BMI Regional: The special appeal of a small airline with frequent low fares
The sale of British Midland International (BMI) to British Airways in 2012 excited the latter mostly due to the former’s routes in and out of London. Most of these routes were absorbed by BA, with some significant and lamentable exceptions. For fans of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the abandonment of routes to Bishkek, Tbilisi and Yerevan were particularly upsetting.
BMI’s other two divisions—the low-cost bmi baby and the short-haul bmi regional—did not come along for BA’s new ride. Low-cost bmi baby was simply abandoned, while bmi regional was purchased by a consortium of investors called Sector Aviation Holdings. The history here is worth revisiting. Sector Aviation Holdings actually sold bmi regional’s predecessor Business Air to BMI in 1996, so the 2012 sale returned bmi regional to its previous owners.
A rebirth with service to 21 European cities
Since 2012, bmi regional has performed very well. It currently serves 21 destinations across Europe. Multiple hubs in the UK anchor the airline but do not define it. Its recently expanded intra-Scandinavian routes, which hinge on Stavanger, are probably the most interesting component of the airline. From Stavanger the airline flies to Kristiansund, Narvik and Tromsø in Norway and Gothenburg in Sweden. With this flight volume, Stavanger is a proper hub for the airline. Only Aberdeen (with six routes) and Bristol (with five) see a greater number of bmi regional routes.
I recently sampled bmi regional from Aberdeen to Norwich. The in-flight experience, it must be said, wasn’t particularly noteworthy. I flew on an Embraer plane that was no spring chicken. The very subject of chicken is, however, relevant to my report. I have to call attention to my chicken salad sandwich, more delicious and vastly more filling than the tiny salmon bite I ate on British Airways on my way up to Aberdeen.
For European aviation industry observers, bmi regional is quite simply a fascinating company to track. There’s the fact that the airline bypasses London completely. It links Bristol, the UK’s eighth most populous city, with Frankfurt, Milan, Hamburg and Munich. It links Brussels with East Midlands and Newcastle, and it links Aberdeen with Norway, Sweden, Denmark and a number of destinations in England.
Taking the Norwegian market by storm
But the airline is really set apart by what appears to its sincere play for the Norwegian market. This move is brave at the very least in light of how well SAS, low-cost Norwegian and SAS Group regional airline Widerøe already serve Norway. And head-to-head competition doesn’t appear to deter bmi regional, either. Of its four intra-Nordic routes out of Stavanger, bmi regional faces competition on two.
There are other signs that bmi regional takes the Norwegian market seriously. The lead article in its in-flight magazine included a short digest version translated into Norwegian, and the following page includes an advertisement for the Norwegian version of the site. There is also a Norwegian domain extension for the site, flybmi.no, which redirects to a Norwegian-language version of the main website.
Finding sales & deals on all routes
Fare sales and weekend flights allow Cheapos to book flights without blowing budgets. The airline holds sales, which are publicized in its newsletter. Weekend flights on routes geared to weekday business travelers (Aberdeen-Oslo, Aberdeen-Manchester, Bristol-Frankfurt, Bristol-Hamburg, Bristol-Munich, and Brussels-Newcastle) are also often good value. The airline publishes and updates its lowest fares on the website.