Flybe collapses as airline cancels all flights – what are your rights?

flybe plane - Reuters
flybe plane - Reuters

The collapse of Flybe has left 75,000 passengers scrambling for refunds and alternative transport.

The regional airline fell into administration for the second time in three years in the early hours of Saturday morning, less than a year after it has been relaunched.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority urged those with booked Flybe flights not to travel to airports. Around 2,500 passengers were due to fly on Saturday, according to the administrators, while some 75,000 people had booked tickets for the coming months.

Competitors including British Airways, Ryanair and EasyJet have offered to get passengers home with discounted travel, while state-owned train service LNER offered free travel this weekend for affected travellers.

But those who have flights with the airline are unlikely to receive a refund from the company and must hope they are governed by their credit card provider or a holiday package.

Second time in three years

This is the second time that the airline has fallen into administration in the last three years, and comes after it returned to the skies in April. It came back with a plan to operate up to 530 flights per week across 23 routes, serving airports such as Belfast City, Birmingham, East Midlands, Glasgow, Heathrow and Leeds Bradford.

Flybe was pushed into administration in March 2020 with the loss of 2,400 jobs as the pandemic destroyed large parts of the travel market. Its business and assets were purchased in April 2021 by Thyme Opco, which is linked to US hedge fund Cyrus Capital. Thyme Opco was renamed Flybe Limited, and it had been based at Birmingham Airport.

The company was beset with problems after its relaunch last year. The routes that the company chose were often also run by competitors or were ones which were likely to struggle financially, according to industry sources. For instance, eight out of ten routes run by Flybe from its second hub of Belfast City airport were also offered by other airlines.

Last summer the company was forced to cancel hundreds of flights after it failed to secure aircraft to lease.

It also had to backtrack on a number of new routes. In September it announced two routes to the Isle of Man, but it cancelled the flights two days before they were due to operate.

Jonathan Hinkles, chief executive of rival regional airline Loganair, told the Telegraph: “Today’s collapse had an air of sad but certain inevitability about it right from the outset – it was a poor plan, and its delivery of that plan has been beset by almost every conceivable issue, many of which were self-inflicted.

“My heart goes out to the crews and engineers who had re-joined in the hope that this would be so different.” The airline’s administrators said that 277 staff would be made redundant while 44 would be retained.

'Very little support'

Thousands of travellers were stranded due to the cancellations. About 400 fans of the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team headed to Northern Ireland to see their side face the Belfast Giants, many flying with FlyBe, according to Matthew Mann, a member of the supporters' group.

Mr Mann arrived at Leeds-Bradford airport with his wife and daughter for an early Flybe flight on Friday to be told that it was cancelled and that he would be bussed to Manchester for a replacement. He decided to fly by EasyJet, costing him over £1,000. “There was very little support from Flybe, just a basic email saying there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

It is understood that no government repatriation flights are planned. While Thomas Cook's collapse triggered a centralised effort, FlyBe's much smaller size and the limited number of passengers stuck abroad means that getting passengers home can be handled by its surviving competitors.

If you are affected by the airline's collapse and flight cancellations, here is what you can do.

I am due to fly today, what should I do?

The administrators of the airline have advised passengers not to travel to the airport unless you have arranged a flight with another airline.

If you booked your flight with a travel agent, contact them for support. If you must reach your destination, you will need to book with another airline.

Will I get a refund?

Flybe’s collapse suggests that there will be very little, if any, value left in the company for customers to get a refund.

However, passengers who paid using a credit or debit card and booked direct with the airline may be protected.

Credit card users who spent more than £100 should be protected under the Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Visa debit cards should also be protected and in either case you should contact your provider.

Your ground is less firm if you booked through an agent when it comes to credit or debit card protection, but it is still worth asking your provider.

If you have travel insurance you may be covered, but not every policy covers airline failure and you should read your wording carefully.

Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: "This will be terrible news to Flybe passengers, many of whom used the airline regularly where it provided essential services from regional airports.

"Very few passengers flying Flybe will be on Atol-protected packages so the Government is unlikely to step in and repatriate those abroad or provide refunds."

There is a chance you have booked a package holiday if accommodation and flights were bought together with an Atol holder. If you received confirmation you are Atol protected, your agent will make alternative arrangements for you or provide a refund.

A final avenue of opportunity is that if you bought your flights from Flybe and also bought another service from the airline, such as a hotel, you have made what is called a linked travel arrangement. You must buy the two within 24 hours of each other as separate transactions after being prompted by the same provider. You will not get any help if you are abroad as you would with Atol protection, but you should get a refund.

I am away and cannot get back due to Flybe’s collapse. What should I do?

If you booked through a travel agent, contact them.

If your holiday is Atol protected you will be found an alternative flight at no extra cost and can rest easy. Otherwise you must find another way home.

From Belfast, eight out of 10 routes are covered by other airlines, the Belfast City Airport has said, while most other routes are within Britain, making trains a viable alternative.

Are any other airlines stepping in to help?

Yes. British Airways is offering discounted one-way fares in order to help people get home at short notice.

Passengers travelling between  London and Belfast, Newcastle or Amsterdam can buy tickets for £50, or €60 from Amsterdam, plus tax.

EasyJet is offering rescue flights for £49 for domestic routes and £79 for international routes, it said, if travellers quote their Flybe booking reference.

Ryanair has also launched so-called "rescue fares" for those affected by the cancellation of Flybe's flights. It said routes from Belfast to East Midlands, Manchester and London Stansted were available online from £29.99 for travel from Sunday.

Train line LNER has said Flybe customers with cancelled flights can travel on any service for free on 28 and 29 January by presenting their boarding pass.