Following Monarch’s collapse last week, four industry figures recall their memories of the group during its 50-year history. Juliet Dennis and Ben Ireland report
John Hays, Hays Travel
Hays Travel boss John Hays has fond memories of working closely with Monarch to transport thousands of football fans to Newcastle United’s away games.
Hays Travel partnered with Newcastle United Football Club in the mid-1990s when the club was playing in the Uefa Champions League to take fans to games across Europe. Monarch was one of the airlines used by Hays Travel to fly fans out to games.
Hays recalls: “We used to try to scope out who Newcastle would play in the next round and have planes on standby. Monarch was our default airline. I still remember they had 233 seats on their 757s. We would charter planes to go to lots of places. We went to Kiev in the Ukraine and even to Zagreb in Croatia when there was a war on!
“I got to know some of the staff and crew as it was often the same people. They were lovely to work with and I have very fond memories of those days.
“The day we brought fans back from the Barcelona game was one of the biggest in Newcastle airport’s history. We had about 5,000 fans on 30 planes coming back from Barcelona and about 200 coaches ready to take them all home.”
Hays even went to meet then Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan and interviewed him for a video that was then played to fans on the aircraft. “Kevin was great and the fans loved it,” he recalls.
Monarch was a reliable airline that offered good prices and flexibility, says Hays, and was still used regularly by the group until its collapse.
“We had thousands of bookings with them when they went down last week,” he adds.
“They were just good people to work with and what’s happened is very sad. I hope as many staff as possible can find alternative employment quickly.”
Hugh Morgan, former chairman and managing director, Monarch Travel Group
The airline industry will miss the level of customer service provided on Monarch flights, a former chairman and managing director of the Monarch Travel Group believes.
“It’s a massive shame to see so many good people lose their jobs,” says Hugh Morgan.
“The company had a real service culture and it’s lost out to all the other nonsense going on in aviation with companies not looking after their customers. The legacy Monarch will leave is that it might bring a little bit of sense into the industry.”
Morgan praised the loyalty of Monarch staff, and says he knew cabin crew, pilots and customer service managers who had 25 years at the company under their belt. “I had a friend who always travelled with Monarch because of how well they looked after him when he was ill,” he adds. “They showed real compassion in every situation and it’s rare that you get that level of service any more. It’s a part of history that has now gone down the tube, but let there be lessons. That level of service will be missed.”
Morgan says Monarch’s downfall was down to the “unrealistic” price of aircraft seats on popular routes such as Spain driven by low‑cost carriers, combined with travel bans on Monarch routes to Sharm el-Sheikh and Tunisia and downturn in demand for Turkey.
Morgan adds that Monarch “always did well” as a charter airline before venturing into the scheduled market in 2002. “It decided it had to compete in the regular scheduled airline space and when it did it was a case of ‘how do we sell these seats?’,” he recalls.
Morgan says the most memorable time he had at the group was celebrating Cosmos’s 50th birthday at Abta’s Travel Convention in 2011. The Mantegazza family [former Monarch owner] yacht was anchored in Palma, Majorca, and 300 agents, operator representatives and partners of Monarch’s engineering arm came on board.”
Nick Munday, Classic Collection
Monarch was a reliable airline that responded quickly to tour operators’ needs, recalls Classic Collection boss Nick Munday.
Munday, who used to run Tunisia specialist operator Panorama, remembers regularly chartering flights from the airline and requesting larger aircraft at the last minute if demand for seats increased.
“Back in my Panorama days, Monarch was my go-to airline,” he says. “I started buying flights from them in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Panorama became a major player to Tunisia and we would charter whole planes from Monarch. Their flights probably made up a quarter of our programme. They were so quick to respond at the drop of a hat if we made changes.
“I remember one Easter we were selling flights like mad for Tunisia. I managed to upgrade [to larger] aircraft to such an extent that by the time the first flight went on the Sunday I had three of Monarch’s A300s leaving within a week with 1,080 passengers being dropped in Monastir.”
Munday says the slick operation at Monarch was aided by the fact that the staff were very experienced and approachable.
“The people at Monarch were so easy to deal with and they were very experienced. They would tell you in an instant if they could help. They had the operational ability to do what other airlines could not. Other airlines would take 24 hours to come back after they had checked if they had the crews and the slots. Monarch was by far the quickest; they got it,” he recalls.
More recently, Munday says Monarch flights made up about 15%-20% of Classic’s flights and were popular because of their competitive prices and good flight times. He adds: “Monarch was a well-run company and we also used them a lot on an ad hoc basis.
“They had modern aircraft and flew at good times of the day and the prices were good. We are very sorry to see Monarch go.”
Terry Williamson, former chief executive, Cosmos Holidays and Avro
The ex-boss of Monarch’s tour operation recalls how the airline shifted focus from a chartered operation to a scheduled carrier.
Terry Williamson, chief executive of Cosmos Holidays from 2001 to 2006, says “Monarch’s strength, especially in tour operating, was in mid-haul”, adding that summer-sun destinations such as Greece, Cyprus and Egypt were popular, while aircraft were rerouted to ski destinations in the winter.
Williamson adds: “When I left it was still predominantly a chartered airline, although the scheduled routes had been going for some time. It had started to expand into destinations such as Malaga and Faro. But at that time it didn’t have the right aircraft for that kind of environment.”
The company changed tack with the rise of low-cost carriers such as easyJet, which expanded out of Luton to Bristol, East Midlands and Stansted in 2002.
The airline’s Boeing 757s and Airbus A300s were “too big” for the short-haul sector, he says, adding: “They operated better when chartering with a tour operator. Then the airline started to go down the other route and brought in A320s and 737s.”
“There were a lot more tour operators then to charter them. It was buoyant and we were expanding into long-haul destinations such as Florida. The Cosmos brand was well-supported by the UK trade.”
Although Cosmos did start to sell direct, Williamson says it “always looked after the trade” which led to reciprocal support. “Everybody sold us,” he says. “Brochures were on everybody’s racks.”
Inside the business, he says former owners the Mantegazza family were “very involved” and liked to have a member heading up each strand of the Monarch Travel Group. Williamson says the hands‑on approach, coupled with loyalty of staff and high standards of service, was pivotal to maintaining Monarch’s reputation but that it “perhaps” dropped after the Mantegazza’s sale to Greybull Capital in 2014.
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