Home Classic Airliners 9 Lost British Leisure Airlines

9 Lost British Leisure Airlines

by Matt Falcus

The boom in holiday charters to the sun was a great time for aviation in Europe. Lots of British leisure airlines sprung up and started appearing, and during my childhood were a firm fixture of a visit to any major regional airport in the UK.

They were also the airlines I flew most often as I travelled on family holidays each year.

In the early days, these new airlines often started up with older aircraft from second-hand sources, whilst others ordered the brand-new jet aircraft of the day.


Britannia Airways

Britannia Airways

A stalwart of British aviation. Britannia started as Euravia, but the arrival of Bristol Britannia aircraft encouraged a name change. It became the first British airline to operate the Boeing 737, and later had a large fleet of 757s and 767s. It became part of the TUI group and today is known as Thomson Airways.


Air UK Leisure

Air UK Leisure

British regional airline Air UK wanted a slice of the holiday market, so ordered a fleet of Boeing 737-400s to operate ‘leisure’ routes. These were common at British airports in the 1990s.


Court Line

Court Line L1011

Photo (c) Ralf Manteufel

A true legend of the 1970s, Court Line started life as regional airline Autair. Its fleet of BAC One-Elevens and Lockheed TriStars, among others, were each painted in a different pastel-colour scheme.


BEA Airtours

BEA Airtours

Even national carriers wanted to get in on the holiday boom. British European Airways formed BEA Airtours to operate Boeing 707s to leisure destinations. With the creation of British Airways in 1974, the leisure arm became British Airtours, and later Caledonian Airways.


Dan-Air London


One of the airlines most missed from British skies. Dan-Air was truly independent and operated a vast array of different types on a mix of leisure and scheduled services. It was the only UK airline at the time to fly the Boeing 727. In 1992 it was bought by British Airways.


Caledonian Airways

Caledonian Airways 747

The final incarnation of the national airline’s leisure arm, Caledonian Airways reflected the heritage of BA’s acquisition of British Caledonian. It operated various aircraft, including Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-200s, 757s, Lockheed TriStars, and this Boeing 747-200B G-BMGS, which I had the pleasure of flying twice in 1989.


Air Europe

Air Europe 737

The aim of Air Europe was to take some highly experience airline managers and create a leisure airline which would do things better than any airline previously. It flew newer aircraft, such as the Boeing 737-300/400, and grew a large network from London Gatwick. Its downfall was in growing too fast and in trying to expand too much into the scheduled market.


Channel Airways

Channel Airways

Channel Airways wore a livery almost identical to that of Continental Airlines in the USA at the time. This was because it took delivery of some former Continental aircraft and decided not to repaint them, only changing the name. Thus, future aircraft, like this Trident 1E, were painted in the same colours.


Orion Airways

Orion Airways 737

Photo (c) John Allan

A new British leisure airline of the 1980s. Orion flew Boeing 737-200s and -300s, and later some former Hapag-Lloyd Airbus A300s out of bases like Manchester and London Gatwick. It was merged with Britannia in 1989.


The rise of the low-cost airline in the late 1990s and 2000s led to many leisure airlines going out of business, or merging with other companies to form the larger carriers still flying today, like Thomson and Thomas Cook.


Lost Airline Colours of Europe
To see these pictures and many more British leisure airlines and liveries from days gone by, order a copy of our new book, Lost Airline Colours of Europe Timelines, which is available now.

Includes hundreds of pictures of classic airliners and airline colours that have disappeared from our skies.

Claim your copy



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Martin Pettit January 29, 2017 - 8:10 pm

Court Line was formerly Autair not Alidair. Lufthansa was the first (world and european) operator of the 737.

Matt Falcus January 29, 2017 - 8:22 pm

You’re right. Thanks Martin. Post amended!

Jamesh@Ourvis.com January 30, 2017 - 1:31 am

Thank you for the great post! Keep up the good work!

Matt Falcus January 30, 2017 - 9:38 am

Thanks Jamesh!

Vince Chadwick January 30, 2017 - 8:52 pm

Didn’t Channel become part of another airline? FlyBE still use the ‘Channex’ (Channel Express) call sign?

Matt Falcus January 31, 2017 - 11:44 am

Channel Airways closed down in 1972, and was a different carrier to Channel Express (which became Jet2). Flybe uses ‘Jersey’ callsign, from its pasts as Jersey European. All confusing!

Andy January 31, 2017 - 7:24 am

No mention of Inter European? Airtours international? Amber Air, Paramount? Peach Air… all leisure airlines.

Matt Falcus January 31, 2017 - 11:45 am

Yes, lots of them! There are more covered in the Lost Airline Colours book (cheeky plug). I remember flying Amber Air once and visited the cockpit of their 737-200.

Nick Taylor February 7, 2017 - 2:28 pm

cool to see the airlines again ,and remembering British Air Ferries flight to channel islands from CVT on a sunday afternoon

Derek July 8, 2019 - 5:55 pm

Orion Airways was based out of East Midlands. Had it’s own flight simulator. It flew the 737th 737. Was one of the first to fly the new 737-300. It also had it’s own engine bay and was able to strip down engines. I believe it also held the spare engine that any airline could borrow? I remember when the British Airtours accident happened that we were one of the few airlines flying 737’s since we had 4? of the new 300’s.

Thomas Cook Airlines: A British Airline With International Flights – AdamsAirMed October 15, 2022 - 9:01 am

[…] so its demise was inevitable. Despite its demise, the company will be remembered as one of the most popular British leisure carriers in […]


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