MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Monarch Airlines (ZB), aka Monarch, ceased operations in 2017. The airline was a British charter and scheduled airline founded by Bill Hodgson and Don Peacock and funded by the Sergio Mantegazza family of Switzerland.

Monarch entered administration in 2017, at the time making it the largest airline collapse in UK history. It left almost 100,000 passengers and vacationers stranded. Two years later, a bigger collapse witnessed by Thomas Cook left 150,000 people stranded.

Since 2004 and until abandoning charter flying altogether, ZB had become a low-cost airline. The airline’s headquarters were in Luton, and Birmingham, Leeds/Bradford, with operational bases in Gatwick Airport (LGW) and Manchester (MAN).

Monarch held a UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Type A Operating Licence, allowing the airline to carry passengers, freight, and mail on 20-seat+ aircraft.

1960-1980: The Beginnings of Monarch


On June 5, 1967, a pair of British businesspeople, ex British Eagle directors Hodgson and Peacock founded Monarch Airlines with backing from the Swiss-Italian Mantegazza family. ZB was established, unlike traditional airlines at the time, with the express purpose of transporting British holidaymakers to tourism hotspots and desirable destinations throughout Europe.

This was a time when air travel was usually only available for the affluent. However, ZB’s goal was to enable the service to meet the needs of the average family. And so, with only two aircraft operating from a hangar at Luton Airport (LTN), Monarch was launched, and a new era of package holidays took off.

Package holidays had already taken off by the 1970s. Winters were to be quite different from now on for British families, as they welcomed the opportunity to take an exotic continental vacation.

Another big name in package vacations, Court Line, was sent into administration by the oil price spike of the early seventies. Nevertheless, ZB survived, since the strategy in the industry was, unlike today, of mutual support. The airline even took on some of the surplus workers of Court Line.

G-BCBA Monarch Airlines Boeing 720-023B seen parked at Luton airport. Photo: Heathrow Junkie

1980-2010: The Rise of budget Airlines


There was a new rise in demand for independent travel in the 1980s. While package holidays remained popular, holiday-makers wanted to choose their own flights and hotels. As a result, ZB offered the first scheduled flights to Minorca from LTN in 1985. In doing so, it began to compete directly with other carriers, becoming more than just a tour operator.

By 1995, the newly formed low-cost airline easyJet (U2) set up its own base in LTN alongside ZB. The budget airline industry began to expand rapidly. Flight to weekend city breaks, stag and hen parties, winter skiing, and the sunny summer beaches were now available and affordable for all types of travelers.

By 2008, ZB had 32 aircraft flying to over 100 destinations in India, Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Europe, according to a BBC report. ZB flew far and wide, even at the time of the financial crisis.

However, the competition was relentless, according to ZB’s former managing director Tim Jeans. “It had very deep pockets even back when I was running Monarch seven or eight years ago.” This, according to Jeans, led to the airline’s demise. “There were warning signs then and I think subsequently the market has only got more difficult.”

Monarch Airlines A320. Photo: Monarch Airlines

2011-2017: The End is Nigh


As 2011 came, the Arab Spring once again forced up oil prices. The Mantegazza family kept investing money to plug ZB’s balance sheet. Alas, with a significant shortfall in the company’s retirement account, the family could not cope anymore. In 2014, they put a final £50m into the airline they had owned for half a century and sold it to Greybull Capital, a turnaround specialist.

In the end, Greybull and its investment were not enough to take on the budget airlines, and ZB abandoned long-haul routes, cutting 700 jobs in the process. Additionally, terrorist attacks in the Middle East, the migrant crisis in southern Europe, and the EU referendum vote’s effect on the pound sterling kept UK holiday-makers away from some of ZB’s most popular destinations.

On October 2, 2017, airline accountants KPMG announced that the company would close. On that day, authorities launched Britain’s largest peacetime repatriation to carry home the last 110,000 passengers from ZB. It was a big loss for the UK at that time, especially out of Manchester.

At the time of closure, the ZB fleet consisted of nine A320-200, 25 A321-200, and one Boeing 737-800.

Flying with Monarch Airlines


As ZB positioned itself as a low-cost carrier, for an optional extra fee, the airline provided many services. This included options such as luggage keeping, expanded baggage allowance, reserved seating, priority services, and in-flight catering.

Cabin

Monarch’s aircraft operated in an all-economy layout. Several extra space seats were located towards the front of the cabin and adjacent to exit doors.

In-flight Entertainment

Monarch provided an in-flight magazine named Passport. Its contents included travel guides, a map of Monarch’s destinations, interviews, and company news.

In-flight Catering and Retail

Monarch offered food and drink available to purchase on board all flights. The menu included a range of hot and cold food items as well as hot and cold drinks, alcoholic beverages, and soft drinks. A range of onboard tax-free/duty-free goods was also available to purchase from the Love to Shop inflight magazine.

Vantage Club Loyalty Scheme

Monarch operated a loyalty scheme named Vantage Club. It rewarded regular customers traveling with the airline with additional travel privileges and benefits. There were three membership tier levels – Indigo, Silver, and Gold.


Featured image: Monarch Airlines A321-200. Photo: Adrian Pingstone