“ Flying out from London Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham East Midlands airports, independent franchise carrier, GB Airways currently operates British Airways services to 30 select locations across Southern Europe, North Africa and France. „
Recently my wife and I decided to have our annual long weekend in another of Spain's delightful cities. Last year we visited Granada and this year, to retain the Moorish theme, we chose Seville. A suitable hotel was found (see the review) so all that was needed was flights.
Here, we were surprised to find how little choice there was, at least for direct flights and from the South, especially the London region. You can certainly fly by any number of carriers if you are prepared to change in say, Madrid. You can fly very cheaply with Ryanair if you are prepared to fly from Stanstead or Liverpool. You can fly very expensively with Iberia from Heathrow.
However, what we found that seemed to offer reasonably priced flights, direct from Gatwick, was GB Airways. Now, I have to be honest, I am not sure I had ever heard of GB Airways and if I had I certainly knew nothing about them. I had to visit their website to book our tickets so I used the opportunity to find out a little about them and to see if they were just another "fly by night" organisation (Sorry, couldn't resist that!)
It turns out that GB Airways has a long history in commercial aviation, having been flying customers for 75 years. It is privately owned and was originally formed in Gibraltar to provide a service across from Europe to Africa at Tangiers. After the War they formed an arrangement with British European Airways (BEA) whereby BEA would provide the service from London to Gibraltar and GB Airways would take the passengers on to North Africa.
BEA subsequently (along with BOAC) became what we know today as BA and is the basis for the association GB Airways has today. For, it appears that GB Airways now operates as a BA franchise. It seems that they only decide what routes they want to fly but, other than that, they operate to all intents as BA itself. All the aeroplanes are painted in BA livery and all of the flight crew wear BA uniforms. GB Airways in the UK is based in its own offices at Gatwick Airport.
The commonality doesn't stop there. Once you have decided that you might want to take a GB Airways flight, online booking all takes place on the BA website, to which you are directed from the GB Airways website (http://www.gbairways.com/). Flights are not the only thing you can book from this site. You can also book hotels, for which you are redirected to the BA Holidays website but, bizarrely, if you want to book a complete holiday you are redirected to the Cadogan Holidays website!
If you have ever booked a flight online with BA then nothing will be a surprise. The process is exactly the same for GB Airways flights, even down to the email confirming your booking and the terms and conditions of your flight. You can even enter your BA Executive Club card number and earn BA Miles on your flight. What is also cool is that from 24 hours before the flight you can check-in online, choose your seat and print off your boarding card. When you arrive at the airport you then only need to go to the Quick Bag Drop desk and drop off your luggage without having to queue up with the plebs to check in at the airport. Well, that's the theory. In our case this fell down badly in practice.
We were due to fly out to Seville at 6.15am from Gatwick North Terminal. We had left extra time in order to allow for what we expected to be the extended security checks we are all enduring at the moment. We were directed to Zone F where we were advised that we could quickly drop of our single suitcase. We were greeted by a huge queue and just one single check-in desk! Of course, it isn't simply a matter of dumping your case. It has to have its tag fitted and you given the receipt. All this still takes time.
In the end we went to the normal check-in desk as though we didn't already have our boarding passes. The queue was far shorter and not only that but there were eight desks open! We must have saved ourselves three quarters of an hour queuing and any danger of missing our flight. The actual security checks added maybe a minute or two at most.
We were disgusted with this whole debacle. It was undoubtedly nothing to do with GB Airways. It must have been entirely the fault of BA. How on earth do they think that they are going to encourage people to adopt self-service check-in with this sort of treatment? It's a disgrace!
After this the actual flight went as smooth as silk. Service on board was courteous and efficient. Drinks and snacks were all included even though we were travelling cattle class (Euro Traveller). The return flight went just as well and check-in at Seville airport was a breeze compared with the outward journey.
So, if you haven't yet taken a flight with GB Airways to any one of their 33 destinations from one of the 5 UK airports from which they operate, fear not. Beware only the BA check-in process at the airport. Other than that you get the chance to choose your seat in advance, there appears to be absolutely no benefit whatsoever in checking in in advance of your arrival at the airport or even using one of the self-service check-in terminals increasingly seen around the BA check-in zones. BA really do have to get this problem sorted.
Hopefully GB Airways will take note of my scathing comments on the Customer Satisfaction Survey and force BA to take action. In the meantime, be warned.
UPDATE - December 2007
I don't know if you have read in the press but it appears that GB Airways has agreed to be bought out by Easyjet. The integration into the Easyjet organisation will occur over time. In the meantime, GB Airways will continue to operate under the BA Franchise branding, at least until the end of March 2008.
What difference this will all make in due course remains to be seen. It clearly gives Easyjet additional capacity, especially at the already at-capacity Gatwick Airport from which GB Airways operates. I'm assuming that Easyjet will want to retain GB Airways routes. Whether this remains so indefinitely is open to conjecture.