The news that a new air carrier called Varsity Express is due to launch scheduled air services from Oxford to Edinburgh in March will evoke memories of ill-fated Alpha One which five years ago promised to launch another Varsity link - from Oxford to Cambridge. Martin Halstead, who was only nineteen years old at the time, created Alpha One and secured massive publicity for his proposed venture. No matter that he didn't have a plane, but he promised he would rent a Jetstream 31 for the flights. It turned out to be a pipe dream and Alpha One never flew a single flight from Oxford Airport.
Today Varsity Express announced their debut flights from Oxford. And guess what? They don't own a plane, but they say they’ll rent a Jetstream 31 for their flights. Emerald Media, a PR company specialising in aviation matters, has the task of drumming up a bit of publicity for the new venture. Curiously, their first move on that front promoted Varsity Express as being much cheaper than the train. Emerald suggested that the cheapest unrestricted return rail fare from Oxford to Edinburgh via the most direct route is over 300 pounds. The truth is rather different. The return fare is 110.80 pounds and offers great flexibility – out and back on any train within a month. Those wanting to fly with Varsity Express can enjoy the same flexibility for 298 pounds return.
hidden europe contacted Emerald Media. They have promised to change their misleading publicity on behalf of Varsity Airlines. We are still waiting. Meanwhile, we are wondering if one Mr Halstead might just possibly be lurking in the background behind the new venture.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
NB. Since the piece above was published on 20 January 2010, this story took a number of quite remarkable turns. We published two more articles on Varsity Express - on 1 March 2010 and 15 March 2010 respectively. The 1 March story records the first flight of Varsity Express and the 15 March story gives an update on the curious sequence of events that unfolded after Varsity Express suspended operations.
Comments (4)| write a comment
24 January 2010
Though some people may find it more convenient to commute on the train, there are plenty of people who find this to be a very convenient service for business related travel. Even if it is more expensive than the rail at times, for many people time is money and it is well worth paying a little more to save many hours of travel. Whoever is behind it, good on them for pursuing a market that could really help out a lot of people.
I wish this new venture the best of luck, and wish this country could try to be a bit more positive toward young entrepreneurs. This company, as well as any new business venture, provides many needed jobs for those who suffered this past year. Wish I could apply!
25 January 2010
Believe us, aerogirl, we are not prejudiced against entrepreneurs - neither young nor old. And if people prefer flying to going by rail, that is naturally their choice. We all make such choices, presumably taking into account such factors as price, travel time, comfort and environmental impact.
But we do take issue with the way that Varsity Express are promoting their Oxford to Edinburgh air route as cheaper than the same journey by train by inflating the train fares that are used as the point of comparison.
Bemused of Edinburgh
7 February 2010
Well done, Hidden Europe. More than two weeks before any other media, you correctly surmised that Martin Halstead, he of the Alpha One debacle, is the man behind Varsity Express. I see that today's Sunday Times newspaper has latched onto the story.
Halstead's last venture with Alpha One was an absolute disaster... for him, for the airports he sought to serve and for the travelling public. If I recall correctly, he chartered in a Jetstream 31 plane from a small Welsh airline and managed over a space of a month or so to run a handful of flights between Edinburgh and Isle of Man. No flights from Oxford at all. Nor indeed from Southampton, where he also promised scheduled services. During the short life of his airline, more than 90 per cent of the flights were cancelled. In total Alpha One carried just 40 passengers over the few weeks that it existed.
This hardly bodes well for Varsity Express.
10 March 2010
Services have ceased after just one week, with LinksAir pulling out due to non-payment.
Absolute farce. Someone needs to stop this guy starting airlines again. Even Ryanair aren't this shoddy, and that's really saying something.
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