Flybe was one of the UK’s biggest regional carriers. Operating a fleet mostly consisting of Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s and Embraer jets, it connected cities across the UK and Ireland as well as major destinations in Europe. Given the size of its aircraft, it was particularly well suited to serving city airports that couldn’t handle anything bigger than an A320 like London City Airport and Belfast City Airport. In fact, its presence at Belfast City was so big that up to 80% of Belfast City’s traffic were Flybe flights.
Its collapse and closure has led to justified concerns for connectivity across the UK and particularly Northern Ireland. But once upon a time it was a convenient and reliable way to fly across the UK and Ireland, providing alternative flight options for my excursions out of Belfast or flights back to Belfast. My return flight from my 2016 winter trip to Amsterdam with my family was one such occasion, with me flying Flybe from Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) back to Belfast City Airport (BHD), with a transit in Manchester Airport (MAN).
First posted 5 April 2020. Updated 28 February 2023.
Departure experience at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Amsterdam Schiphol is one of Europe’s most important aviation hubs. Not only is it well connected by air, it is also well connected to the rest of the Netherlands by rail. We were able to catch an intercity Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) service directly from Rotterdam Centraal to the airport’s railway station.
Schiphol is noted for its single central terminal design, as contrasted to its contemporary peers that opted to build separate terminal buildings. Rather than having 3 separate terminals, the unified terminal instead has 3 departure halls with their own set of check in counters.
The terminal building also features an outdoor observation deck that not only gives great views of the parked aircraft, but also has a former KLM Fokker 100 on display. Pretty neat!
Unlike UK airports, Schiphol performs departure immigration checks on passengers departing to non-Schengen destinations. I don’t remember my time spent in the queue to be very long, but as Schiphol also serves a large variety of international non-Schengen flights it’d be wise to factor that into your journey planning.
I bid goodbye to my family as we were heading to separate destinations, and spent my time exploring the non-Schengen areas of the terminal.
As the sun set outside, the passengers of flight BE 1278 to Manchester assembled at the gate area and trooped down to ground level to board our Dash 8 aircraft.
Flybe BE1278 from Amsterdam Schiphol to Manchester
We boarded the Dash 8 aircraft through the front stairs integrated into the aircraft door.
I encountered a problem where my carry on roller bag couldn’t fit into the overhead lockers as the lockers are much smaller than the ones on jet aircraft. This meant I had to stow it under a seat in an unoccupied row, although I also suffered the slight embarrassment of being that one passenger who had issues with his luggage while everyone else settled in.
This was my second flight on Flybe and so I was no stranger to the onboard experience. Our departure was on time and so were the routing across the channel towards the north of England. The flight felt no different than a flight on a small jet aircraft with the exception of the smaller fuselage & seats, and the noticeably different sound of the engines.
Cabin & Onboard amenities
Flybe outfits its Dash 8 aircraft in an Economy Class only configuration, with 78 seats in a 2-2 layout, offering 30 inches of pitch.
Flybe’s cabin reflects its corporate identity with purple LED lights illuminating the walls of the cabin. The seats are smaller than your usual jet aircraft seats, but they’re comfortable enough for the regional flights they serve.
If you’re on the tall side you might find standing up straight to be a bit of a problem, as the Dash 8 cabin isn’t very tall people-friendly.
Arrival & transit experience at Manchester Airport Terminal 1
There was some crosswind on approach to Manchester Airport that felt stronger on the Dash 8 than it would have on a jet aircraft. Soon, we were parked at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 3 for disembarkation.
I had to go through arrival immigration as I would be transferring to a domestic flight in Terminal 1 from the Schengen Zone. The passenger flow for this was not very straightforward. I had to request for a terminal transfer bus with a provided telephone, ride the bus from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, and then clear border control at Terminal 1. This is despite the fact that Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 are actually right next to each other and are physically connected.
The border control area turned out to be a small room with 2 counters manned when necessary. It seemed like Manchester doesn’t see much international passengers transferring to domestic flights.
This was actually my first time in Manchester Airport and I was keen to see how the UK’s busiest airport outside London performed in respect of transit experiences. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of first impressions. Terminal 1 was an absolute bore, especially at 6:00 pm in the winter evening.
The gate waiting area of Terminal 1 had no F&B options, and so I was forced to make my way back to Terminal 3 via the attached corridor for some semblance of civilisation as well as some food and drinks. I was only too happy to queue when boarding was called for my 8:40 pm flight to Belfast.
I must confess that I’m still surprised I survived that 2 hour transit as it was the most boring layover I’d ever done.
Flybe BE0486 from Manchester to Belfast City Airport
My flight to Belfast City was pretty much identical to the one from Amsterdam, with the aircraft in the same colour scheme and the interior being exactly the same. This flight was not as full as the Amsterdam flight, and so I moved from my assigned aisle seat to the empty window seat in my row.
The cabin crew offered the usual small range of snacks and nibbles, but as it was a short flight I didn’t partake.
Arrival at Belfast City Airport
Our arrival at Belfast City was on time and with the small size of the terminal I was soon out of the terminal and calling a taxi home.
I didn’t know it then, but it was the last time I would ever fly on a Flybe flight. They were an extremely convenient option for me in Belfast as they flew out of Belfast City which was easier to access than Belfast International (45 minutes out of the city), and most importantly, it connected Belfast to central London by way of its London City Airport flights, making it an important airline for the business community of Northern Ireland.
Either way, I’m glad I had an opportunity to fly with Flybe when they still existed. I’ll also be keeping my fingers crossed that Belfast City Airport can recover from the loss of its biggest operator.