ON TOUR with Thomas Cook Airlines, the oldest name in the travel business
At the end of April another British airline name will disappear, but this time it will be for the good. Cheerio JMC (and this A330 colour scheme) hello Thomas Cook Airlines. The oldest name in the travel business, Thomas Cook, founded 1841, will be very identifiable with every aircraft in the Thomas Cook Airlines fleet, including their very new just delivered Airbus A320, resplendent in the new livery. JMC, the initials of the founder's son, John Mason Cook, just did not take off, but Thomas Cook Airlines certainly will. In a sense it has already, winning a lucrative contract with cruise company P&O flying passengers to Majorca from Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester for its new Ocean Village brand, and gaining top spot on the CAA's list of punctuality for holiday airlines, 84% of flights on time and an average delay of only 13.5 minutes.
Thomas Cook Airlines is a direct descendent of one of the great names in the aviation business British Caledonian. It is a fusion of Flying Colours, Sunworld and Caledonian Airways itself, all charter carriers of the 1990s, to a lesser or greater extent tied in very much with major tour operators. Thomas Cook, the world”s first travel company, can trace its history back to 1841. Today it is 50% owned by Lufthansa, the other half retained by Karstadt Quelle, the German equivalent of Tesco. The Thomas Cook aviation interests are now channelled into a single division within the group.
The Thomas Cook organisation now operates 87 aircraft and claims to be the largest purely leisure airline operation in Europe. It is made up of four distinct carriers, each having its own AoC, each offering a product whilst not identical, is essentially the same. In Germany Thomas Cook Airlines ”powered by Condor” operates 28 Boeing 757, nine Boeing 767 and 12 Airbus A320. Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium has six Airbus 320 (including one delivered just ahead of its UK counterpart, the first aircraft rolled out from new in the Thomas Cook livery) and Sun Express in Turkey, eight Boeing 7378-800. This summer the group will fly to 90 airports in 30 countries. For the future the plan is to gradually consolidate the aircraft types and to exploit the potential of group purchasing, and not just for the airframe. The aircraft features a new interior cabin design in Thomas Cook's colours setting the standard for all future aircraft to be purchased by the Group. Many technical components of the aircraft, such as the brake systems, the radios or auxiliary power units were also selected according to a new Group-wide standard.
For its long haul operations Thomas Cook Airlines UK has a pair of Airbus 330, one based at Gatwick and the other at Manchester. These aircraft replaced a pair of DC10s in 2002, the last of the BeCal aircraft. With their A320 commonality they have been a big success. They are unique within the carrier effectively offering a two class operation, the 40 passengers in the front cabin, still 3+4+3 but with 34 inch seat pitch (as against 30 inch), complimentary drinks, upgraded meal, extra luggage allowance, and a separate check-in facility. Cuba; Bahamas; Grand Bahamas; Sanford Orlando; Cancun; Dominican Republic and Nassau are the destinations served by the aircraft. All offer a seat-only sale possibility but it is a first come first served facility. The upgraded ”Thomas Cook Plus” package costs £99 to Florida and £129 for other destinations. Good value.
The bulk of the Thomas Cook fleet is made up of the ubiquitous Boeing 757, 15 235-seat model 200s and a pair of 300s with 280 seats. The airline now has six Airbus A320s which feature the optional wide seat narrow aisle configuration offered by Airbus, rather than the wide aisle narrow seat layout that easyJet has gone for. Last year the airline averaged a 92% load factor and points out that it, for the most part, operates longer routes than the no frills carriers. 85% of capacity is pre-booked by inclusive tour operators, in the main in-house but not totally, with the remaining 15% on sale as seat-only, and at prices that rival the so-called low-cost brigade. Here Chris Buckley (left), Airbus Senior Vice President Europe, congratulates Glenn Chipp, managing director of the airline, on its A320 purchase at Toulouse last week.