Jet2 profile

By The Drum, Administrator

February 12, 2003 | 8 min read

Steve Lee has nothing in common with The Office’s David Brent. The commercial director of the country’s newest budget airline isn’t likely to give motivational speeches to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, I doubt he’d dress up in Bernie Clifton’s Emu outfit, and at no point during this interview did he mutter the phrase “vis a vis”. So, for the last scribe that interviewed him to make the comparison was just plain lazy journalism. But, then again, that’s the trade press for you.

Lee is the resolutely focused, quietly affable character who’s piloting the take-off of the much heralded Jet2 from Leeds Bradford Airport. Launching on 12 February, the airline, operated by Bournemouth’s Channel Express and owned by DART Group PLC, is providing the people of Yorkshire with their first true budget carrier and an affordable gateway to Europe. It’s a proposition Lee believes everyone will benefit from.

“We evaluated a number of airports and to us Leeds Bradford emerged as the front runner very quickly.” Revealing the attraction of a location that doesn’t quite have the glamorous resonance of Milan (mind you, Stansted’s hardly Paris, is it?) he explained, “Within a 90-minute drive from the airport you have a catchment area of about 9 million people. Until Jet2 launched they had to make their way to Liverpool, the East Midlands or even further afield to get low cost travel to our scheduled destinations. So, from our point of view we have an excellent hub that doesn’t overlap with any other budget carrier. (Ryanair also uses the airport, but only for flights to Dublin.)”

Which begs the question – so was the decision to launch an airline largely due to a geographical opportunity rather than any desire to “shake up” the industry itself?

“Yes,” was Lee’s characteristically bullshit-free answer. “It had to be. Even though we own our own planes (bought from the administrators of Australia’s ‘other’ national airline Ansett) and we have the backing of a PLC, there was no point in going into an airport where we’d be up against established competition from day one. We felt there was a void in this area and we were determined to fill it. The demand for sales so far has proven our analysis right.”

Jet2’s apparent tendency to favour such commercial pragmatism over any naive brand idealism is further compounded by Lee’s assertion that “we’re not trying to re-invent the wheel”. Basically you get the feeling that the powers that be at DART were waiting to see if the budget model took off before booking their own place in the sun. Now that it has, they’re determined to make hay while the industry’s still shining. Which is fine as long as there’s space for everyone to soak up some rays – but isn’t there now a danger that the marketplace is looking a bit overcrowded?

“Well, yes it is getting crowded, but only insomuch as there’s been a boom in low cost air travel over the past five years – but, as I said before, not in this area. We’re not treading on anyone else’s toes.”

He continued: “People talk about reaching a saturation point, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near that yet. Low cost air travel has got to the stage where it’s beginning to be seen as an integral part of a region’s transport system, and if people don’t have access to it they want to know why. It’s no longer a novelty. It’s becoming part of people’s lives and there is quite clearly a demand to provide those services where they don’t yet exist. That is exactly what we’re doing here.”

Taxi-ing on: one of the main benefits of following in the slipstreams of your competitors, rather than blazing a trail yourself, is that you have the benefit of seeing exactly where they appear to trip up. They expose the location of the potholes in the road to success, and you neatly sidestep them. Which is exactly what Mr Lee et al are looking to do.

“We are a low cost carrier and we do offer similar prices to the other operators in the sector, there’s no denying that. What we can do is look to differentiate ourselves slightly with our standard of service. We intend to make sure that our cabin crew are amongst the friendliest and most efficient, for example. We’ve also highlighted that one potential problem with certain carriers so far is their free seating policy – where passengers aren’t allocated seats and it can turn into a bit of a free-for-all when you board the plane. We’ve decided to allocate seating, which may slow turnaround time slightly, but at least our passengers will be able to sit next to the people they’re travelling with. It won’t just be a case of pot luck.” Lee added that they believed this would translate into tangible benefits for business travellers in particular.

So, as Jet2 freely admit, they’re “not trying to re-invent the wheel”, perhaps just attempting to make it turn a little smoother.

Although the airline’s yet to launch, it all seems to be rolling along quite nicely so far. Tickets went on sale on 11 December and thanks to an energetic PR campaign (courtesy of their full service agency Poulter Partners) 18,000 potential customers had already registered interest before the lines (both phone and internet) opened for business. Since then, a 450-site festive outdoor campaign has boosted their profile, followed by regional press campaigns, an ongoing sponsorship of Real Radio Yorkshire’s weather reports and topped off sweetly with a current six-week TV campaign on Yorkshire and Tyne Tees. The airline believe they’ve established awareness within the catchment area and are now engineering their activity to educate the customer base.

“There is now a need for us to educate the consumer and we’ll be looking to do this through our website, and other methods, such as advertorials perhaps, or sales promotion. Yorkshire is traditionally an under-served market and because of this,” – he paused, furrowing his brow in preparation for the next phrase – “it’s not an ‘educated’ market.”

But don’t take off your flat caps in umbrage, readers, Mr Lee didn’t mean any offence. He explained, “One could open an airline in Stansted and assume that people would be readily prepared to take advantage of it. Here, because that need hasn’t been catered for before, they’re not. For example, if someone fancies a weekend away they may automatically think of taking the train to somewhere like London, instead of hoping on a plane to Milan. Also, there’s an educational duty with the destinations themselves. Staying with Milan, will customers have the prior knowledge to use it as a gateway to northern Italy – to the Alps, the lakes, and Turin – or will they look at it simply in terms of the city itself? We have to demonstrate the opportunities that a budget carrier opens up to them.”

This won’t happen overnight, but the airline has committed itself to the region for the long haul (groan). Apart from using local marketing services agencies (Poulters and Brilliant), Jet2 has established a call centre in Skipton (“we thought this was very important”) and has no plans to branch out to any other airports until they’ve firmly cemented their position “as Leeds Bradford’s budget airline”. Lee in particular believes the established players have missed a trick by overlooking Yorkshire, and Jet2 plans to take full advantage.

At the moment everything looks clear for take off; the management are recruiting a new head of marketing, the routes appear to be popular choices and the staff are all on-board. As Lee says they now have the right people as “just because we’re a low cost airline, doesn’t mean we have low cost salaries”. Which is great. It’s just a shame that’s no protection against getting interviewed by “low cost journalists”. Vis a vis, me.


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