Three weeks ago, we reported here on EuroCheapo on how booking on a new air route or ferry service can cause a lot of grief for travelers intent on sticking to a fixed itinerary. All too often, teething problems can mean that a new service might not get started as smoothly as a carrier might expect. We mentioned in that 3 March post some specific companies that were due to start offering service in March, so let’s take a quick look now at how they and other March start-ups have fared.
A new link to Ireland – when it runs
Fastnet Lines offer what will surely become a very valuable link between Wales and the Cork region of southern Ireland. Overnight sailings take ten to twelve hours depending on tides, and travelers can snooze their way across the Irish Sea on a very comfortable cruise ferry.
The service was set to launch on 1 March and the first half of the month was frankly disastrous, with Fastnet managing only three sailings in all, two of which arrived five hours late. The company promptly closed its Twitter account when accused of failing to inform would-be travelers of the cancellations. But since March 16, Fastnet has evidently got to grips with those start-up glitches and the MS Julia has run pretty much to schedule on her nightly runs from Swansea to Cork. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Euroferries – the ferry company that never runs
We gave Euroferries a mention in that original post, commenting on the many false starts they have had. They missed their 1 March launch date on the cross-Channel ferry service from Boulogne to Ramsgate, having amended their website to take bookings only from March 21. Still not a ferry in sight, though now we see that Euroferries have amended their website to take bookings from April 12.
Personally, we are deeply skeptical that Euroferries will ever get started. In that last EuroCheapo post we highlighted Euroferries’ audacity in claiming to be “the leading fast ferry operator on the English Channel.” Quite some boast, given that they don’t have a ferry and have never made a single ferry crossing. So we are pleased to see that, following our criticism, Euroferries have lowered their sights a little. They now claim merely to offer “the fastest crossing available” on Channel routes. Well, if Euroferries do ever get started that might just be true, but until then our advice is stick to P&O or one of the other established ferry operators on the short sea routes across the Channel between France and England.
Varsity Express – grounded after just eleven flights
There is no doubt as to what has been the aviation story of the month here in Europe – the extraordinary tale of Varsity Express, the new airline started by wannabe pilot Martin Halstead. Varsity took to the skies on 1 March, and a week later Martin’s dream was in tatters. Varsity was grounded. Public sympathy for a plucky young entrepreneur quickly turned to anger when it was suggested by The Sunday Times that Varsity Express was based on a tissue of lies. With more than a hint of fraud around the whole affair, the British police are now investigating Varsity Express.
One curious aspect of the Varsity story is that this is not Martin Halstead’s first airline failure. Four years ago, his airline Alpha One went bust after having carried only 46 passengers. As Martin is now only 23 years old, it is quite some achievement to have presided over two aviation cock-ups at so tender an age. Five years back, Forbes Magazine praised Martin as a “gutsy fledgling”. Passengers who hoped to fly this month on Varsity Express take less benign a view.
Time for some good news – Wizz Air
But March has not been a complete disaster on the Europe travel front. The Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air established its twelfth base at Wroclaw in south-west Poland. Wizz Air had originally planned its Wroclaw launch for mid-summer but brought the date forward to March 12 because of strong advance bookings.
Ryanair taps into the Russian market
Ryanair launched seven new routes in the first week of the month, of which easily the most interesting is a new link between Weeze and Lappeenranta. “Where?” we hear you ask. Weeze is in Germany just a mile or two from the border with the Netherlands. It is a popular option for Dutch travellers based in Nijmegen who are happy to hop over the nearby border into Germany to catch a plane. And with cheap scheduled flights from Weeze direct to four dozen European destinations, Weeze has a secure place as a hub for low cost flights.
Lappeenranta is in Finland very close to the border with Russia. So it is no surprise perhaps that Ryanair’s first flights from Lappeenranta were popular with Russians. Indeed, our guess is that it will not be too long before Ryanair renames the Finnish airport Northwest Saint Petersburg.
New ferry link across the Danube
And for travelers in the Balkans, a key transport gap was plugged last week with the launch of a new ferry across the Danube linking Nikopol in Bulgaria with Turnu Magurele in Romania. There are too few ferries and bridges across the Danube and the new boat link looks set to bring economic benefits to communities on both banks of the river.