It’s not easy to see your flight options (but I have a solution – see Flight Tables)! Low Cost airlines often don’t release flight times or allow bookings until 6 months beforehand, and Charter operators tend to hone their operations as time goes on. For summer flights, initial plans are drawn up in the autumn and tweaked through the spring, with final timings (dependent on take off and landing slots) sometimes not finalised until close to the start of the season.
An additional complication with Charter flights arises from the way they are sold. Big players such as Thomson and Thomas Cook will often sell seats on their flights to smaller tour operators who use them for their packages. Eventually flights may appear to have sold out on the main operator’s website, but may still be available from smaller operators, albeit that they may want to keep them for their own packages. The problem, if you want them, is finding who has them, which is something I might be able to help you with, so why not give me a call! (However, please note I only offer fights to go with yacht bookings, I’m not a flight only broker).
Scheduled airlines are a little more straightforward but these days don’t like publishing timetables in advance, even if they have the information. So as I write this in February, most scheduled airlines only have their winter timetable on their website, so if you want to find out which days they fly to which destinations, you’re left to play trial and error with their on line booking systems.
To save you the pain of finding out which sailing destinations you can get to from your local airport, or the nearest UK airport to reach you chosen sailing area, I’ve done the hard work for you. Follow the links below to the two tables which are derived from operators’ published information, not comparison websites which are not always accurate.
The tables show direct flights only. If you don’t mind changing planes, more options are available, though be aware that if you book two flights separately, the operator of the second flight will not be responsible if your first flight is late, or flight time changes mean you can no longer connect.
I’ve indicated whether flights are Scheduled, Low Cost or Charter, though the boundaries are increasingly blurred. For example, you usually won’t get a free meal on a Low Cost flight, but this may also be true of some Charter flights or short Scheduled flights. And one charter operator, Monarch, is now listing some of it’s flights as Scheduled (ZB prefixed flight numbers) though this is only so they show on travel operators Scheduled booking systems. You will still fly on the same planes and get the same service as before, so I’ve categorised these as Charter flights.
Once you’ve decided where you want to go from and to, if you book your yacht with me I can often offer you a package with flights, or if you prefer to buy your own flights, I will tell you who has the cheapest deals.
- Flights by UK Airport show destinations available from each UK airport
- Flights by Sailing Area show where you can fly from to reach a particular destination.
You can search and sort both tables to see just those flights your interested in (type in the Search box to see all lines containing your text, and use the arrows in the column titles to sort).
If you’re booking a package, the choice of departure airport, the start day and the flight time is quite often limited. Or so the tour operator might like you to think – they want to make sure they sell all their seat allocations! In reality, smaller tour operators may be flexible if you make it clear you don’t want to trek to Gatwick or Manchester (though they may give you good financial incentive to do so). However, note that if you do settle on a London departure, most tour operators’ terms and conditions enable them to switch packaged flights between the London airpots without compensation, provided the departure time isn’t changed by more than 12 hours. If you’re not happy with this, you might want to book your flights separately!
Different airlines offer different things. It may be worth paying more for your seat if it gets you a free meal on the plane and a more generous luggage allowance, or leaves at a time that allows you to take public transport to the airport and so avoid huge parking charges.
In terms of reliability, don’t be put off the Low Cost airlines; their time keeping is usually better than both the Scheduled and Charter companies. The down side is some seem to react to any crisis by cancelling flights and pulling down the shutters. Being offered your money back (especially if you booked months ago when prices were cheap) or a seat on the next available flight, which might be a week later, isn’t much help. In low season I’d worry less as there are more likely to be seats at a reasonable rate with another airline – I’d take the gamble. In high season, I’d need a good financial incentive to take the Low Cost option if there was something else available.
Charter flights are rarely cancelled but can sometimes suffer fairly hideous delays (and very occasionally get rerouted to a different airport altogether to suit the operator, leaving you with a long coach ride). If you’ve a young family, this can be a nightmare. With few surplus planes, you usually have to wait until whatever is broken can be fixed, though these days it’s unusual to be more than half a day late. This is a great improvement from my early days in the Med, when my then employer used British Caledonian Airways. We never asked what time the plane was landing, just which day!
You can of course use multiple flights or airlines and at busy times indirect flights may offer a cheap alternative (or the only way to get there)!
There are drawbacks; the risk of your bags getting lost is much higher when airlines transfer them between planes. And if your flights are with different airlines that don’t have co-operating arrangements then if your first flight is delayed, the second airline won’t compensate you if you miss their flight. Watch out too for long gaps between flights. I was recently offered a London to Athens trip that would have taken three days!
So if I have the choice, I avoid plane changes and take a direct Scheduled flight with a large national operator who stands a better chance of finding a spare plane if the need arises and will usually feed me. And in reality the choice is not usually as complicated as it sounds – there are fewer flights on offer than a few years ago.
If you are booking a package, the start day is usually determined for you. However, sometimes you can’t get the flights you want with a package and there are other reasons why you might prefer to arrange your own flights – for more on this see Package vs Self Assembly Holidays. If you are making your own way, usually the choice is simple. Most bareboat charters start on Saturdays and are for multiples of a week. There are a few yacht suppliers that will do other durations especially outside high season, but if you are stuck with an odd start day or duration you’ll have to accept you’ll have fewer yachts to chose from.
Skippered Charters, being based on Bareboats, are also generally Saturday starts, likewise Crewed Charters unless you are taking a private yacht where such things are highly negotiable, as they should be for the sort of money you may be paying!
Cabin Charters, Flotillas and Learn to Sail courses do vary more, as many are put together by UK tour operators who will often favour start days that match the more popular charter flight arrival days. So for example, Flotillas from Skiathos start on Fridays as that’s when most of the UK originated Charter flights run. Which is tough if you’re not flying from the UK!
If the available flights don’t match the required arrival day, you can spend some time ashore in a hotel before and/or after your sailing, or to maximise your sailing, pay for a longer hire period than your time there. Alternatively, find another departure airport!
Finally, if you’re flying to the Caribbean, take care not to get confused which day the plane arrives If the time has +1 against it, it means next day!
If you get the choice, think through the impact of different take off times. For example, if you’re heading for Greece or Turkey an early morning flight will get you to the yacht in daylight (even allowing for the two hour time difference). But catching an early flight might cost you a night in a hotel at the airport, or a tiring drive through the night for the crack of dawn check in.
Realistically, by the time you’ve checked in on your yacht, and sorted out your provisions, you’re not likely to be sailing anywhere that day. So why not get a later flight and have a more leisurely trip to the airport. Or consider flying out earlier on a cheaper overnight flight. It might leave you with a few hours to kill, but if your charter company knows you’re arriving early, they can often get you yacht ready ahead of the official boarding time (which is usually 17.00 or 18.00), even if the formalities wait until later.
However, before you get too obsessed with picking the best flight time, bear in mind two things: If you are booking a Charter flight well in advance of the start of the season, flight times could change as the timetable is refined. If you are booking a package, you may also find yourself changed on to a different flight as virtually all tour operators provide for changes of up to twelve hours within their terms and conditions. It doesn’t happen to that extreme too often, but changes of several hours are not unknown.