On Board - DAN AIR REMEMBERED

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On Board

ABOUT
The The photograph above shows Dan Air's 'Class Elite' cabin. The airline's much praised business class cabin. Where the aircraft was six abreast, the middle seat was never sold. on five abreast layouts the same occured on the row of three. Instead a table was used, as shown. The cabin featured improved leg room and seat width. The airline noted you were never more than one seat away from an aisleDrinks were complimentary, including champagne, and served in glassware rather that plastic. The meal service featured an ever changing menu and even short haul routes included hot meals.

1992 Class Elite Meal
Geraldine Standing serving passengers in 1972
Class Elite passengers enjoyed dedicated check in, priority boarding and disembarkation. And even complimentary transfers to and from airports.  Of course, this was not always the case. In Dan Air's early days, staff were trained in silver service waitressing, despite in flight facilities being somewhat primitive.  Later on, as competition for charter business grew ever more intense, Dan Air revolutionized in flight dining by being the first airline in the World to introduce 'Sky Diners'  These meals were a fore runner for today's in flight fare. The box was to contain the three course meal, as well as everything that would be needed for the flight. From salt and pepper sachets to napkins and creamer for hot drinks. These were to be both popular with passengers and crew alike. Passengers enjoyed the novelty of them and Dan Air benefitted tremendously from them. The old cutlery and crockery weighed so much meant that by using the new items such as plastic knives and forks, many thousands of pounds could be saved annually as the weight was much less. It also meant that these items could be thrown away and not kept for washing before being reused. The food was cold fare. In fact it was Britannia Airways who introduced the first hot meals in similar boxes. Dan Air was soon offered hot meals as an option for Tour Operators to take up. On scheduled services a hot meal was standard on longer flights with a hot or cold snack on short haul flights.The  Sky Diner meals are shown below left on a publicity photograph. Tour operators were quick to make use of the improved catering. Airlines across Europe quickly rolled out similar meals.

Bristol Freighter Service
Sky Diners

In the early 1970's In an effort to cut costs Tour Operators worked with airlines to offer a cheaper alternative to the 'Sky Diner'. A brand new concept was thus introduced - 'Seat Back Catering'.  This proved to be far less successful than had been hoped. As the name implies, each passenger's food was locked away in the seat back in a plastic, locker style container. The major short coming was that the meals for both outward and inbound journeys were stored at the same time in back of each seat. In the case of a Manchester to Tenerife flight that meant that the return flights' food was stored for more than 6 hours before it could be eaten by homeward bound traveller. Even more if the flight had been delayed. Passengers were given keys to access their food and this too proved problematic as some, less than charitable, passengers quickly worked out a way of breaking into the locker and eating the return passenger's food as well! Leaving a significant shortfall for each returning flight. The food was also a cold, invariably sandwiches and cake. When one considers the time travelling to an airport and waiting around to beard flights, hungry passengers certainly looked upon the food with dismay. At one time one, unnamed, Tour Operator even stopped all but biscuits on it's charters in an effort to reduce it's costs further. Dan Air's cabin crew bore the brunt of the passenger disquiet and the company eventually commented in it's in flight Magazine that "Catering on Dan Air scheduled services is provided by Dan Air and on charter flights it is as provided by your Tour Operator."
From the 1960's until it's demise Dan Air relied heavily on charter flights for much of it's revenue. Over 50% of trade was conducted this way. Ticket prices for scheduled services were much higher than today's ultra competitive environment. Fares and indeed operating licences were very heavily regulated. In the case of an international flight both countries had to approve the airline's application and what's more for every airline from an originating country who successfully applied to serve the route, an airline from the destination country had to be offered the same service. Before the days of deregulation and thus low cost airlines like Ryanair airlines were strictly controlled about how much they could discount fares too. The extremely busy routes between the UK and Ireland for instance cost more per mile than to fly to the United States. Scheduled services also flew at convenient times of the day which suited business travellers. It was natural then that as Dan Air began over the years to increase it's scheduled division that it should feature a dedicated business class. In the economy section of the aircraft passengers could still enjoy complimentary drinks and food as well as free newspapers and the convenience of better departure times and an increased passenger: crew ratio. Dan Air's charter passenger were not however so fortunate with on board facilities such as free drinks. Having almost 200 people on board a Boeing 707 en route to America taking more than 7 hours would mean that more than one bar service could be carried out. Drinks were made available to passengers to purchase. These included both alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks. Whilst food was served free as well as tea and coffee to accompany meals everything else had to be paid for. This is commonplace now for the vast majority of airlines. It is fair to say that Dan Air and other airlines did not grossly over charge passengers. The drinks were more expensive than landside bar prices. Profitability is high on an airline's list of priorities and it has proved to be the saviour of many modern day carriers. Easy Jet for example charge almost £3 (UK 2016) for a cup of coffee and upward of £5 (UK 2016) for a sandwich. They insist that they don't mind if you bring your own food. It can be argued that is offset with the low cost of the flight itself.
In flight entertainment
The early days of Dan Air's operation saw passengers given a magazine to while away the journey. Flying was a new experience for most people and looking at the world below was a thrill for many. An in flight bulliten was passed around the cabin. This told passengers the names of the crew. It also featured a map charting their route. Details of altitude, airspeed, outside temperature were also noted. It wasn't until the 1990's that charter airlines started offering in flight entertainment. Charter airlines charged passengers for headsets that enables them to listen to dedicated channels of music and more sophisticated was the in flight movie! Air Europe, for instance offered TV screens that dropped down from the aisle. The size of a portable TV. Several of these dotted along the length of the aircraft enabled viewing of a current cinema release. It started a revolution in the air. Britannia, Air UK Leisure, Air Europe, Airtours and many others all raced to offer the most channels. By 1992 Air Europe's Boeing 757's were equipped to offer a drop down tv directly over passenger's heads. Dan Air failed to join the race. Some of the older aircraft in the fleet did not have the technology built in. The cost of installing it could run into millions of pounds. It was a mistake. Entertainment was an attractive selling poinnt to tour operators and offered the airline chance to maeke revenue from the sale of headsets.
   
The cramped conditions of the Comet is shown on the first two pictures. Hot drinks are served on a Bac 1-11 in 1977 - Pictures can be enlarged.

Boeing 727
Boeing 727 G-BAEF Interior
It is often claimed that charter airlines "crammed" passengers into their cabins. This is certainly the case when they are compared against large scheduled service airlines who would not risk losing passengers by  such practices. But in the highly competitive IT and charter market if your seat per mile ratio is not comparable to your competitors then it is likely they will leave you when contracts are renewed, or not consider you for new contracts. When Dan Air emerged as a major player in the charter markets in the 1960's it was able to offer aircraft of different sizes and performances. This was an ideal set up for the time. Being able to offer Tour Operators aircraft that went from 89 seats in the smallest jets to almost 200 with it's Boeing 707 was a major selling point. British Midland were also flying Boeing 707's. They had a capacity of 218 passengers. When compared to Dan Air's 189 one can see that Dan Air's passengers enjoyed more leg room.
Airlines with single type fleets had to fly the same aircraft to high density destinations as well as the more off beat routes. That meant either flying the aircraft under occupied, selling excess seats to other operators or flying to the route less often. Dan Air were reluctant to use larger, wide bodied aircraft. They were of the opinion that should an aircraft be underviceable down route that they are more difficult to find a replacement for. One DC10 could carry 350 passengers, finding a spare DC10 or three smaller aircraft was difficult. Ironically it is quite the reverse now, many airlines prefer single type operations. They are easy to replace should technical problems arise and modern day methods can calculate more effectively fleet utilization. The advent of the internet and low cost carriers flying to airports some distance from the major cities have managed to keep costs low. Airlines can lease aircraft and negotiate better terms for brand new aircraft too. This has led to passenger expectations being high. In Dan Air's hey day people did not have the same high demands. However, Dan Air was aware that it's fleet did need updating. The 707 operation had finished, after the Affinity group market had ceased. Fred Newman, the Chariman of Dan Air went on record as saying that it had not been particularly successful. The 707s were very old and regularly went 'tech' which is aviation speak for an aircraft that was not able to fly for technical reasons. One example, G-AYSL was nicknamed both "Sick Lil" and "Spread Legs". Replacement aircraft were expensive. Dan Air did not have the backing of a large tour operator who would take the risk on new purchasing new aircraft. It therefore sought second hand aircraft that it could purchase outright. Dan Air did consider the DC8 at one time and also Douglas' smaller twin jet the DC9. It wasn't until the 1980's that Boeing's baby 737 joined the fleet.


Above: (L) A busy Comet in the early 1970's and  (R) Bar service on a Boeing 727 in 1978

The 737

During his time as Dan-Air's Associate Director in charge of the airline's operations, Errol Cossey, oversaw the successful introduction of new jet aircraft types into Dan-Air's fleet, beginning with the de Havilland Comet series 4 in 1966 and continuing with the BAC One-Eleven 400 series in 1969, the Boeing 707-320 "Intercontinental" in 1971, the Boeing 727-100 in 1973 as well as the BAC One-Eleven 500 in 1975. He assumed control over the charter fleet, numbering 28 aircraft during the mid-1970s. At that time, Intasun contracted a growing share of its business to Dan-Air. Intasun, like Dan-Air, was mocked by doubtful writers as 'no frills'. It was mainly competing on price with the other tour operators, notably market leader Thomson Holidays.

A factor behind Intasun's undercutting of prices while continuing to expand profitably was that it first waited for all the other operators to place their business with Dan-Air and only then placed its contracts, fitting in with whatever aircraft and crews were available. This meant that a lot of Intasun's business involved mid-week and night flying. This, in turn, was a win-win for both Intasun and Dan Air. It enabled Intasun to charter aircraft at substantially lower rates than its competitors, who had to pay a premium for chartering planes at weekend peak times, or whole aeroplanes and it permitted Dan-Air to increase its fleet's utilisation, thereby boosting the company's overall profitability. However, the high fuel consumption of Dan-Air's "mix'n match" fleet — especially the Comets, which at that time made up the bulk of its charter fleet — against the backdrop of steeply rising jet fuel prices in the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis made it more and more difficult to offer Intasun the rates at which it was prepared to contract its business to Dan-Air.

Errol Cossey became convinced that he could offer Intasun these rates without difficulty, and do a lot more business with it, if Dan-Air had more modern aircraft with a substantially lower fuel-burn and overall lower direct operating costs in its fleet. He was also aware that Britannia Airways, Thomson Holidays' sister airline and Dan-Air's main rival in the charter market, had already begun building up a fleet of brand-new Boeing 737-200 jet planes, which had lower operating costs and a better operational performance than the older, second-hand jets operated by Dan-Air.

Therefore, Errol Cossey, Martin O'Regan, the group finance director and Alan Snudden, Dan-Air's managing director, tried to convince Fred Newman, Davies and Newman's majority shareholder as well as Dan-Air's long-serving chairman, that operating a brand-new fleet of Boeing 737-200 Advanced series jet aircraft — at the time the very latest, state-of-the-art aircraft — was the only way to secure Dan-Air's long-term future as a major player in the charter airline industry. Their argument to Fred Newman was that operating the latest series 200 Advanced model of the 737 would not only give Dan-Air far better cost figures than any of the existing aircraft types in its fleet but would also allow it to leap-frog Britannia, which initially operated only the basic 200 model of the 737. That model lacked important enhancements, such as a short-field capability enabling operations at airfields whose runways were too short for the basic 737-200 model. After failed attempts to convince Fred Newman of their plans Errol Cossey, Martin O'Regan and Alan Snudden decided to leave Dan-Air.
The fact that the charter airline industry - Dan-Air in particular - were shunned by some travel companies meant broad appeal was needed at the outset, especially in terms of on-board service, including the in-flight catering. Standards were set to rival the leading scheduled service airlines, with an aim of establishing a new benchmark for the industry and for charter airlines in particular; this would enable the new airline to fly longer seasons as travel companies were expected to cancel their contracts with rival airlines - an increase in aircraft utilisation that would translate into higher profits.
Several tour operators began dropping Dan Air from 1989 onwards. Intasun had started it's own airline in 1978 which was now growing substantially. A further blow came when Airtours started their own airline. Both these company's massivly reduced operationas with Dan Air who could not offer the same levels of efficient fuel operation that the new, fledgling airlines could. Intasun went further in 1990 when they said they were no longer going to use Dan Air at all -  claiming that the reason was because of  Dan Air's "Gas guzzling aircraft". Several highly trained cabin crew (including those who trained cabin crew for Dan Air) were poched by these new airlines.
1980 saw new cabins in the Dan Air fleet. The blue and gold as designed to reflect the sea and sand of many sunshine destinations
Right: The cabins by the late 1980's had become more stylish and business like
Although by 1980  Dan Air had started to  re equip much of it's fleet. It could not do so fast enough, Nor could it consolidate it's operation to one or two types. Even trying to establish itself as a major scheduled service operator was failing, as they did not have the time to make newer routes profitable.  At a time when the impact of the Gulf War was huge on the airline industry and an economic downturn saw the UK markets vulnerable.
Dan Air's main rival, Air Europe, was ironically the company that had it's credit refused first. The banks then called in the debt. This saw Air Europe sensationally collapse in 1991. Dan Air limped on for over a year before it was sold to British Airways for a nominal £1. Much of the fleet was sold to smaller carriers and only the Boeing 737 fleet was absorbed into BA's fleet. In a strange twist of fate it seemed that Dan Air's older aircraft actually had some value, many of them were, in fact, owned  outright by the company, so were considered assets. Air Europe had leased in all of their fleet, so technically they did not belong to them. Dan Air also had considerable real estate in locations such as London City and in Horley. Furthermore it had it's large engineering division and a grouond handling operation at Gatwick and Manchester (Gatwick and Manchester Handling respectively, which was joint owned by Delta Airlines. The latter having acquired the 50 percent share from Laker at the time of their bankruptcy) Despite not having in flight entertainment on it's aircraft and having a relatively poor brand image Dan Air did have a place in the nation's consciousness and probably it's heart. Nicknames such as Dan Dare and desperate Dan were enough to drive some of the company employees to near rage. The nicknames were probably meant as terms of endearment because the crews and staff were well regarded by the public and the company was respected Worldwide.



Dan Air cabins had a fresh look by the 1990's. Even short haul passengers enjoyed complimentary meals
Should the company have survived then no doubt further improvements would have been made and in flight entertainment brought in as standard. In forums online it has been speculated that should the company have seen out the tough economic cycle of the early 90's then it would have found itself muscling in on the no frills, low cost market. Ryanair was not always a low fares airline and it's operation utilised Boeing 737 200 for several years with great profits. It has never been the same not seeing the familiar Dan Air aircraft and staff at airports. I for one would love to sit back, and not hesitate to use the call button located above my head to call for assistance. A gin and tonic? Will that be with Ice? To the girls and boys of the Dan Air cabin crew - Cheers!



Vivian Jansen with Dan Air on a company Boeing 737 in 1992
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