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Those who know me would say that I wouldn’t miss type opportunity to look around the facilities of an airline. So, that is exactly what I did, thanks to Thomas Cook Airlines at Manchester Airport, the main base of the airline in the UK.

You might think that it really isn’t a ‘proper’ airline, stuck in the 80’s and 90’s of the traditional ‘charter airline’, but think again, Thomas Cook Airlines is no longer a charter airline, but one that fits the need of all leisure travellers – either on long haul or short haul across their net work.

Their operations base at Manchester Airport is a hanger, located opposite the main terminals and is one of the largest in Europe. Able to accommodate multiple long haul, such as the Airbus A330, or short haul aircraft such as the 757 or A321, it is one of the airlines main technical bases across its sister carriers – Thomas Cook Scandinavia, Thomas Cook Belgium and Condor in Germany.

Fully integrated with the sister airlines, they are able to switch aircraft and crews across the fleet and share commercial advantages such as slots at airports and maintenance facilities.

An impressive sight, when I visited in early December there were three aircraft inside, a 767 which has just come off lease and was being prepared to go back to the owner (lessor), and two 757’s, one of which was Condor. An A330, which I had hoped to have seen had just left, ready for a departure to New York.

The airline is currently in the middle of refurbishing their short haul fleet, predominately the A321 with new slimline, lighter seats than previously which give more legroom throughout the cabin. Having tried the new seat, it is very comfortable and comparable with many other airlines. Less depth than British Airways’ new Pinnacle seat, and more comfortable than the new easyJet seat, with an emphasis on comfort given the increasing sector lengths to the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands.

In addition to the new seats, a new wireless IFE (In Flight Entertainment) system is going to be introduced shortly on short haul, where customers will be able to stream movies and content to their devices in flight, along with purchasing items from Airshoppen (Duty Free), or purchasing food and snacks.

On long haul, the premium push continues and a change of direction from relying on traditional package holidays. Replicating its sister airline in Germany – Condor, Thomas Cook Airlines now offer leisure orientated scheduled flights with a strong emphasis on their Manchester base. These have expanded and now include New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Caribbean. A new route has also just started from Gatwick to Cape Town.

A refreshed Economy cabin includes IFE at every seat, while a new Premium cabin aims to compete with the popular Premium Economy cabins of the mainstream airlines. A larger seat, with more legroom along with other added such such as a larger baggage allowance.

A popular element of their onboard experience are the meals designed by celebrity chef James Martin. This isn’t just a branding of a meal, as you see in some ready meals, but he is involved from the concept to the final product, even tasting them onboard where you taste buds are reduced anyway.

In cooperation with LSG, a major airline catering provider, the meals are available on all short haul flights, but only on the outbound (ex-UK) as it isn’t possible to replicate it with outside suppliers in different countries.

A new innovation, and the first airline to do it in the UK, when flying with Thomas Cook Airlines you will be able to reserve duty free on non-EU flights through ‘Airshoppen’ an online store up to 7 days in advance, where it will be delivered directly to your seat onboard. It will also be possible to reserve on you outbound flight, to be ready on your inbound if you are travelling 7 nights or more.

Looking around the facility it is a really slick operation, and is the main operating base in the UK looking after engineering and operations. Taking care of everything from routine maintenance, to repairing aircraft after an incident such as a bird strike it is all under one roof.

Upstairs is the operations department, there to ensure the smooth day to day running of the airline, making sure all the crews and aircraft are in the right places at the right time. That isn’t a easy job and they have an army of staff to make sure this happens. To aid this, they have two aircraft on standby – two in the Canaries in the Winter, and two at Manchester in the summer, aimed at minimising delays if there is a problem with an aircraft.

This isn’t a charter carrier any more, this is a full fledged carrier to match easyJet on short haul flights, and the likes or Norwegian on the long haul. Impressive definitely, but remaining affordable for the leisure traveller.

Many thanks to Ben Todd, the Head of Communications at Thomas Cook Airlines (UK) for giving me a guided tour of the facility.

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