Agents emerged largely unscathed from the collapse of Primera Air after the airline entered administration on Tuesday (October 2) – a year to the day after Monarch Airlines went under.
The budget carrier’s low-cost business model was built on all new fuel-efficient Airbus aircraft, enabling it to offer cut-price transatlantic fares from Stansted, Birmingham and Paris.
Its UK launch though was dogged by late aircraft deliveries, despite what Primera described as a “fantastic start” for its low-cost long-haul project.
However, leasing replacement aircraft and corrosion problems with one of its Boeing 737s eventually cost the carrier some €30 million – prompting its collapse.
The late deliveries forced Primera to suspend transatlantic flights from Birmingham in June, just a month after it launched. It axed its short-haul operation there a month later.
Primera Air was founded as a charter airline in 2003 to serve its parent company, Danish tour operator Primera Travel Group. But the airline was spun off as a separate operation, based in Riga, to reduce labour costs. It is unclear whether Primera Travel Group will be liable for the airline’s debts.
Several thousand Brits are thought to be affected by the airline’s collapse. A CAA spokesperson confirmed to TTG some Atol sales were involved. “We’re still waiting to hear from the administrator, but some trips were booked through agents,” he said.
A number of airlines, including Norwegian, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have offered passengers stranded by Primera’s bankruptcy discounted repatriation fares to get them home.
Paul Waters, director of Premier Travel, whose 17 branches include some in the Stansted catchment, said it had more than 10 bookings with the carrier under Jetset’s Atol. “It’s not as many as we first thought,” he said, adding Jetset “had been magnificent” in rebooking affected passengers.
Other Essex and Birmingham-based agents were unaffected, having chosen not to sell Primera Air due to concerns over its stability.
Tina Bender, co-owner of Essex-based Flitch Travel, said: “When they first published the routes [from Stansted], we were excited, but there were very few tour operators we could book a package with. And once they cancelled the Birmingham route, that was it for us; it rang alarm bells.”
Lianne Davenport, manager of Moseley Travel, said: “Even though we’re based in Birmingham, we decided not to promote them – we lost confidence after they cancelled some of their Birmingham routes.”
Consortia told TTG the majority of members were unaffected. Andy Stark, Global Travel Group managing director, said: “It had a really low impact for us. Bookings were absolutely minimal.”
John Sullivan, Advantage Travel Partnership commercial director, echoed this, adding: “We’ve heard nothing from members so far. I think there were very few who sold them.”
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, branded the collapse “a stark warning to the government” of the need for airline insolvency protection.
Primera’s demise leaves Stansted and Birmingham without transatlantic services. A favourite candidate to replace them is New York’s JetBlue, whose British-born chief executive Robin Hayes last month described transatlantic flights as an “exciting opportunity”.
Several delegates at the Elite conference in Granada were affected by the Primera Air collapse, among them If Only’s head of sales Dom Carrick, who was due to fly from Malaga to Birmingham on Thursday (October 4).
He told TTG: “We had no notification from Primera, but it’s not a surprise; they had no card machines or change on board when we flew out.
“We rebooked our flights home while we were on a coach heading to dinner. Fortunately, we managed to find other options very quickly.”
Shortly after TTG broke the Primera news on Monday (October 1), Carrick tweeted: “Twelve months ago, I was in Kos on a travel conference during the demise of Monarch.
"Today, I receive the news that Primera Air are going pop. No prizes for guessing who I’m booked with to come back from this week’s conference! #jinx.”