Home Airlines & Airliners Remembering Air UK Leisure

Remembering Air UK Leisure

by Matt Falcus

Prior to the low-cost boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the inclusive tour and charter industry in the UK was booming.

Many airlines were cashing in on the opportunity to ferry holidaymakers from airports across the country to destinations around the Mediterranean in the summer, and the ski resorts and Canary Islands in the winter.

Names like Airtours International, Britannia, Air 2000 and Monarch were big at the time.


Regional carrier Air UK, which operated an extensive network of domestic and European schedules, particularly to Amsterdam Schiphol in partnership with KLM, saw an opportunity to move into this area when it set up its own charter arm in 1987 in partnership with the Viking International travel company.

The new airline was known as Air UK Leisure and wore a similar colour scheme to the main carrier.


Air UK Leisure Fleet

Pedro Aragão, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

Air UK Leisure began services in 1988 with two leased Boeing 737-200s.

  • G-BMOR
  • G-BNZT

It also placed an order with a leasing company for four new 737-400s. It was the first airline in Europe to fly this variant of the aircraft, with Dan-Air London set to introduce the type in 1990.

The 737-400 fleet eventually grew to seven examples:

  • G-UKLA
  • G-UKLB
  • G-UKLC
  • G-UKLD
  • G-UKLE
  • G-UKLF
  • G-UKLG

The 737-200s were retired once the first -400 arrived.

jakers118, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

From 1993 Air UK Leisure introduced two Boeing 767-300s to operate long-haul charters. These wore the later Leisure International branding.

  • G-UKLH
  • G-UKLI


Where Air UK Leisure Flew

The airline was based at London Stansted airport, like it’s parent. However it had bases at both London Gatwick and Manchester, and flew from many other UK regional airports during the busy summer months in particular.

Destinations included popular holiday spots in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain among others.


Leisure International

Some of the 737-400s were repainted before leaving the fleet.

Photo (c) Steve Knight

In 1993 Air UK Leisure was sold to holiday company Unijet, who rebranded the airline as Leisure International.

The new livery was similar to the previous one, but removed all mention of Air UK.

As well as the long-haul Boeing 767s, Unijet began replacing the 737-400s with three newer Airbus A320s from 1996:

  • G-UKLJ
  • G-UKLK
  • G-UKLL


And three Airbus A321s:

  • G-UKLO
  • G-UNID
  • G-UNIE


As a popular and profitable airline, Leisure International and Unijet was purchased by rival First Choice in 1998 and merged into their Air 2000 airline, with the aircraft and operations being rebranded as First Choice Airways by 2000.

Today First Choice is part of the TUI group of holiday companies, which still flies charter services from the UK.


Where are the aircraft now?

Former G-UKLA is now TF-BBH with Bluebird Nordic. Photo (c) Kevin Hackert

All of the Boeing 737-400 fleet was sold on shortly after Air UK Leisure rebranded as Leisure International. Today a number of them are still flying, including:


G-UKLA is TF-BBH with Bluebird Nordic.

G-UKLC is currently stored, but due to join Mexican cargo carrier Aeronaves TSM soon.

G-UKLD is now 5N-BOB, most recently with Aerocontractors, but stored in Amman since 2015.

G-UKLF is now ZK-TLM with Airwork in New Zealand.

G-UKLG was also most recently with Aerocontractors as 5N-BOC, but was withdrawn from use in Lagos, Nigeria.

The Boeing 767-300s flew with Air 2000, First Choice and Thomson Airways before being sold for cargo conversion. G-UKLH is now C-FGSJ and C-FDIJ, both with Cargojet International.

Former G-UKLH is now C-FGSJ with Cargojet. Photo (c) Mike Burdett

All of the later Airbus A320 and A321 fleets have now been scrapped, apart from G-UKLK which was last spotted at Phoenix Goodyear airport.

And going back to the original Boeing 737-200s, G-BNZT is still thought to be stored in Venezuela having flown with Estelar Latinoamerica until at least 2013.


Did you ever fly on Air UK Leisure or Leisure International? What are your memories? Leave a comment below!



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Steve January 28, 2024 - 2:32 pm

I remember flying with Air UK. It would have been about 1994 and was on a Boeing 737. It was my first overseas trip, we were going to Corfu. The pilot made a strange announcement saying “Welcome to our new airline”

David Dodd April 2, 2024 - 5:03 pm

I worked as a cabin crew member with them, it was a great airline company to work for, and a very good inflight product!


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