morning and afternoon flights to the Granite City rather than the 34-seat Saab 340B aircraft.
Loganair said figures for October show that more than seven in ten customers travelling from Sumburgh to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow chose to fly with Loganair and the airline has expressed “sincere gratitude” to the travelling public.
Its commercial director Kay Ryan said: “We’re hugely grateful to the overwhelming majority of customers in Shetland who have shown their support for Loganair by choosing to fly with Scotland’s airline.
“We’ve seen several instances over the last two months where customers haven’t been able to fly with their airline of choice as our Sunday flights have been full.
“By moving our largest aircraft onto the Sunday services to Sumburgh, we’re working hard to ensure that we offer the right number of seats at peak time to meet demand for our flights.”
It has adjusted its Christmas plans, pointing out that Flybe’s last flight to Shetland is on Saturday 23 December with no flights at all on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day – whereas Loganair will fly until lunchtime on Christmas Eve before resuming again on Boxing Day.
Ryan continued: “Our competitor says that it understands the importance of lifeline air services, they have a very strange way of showing it.
“Its lack of service for four days over Christmas and its massively reduced schedule at New Year is extraordinary and shows a complete disregards [sic] for Shetlanders and their family travel needs at this most important time of year.”
She added that Loganair would have crew on standby in case weather conditions in the lead-up to the festive period mean “we have to fly on Christmas Day itself to enable families to enjoy Christmas together”.
Matheson responded that Flybe “constantly review[s] our schedules and we will announce changes for the Christmas period shortly.”
Meanwhile, Flybe is also planning to hold a public meeting in Lerwick on Thursday 23 November.